What should be a pleasant harmonious family time, Thanksgiving day gatherings often turns into a rhetorical and gastrological rumble. Will this years' Thanksgiving gathering be different? Maybe.
We humans have many impulses, but let's just consider two of them: authoritarian and anti-authoritarian. Let's also consider that these tendencies are on a continuum and held in various degrees. In other words, the impulse toward either can be very strong for some while weak for others. If we were to consider our collective relationships, we know folks whose impulse trends one way or the other. For example, Uncle Fred has a strong 'authoritarian' tendency, while cousin Alice's impulse is to eschew authority. It is best to keep them separate at the family Thanksgiving dinner.
Because we humans like to organize things, even our imaginations, we imagine Uncle Fred and cousin Alice conforming to our well-used index of stereotypes. It's easy to think Uncle Fred a ruddy and crusty ex-drill sergeant in the Army, and cousin Alice a hippie from the '60s who got married wearing a tie-dyed t-shirt. There is a good chance our own personal characteristics relate better to one than the other, which possibly dictates who we prefer to sit next to while enjoying our turkey.
This year, Fauci willing, we'll be able to gather for Thanksgiving. Uncle Fred will be seated on the other side of the table from cousin Alice who has been tasked with carving the turkey with a large knife. She stands over her roasted foe, unsure of which end to attack first.
Aunt Ditz, the closest thing to a preacher the family has, is asked to give the blessing. She wisely does not give thanks for the pandemic despite what she saw as its many blessings. At the last family gathering, she gave thanks for Uncle Oscar's heart attack. It was true that it mellowed the ole SOB and he lost a bunch of weight, but most didn't think her thanking God for his pain and suffering was appropriate. Since Uncle Oscar didn't appear to be offended, everyone else chose to let it slide, which sort of supported her premise. Yes! We are blessed.
Everyone knows Aunt Ditz sees the silver lining in nearly everything.
In a gastrological sense, the gathering was going smoothly. Not a rumble was heard amoungst the sounds pleasure makes when eating caramelized yams and barbeque baked beans. Nor had the tryptophan kicked in from the mounds of turkey on everyone's plate. The gathering appeared at peace. Harmony was breaking out just as I decided to ask Uncle Fred a question.
In retrospect, I should have just concentrated on eating my cranberries. But I thought it an innocent question and certainly topical. I mean, who isn't talking about the pandemic and the vaccine and if the end is near? Right?
"So, Uncle Fred, have you been vaccinated?"
I honestly didn't know if he was or wasn't. Fred indeed fell into the vulnerable category for COVID, considering his age and weight. He's always been a strong law and order guy prone to give those much younger his take on the value of respecting authority. Given that perspective, I thought he might tell us that he'd been duly vaccinated, and so should we since it is nearly the law of the land.
"Hell no!" he said sternly.
Naturally, anyone who gives an answer with great force will gain the attention of the entire gathering. So his answer was followed by an uncomfortable silence.
I decided to let his answer stand alone and go back to my cranberries. But Cousin Alice, a natural fighter of truth and justice, couldn't let Uncle Fred go unchallenged. With her carving knife pointed at Uncle Fred, she said perhaps a bit too loudly, "You're responsible for people dying, you know!"
As I chose to freeze this scene for just a moment to consider what Cousin Alice just said, I felt the first of many stomach rumblings. All the caramelized sugars were starting to ferment. Having eaten too much of everything and now having inadvertently lit the familia fuse, I'm afraid of the consequences. Don't most angry volcanoes start with just a rumble?
Alice, younger and in better shape than Fred, looked angry. Of course, someone waving a knife and accusing someone of killing others is serious business. Some mouths had dropped open to see her standing there looking like she was about to crawl across the table on all fours and carve up Uncle Fred.
I know Alice well. We've had long talks many times. She is smart, articulate, and would never carve on anyone. The knife waving is only because it is in her hand. She talks with her arms and hands and has no ill intention other than to perhaps belittle Uncle Fred for not getting the vaccine. Most would agree that Alice is a lover- not a carver.
But I must admit I was perplexed by Alice's strident vaccine stand- and shocked by her reaction to Uncle Fred. How many times had she resisted authority- taken it to 'the man,' so to speak? Her whole life. And how many times haven't I observed her supporting those who went against contemporary demands and stand with them spitting "hell no!"
I dare a glance at Fred as he's turning various shades of red as he prepares to upbraid Alice as he did to thousands of young punks he berated as a drill sergeant. That's why I decided I must try to change the subject. I must try to save this Thanksgiving gathering and not add to the growing discontent of my stomach.
"How many of you all got the flu shot?" I ask. A few of us older folks poked up our hand, including Uncle Fred. Alice did not raise her hand or knife. My attempt at diversion appears to work as everyone goes back to pushing the thick cranberry syrup around with their forks in preparation for pumpkin pie with whipped cream.
Later, with belts loosened, I'm chatting with Uncle Oscar. Aunt Ditz is correct when suggesting he mellowed after his heart attack- some even consider him tender and wise. So I asked him what he thought of our current 'mandatory vaccine' debate.
"Well, I'm of the opinion that old Fred should get the vaccine, but Alice is wrong that it should be by dictate. I know her argument. People like her think that if only everyone got vaccinated, by force if necessary, COVID would disappear. She's bought into the only allowed narrative; the spiny little bastard can be bottled up. It can't be. And the growing number of break-thru cases prove that."
Uncle Oscar looks at me to see if I'm still listening. I am. "You asked how many had gotten the flu shot. It was interesting who did and who didn't because the same argument for mandating a COVID vaccine could be made for mandating the flu shot... but it isn't. Alice believes that if everyone got the vaccine, no one will get the virus which will save lives. We'll, then the same might be true if everyone got the flu shot. With no one getting the flu, no one would die from the flu. Unfortunately, neither the flu shot nor the vaccine has 100% efficacy. We have to learn to live with both. And we will."
"So you're not a fan of mandatory COVID vaccines?" I ask.
The important question is- if knowing that, can you still enjoy having Thanksgiving dinner with those who think differently. I pray you can.
Forgive, forget. Bear with the faults of others as you would have them bear with yours. Be patient and understanding. Life is too short to be vengeful or malicious. - Phillips Brooks