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Serve Compassion and Gratitude on the Side

Nov/24/2021 / by Sweta Vikram
Image credits: Shutterstock

This Thanksgiving, if gratitude meets compassion, we will be able to hold space for others as well as ourselves

Thanksgiving is just a day away. It’s one of my favorite holidays because it feels unifying. No religion, no rituals, no sexism, no misogyny, no patriarchy. Just food, loved ones, board games, football, and conversations around the fireplace. Oh! And pumpkin pies!! Pies can be my kryptonite.

I am excited to see family and friends this year for the holidays! In 2020, most of us had a quiet Thanksgiving celebration. With the virus wreaking havoc, we spent a quiet holiday. I remember seeing numerous pictures on Instagram with the caption, “Dinner for Two” or “Flying Solo.” I have so much respect for each of us who sacrificed large gatherings for the greater good.

In 2021, 193 million people in the U.S. were vaccinated. In NYC, you must show proof of vaccination, which I love, at restaurants, gyms, movie theaters, and most other indoor spaces. You must wear masks in public transport. All of these proactive actions make me feel safer. Sure, you still hear of people getting sick, but it’s nothing like spring of 2020 where COVID wiped out families and neighborhoods. There is a sense of normalcy and festivity in the air, which I will never take for granted. I am grateful.

Gratitude alone isn’t enough.

The word “gratitude” is derived from the Latin word “gratia,” which means grace, graciousness, or gratefulness. Aren’t most of us grateful for science, health-care workers, and vaccines? Grateful to be less fearful of losing loved ones compared to last year. After the perceived food shortage and stocking up in 2020, I have so much gratitude for our food-growers and food-harvesters. Being able to see and share a meal with the family is high on my gratitude list. A part of my daily yoga off the mat practice includes meditating, expressing my gratitude, supporting others, counting my blessings, praying, and sending thank-you/motivational notes.

Coronavirus impacted us all. If you have friends or family in India, chances are you either lost someone to the Delta Variant or know people who are still in mourning. There was a time when I felt antsy even looking at my phone because it felt like the bearer of bad news. For those of us who haven’t been able to travel to the subcontinent, it’s been at least two years since we physically hugged our loved ones and drank chai with them. Friends: we are all dealing with trauma brought upon by COVID.

Even if all your family and friends reside in the United States, you will be getting together for this traditional, American holiday after two years. The virus has transformed us all. It’s snatched confidence from the elderly, patience from Generation X, and normalcy from the younger populations. A family recipe might be triggering for one member. A joke might not sit well with a friend. We are all experiencing exhaustion from being in flight or fight mode for close to two years now. Loss and grief change us in ways we can’t always explain.

A friend in NYC said this about her parents in India: “They are physically healthy but not mentally any more. The virus broke them down.” Two of my best friends from childhood lost a parent each, post their second dose of the vaccine. They are grateful for the one parent still alive. Each one of us is navigating gratitude differently this year. Consider layering gratitude with compassion and small acts of kindness.

What if it’s not the most wonderful time of the year?

Holidays might feel festive to some; it can also be a difficult time for many. This time of the year is known to take a toll on people struggling with mental health issues. The holidays can make people feel lost or isolated or hopeless or down. They don’t need our sermons or suggestions. But a little non-judgmental compassion might go a long way. Donate to your local food banks. Support local food drives and those battling food insecurity. Could we make intentional efforts to help those who are experiencing hardship?

Why am I reminding each one of us to be more compassionate than ever this Thanksgiving?

It can be easy to feel wiped-out at any holiday — not just Thanksgiving. The long days in the kitchen, the prepping for the holiday meal, the need for higher energy levels, noises, the clash of personalities, the pockets of sorrow in the room (especially due to the pandemic), and the constant messages, social media posts, and phone calls. Compassion can be unifying and healing.

I am meeting a friend visiting from out of town the week of Thanksgiving. This friend had to move out of NYC because the pandemic impacted her employment. All is well now, but it’s taken a while for the situation to normalize. We get to celebrate Thanksgiving and share a meal with my in-law’s side. My brother-in-law lost his 39-year-old sister to the virus. She has left behind a little kid and her husband. We also get to hang out with one of my cousins and her family. But this cousin’s dad passed away suddenly a couple of months ago. My husband and I are Gen Xers dealing with elderly parents in India. Even if it’s a celebration, we are all going to bring our baggage into gatherings this year. Just gratitude won’t be enough to tide any of us over the holidays.

If gratitude meets compassion, we will be able to hold space for others as well as ourselves. We will be able to support our communities and those struggling. Let’s try to make Thanksgiving more meaningful, compassionate, and spacious, so we connect on a deeper level with humanity.

Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle.” Rev. John Watson

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