“Thanksgiving and a Welcome Melancholy” in the Philadelphia Inquirer (November 25, 2010).
On a recent autumn night, I found myself sitting by the fire in the backyard. The moon and stars shone above while the fire danced and crackled below.
In the quiet, there was a distant sound. It was a solitary goose, its honks echoing through the night as its silhouette moved across the sky.
It was a melancholy sound, or so it seemed to me: a lone bird, separated from its flock, flying through the night in a frantic attempt to reunite with its brethren.
As we celebrate Thanksgiving today, I will think of that goose and feel a kinship to it. Perhaps we all should. Whether the holiday finds us traveling a few hundred miles, just a few blocks, or not at all, the destination we hope for remains the same: home.
For me, returning home evokes an almost tangible sense of nostalgia – a feeling of yearning for the past that can sometimes border on melancholy. But I think the word melancholy gets a bad rap. Yes, it may imply lasting sadness, but the same Thanksgiving nostalgia that begets melancholy can also beget gratitude and happiness.
Today, as I return to the home where my parents raised my six brothers and me, nostalgia will set in. I’ll long for the childhood games of football in the front yard, for chasing a hail-Mary pass down the street. I’ll miss sitting by the fireplace watching Charlie Brown try to kick that football. I’ll yearn for the old collection of Christmas LPs and my mom’s coleslaw. And I’ll miss the man who for so many years sat at the head of the table, our father.
Along with that nostalgia will inevitably come melancholy. The sadness will be short-lived, however, as it reminds me of just how wonderful the memories have been and how thankful I should be. A smile is sure to follow as I watch the present unfold.
My children and their cousins will take to the front yard carrying a football. They’ll sit by the fireplace laughing at Snoopy and Woodstock. They’ll discover the old Christmas LPs – not having a clue that music could emanate from such devices! They’ll feast on their grandmother’s coleslaw. And they’ll accompany their fathers to the cemetery down the street to say a prayer for their Pops.
This Thanksgiving, I am thankful for the homesickness and the sadness. They are gifts reminding me that it has been a wonderful life. And as I look around my childhood home today, dodging children as they romp, I’ll be reminded that it continues to be a wonderful life, and the memories being made today are the nostalgia and melancholy of my future.
As we mourn the loved ones of our memories, let’s allow ourselves that sadness. It makes the ensuing gratitude and happiness more palatable. That way, tonight’s Thanksgiving feast will not only fill our bodies; it will also stuff our souls and lift our spirits.
A toast, then, to all those journeying home in body or spirit, and all those returning to their flocks: Godspeed, and safe home.