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Giving thanks

You know how it is when you realise that your stereotypes all come from the movies? And that they don’t bear much relationship to reality?

Today was one of those days. We have just celebrated our first Thanksgiving.

Truth to tell, I don’t watch that many movies, and although I have heard that many people ‘know’ all sorts of things about New York because they have seen the streets and homes and lifestyles on screen, I really did not consciously recognise the city at all. I am obviously poorly educated. Even the Friends’ apartment didn’t spark a memory. It is an ordinary 6 floor walk-up with those spider-leg external fire escapes like hundreds of others all around the city.

One of my swimming mates, Leah, with whom I chatted one day while walking home from the Early Bird morning swim in the outdoor pool in the summer, came from Bulgaria to the US 19 years ago. She told me that she felt immediately at home and has never felt anything other than that she belongs here, because, in her words, she ‘knew it all already from the movies’. Apparently every other corner gave her a déjà vu moment. I wonder if her life is full of epic filmic moments, or if her actual reality is more banale, like for the rest of us.

But although I claim to be a film noddy, I still thought I knew something about Thanksgiving. You know, kind of deep down unspecifiable but no doubting its reality. I anticipated that Thanksgiving would be a family affair, where outsiders are welcomed with open arms into American homes to share the tasty wonders of turkey with cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie, in celebration of history and provision and hope and community. That no one would be left out, no one would go hungry, all joy and love and sharing blah blah … in short, that we would be taken into some starrystripey romance.

The fantasy bubble popped. Happy reality substituted.

With a still empty calendar a few days earlier, we made 2 great decisions: firstly, to offer to help at a Thanksgiving lunch event, and secondly, to make good use of the weekend, starting that same evening, by flying out of town … to Bermuda!

The meal was organised by St John’s in the Village Episcopal Church on West 11th on behalf of a Brooklyn based refugee charity called Adds Up, whose aim is to support newly arrived immigrants previously detained on Australian territory and relocated to the US by some new political agreement; they provide a ‘buddy’ scheme of social and emotional support for the newly arrived immigrants to help integration. That is, for issues like language learning, accessing education and work, using public systems like transport and libraries, or getting a driving license. Our meagre contribution was to spend an hour or so the night before laying and decorating the tables (they looked great with cranberries, colourful autumn leaves, mini pumpkins and candles!), and bringing a couple of bottles of wine to share. We were then privileged to participate in a simple, warm, friendly party where more non-Americans than locals met and enjoyed each other’s company. In particular I met the women of 2 Sri Lankan families who arrived here in the summer. Women of such grace and modesty, and of courage. Thanksgiving really truly became a way of Giving Thanks that we could so easily find a way to befriend and belong. And be fed: the grub was great.

We then dived down into the subway to start our travels: but that is another story.

Movies are cool, but it’s all in the imagination. Reality touches all of me, and That Is Good.


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