This is Chris and my brother, Spencer, on Thanksgiving 2011 - the day Chris met my family for the first time.
Back when I thought I was a philosophy major, I took a class called Philosophy of Food. One of my favorite discussions was on Albert Borgmann’s “focal practice” theory. To give an oversimplified summary, focal practices are things like reading, playing instruments, exploring nature, gardening, and – here is the topical one – the family feast.
I spent this week re-reading my favorite sections of Borgmann’s books, and his language on eating together is some of the most beautiful stuff I’ve ever read. He talks about the gathering power of the family feast. Grandmother, father, sister, child – all come together at a particular moment to invest in the family. We gather ingredients, memories, culinary and social skills, and then we literally and symbolically nourish each other. Obviously it is a huge investment of time and resources, but once the investment is made, there are extraordinary payoffs.
In the warmth of these focal celebrations we are grounded to our past and surrounded by the people we hope to be with us in the future. Our lives become oriented, and an almost reverential sentiment arises. Borgmann says, “When reality and community conspire in this way, divinity descends.” It’s graceful and genuine and, sure, it seems like a lofty goal for a regular Thursday night, but there’s one Thursday every year where this glamorized form of dining really shines: Thanksgiving.
And so Thanksgiving dinner is what I’m thankful for this year. I'm thankful for the countless scoops of mashed potatoes, the steamed up kitchen windows, the orange shag carpet, and my Grandpa's tearful prayers over the food and his posterity. I'm thankful for those cherished Thursday nights that have long-since faded to the place where beautiful memories go to live.
p.s. This is the first Thanksgiving dinner (ever) that I won't be eating at my Grandma's house. So. Indulge a little cheese, please.