Richmond Times-Dispatch

It’s not too late to decide to stay home

- BY MARY SCHMICH Mary Schmich is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune and winner of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for commentary. © 2020, Chicago Tribune. Distribute­d by Tribune Content Agency.

It’s not too late to decide to stay home for Thanksgivi­ng. It might break your heart, and maybe someone else’s, not to have the Thanksgivi­ng of your plans and dreams. But think of it this way: Sacrifice can be an act of gratitude. Giving up something for the common good is a form of giving thanks.

In the past week, a lot of people finally havemade the hard decision to forgo the Thanksgivi­ng they want. Until the past few days, with the holiday knocking louder all the time, they’d held out hope that this Thanksgivi­ng at least could approximat­e the holidays of memory and ritual.

Then they looked at the data, heeded the warnings and changed their minds.

No need to go over all the data here. We’re numbwith COVID-19 data. One number will suffice: 250,000. A quartermil­lion Americans. Dead in only a few months from this treacherou­sly contagious virus.

That fact penetrates a little more every day, along with the understand­ing that whenwe travel, the virus does, too.

I’ve been hearing heartbreak­ing Thanksgivi­ng stories all week. Of canceled flights. Canceled hotel reservatio­ns. Difficult phone conversati­ons.

One woman wrote to tell me how sad she is that she canceled plans for her 75-year-old mother to join her and her husband for dinner. Now hermomwill

spend Thanksgivi­ng alone. She worries that she’ll see Facebook photos of other people’s festive family gatherings and “feel like a chump for following the rules.”

Honestly, I’m not surewhat I’d do if my mother still were alive and in my Thanksgivi­ng equation, but I do know that erring on the side of safety is not being a chump. It’s an intelligen­t sacrifice, and sacrifice takes courage.

The decisions we make about how to spend Thanksgivi­ng rarely involve just ourselves. We make them in relation to friends and family who might not see the situation the way we do.

One of my former colleagues — his name is Casey— tells the story of how his sister and parents have planned to rent a house for a weekwith family members from Illinois and Florida. He thought the idea was dicey and started a family email thread to say so.

“That mostly pissed my sister off,” he says.

Afterward, he did some research. He read that trying to convince people with facts won’t change hearts. So he sent his parents a heartfelt note about friends and co-workers who have lost parents. He told them that’s what he’d be thinking about all week if the Thanksgivi­ng gathering went ahead as planned.

“OnMonday morning,” he says, “my typically nonexpress­ive dad sent me one of the mostmoving messages I’ve ever gotten, saying essentiall­y, ‘Now you know what you put us through as a teenager. We’re staying home. Thanks for pushing.’”

It was an uncomforta­ble discussion but he was glad that he spoke up— not stridently, but out of love.

Canceling might even prove to be a relief. On Thursday, the daughter of a friend called to cancel their small, outdoor get-together.

“I think it’s best,” my friend says. “We all would have been really tense. Which isn’t fun. We’ll Zoom like everyone else.”

No one wants to be shamed or bullied into canceling their Thanksgivi­ng plans, and, in some cases, traveling and a small gathering might be OK.

But the CDC says stay home. Epidemiolo­gists say stay home. So does decency in the name of the common good. You could call that decency patriotic.

I decided three weeks ago not to join my brother and his family in Colorado, which I’ve done for many years. It made me sad. Still does. But the right thing often is the hard thing.

The key to turning this difficult choice into something easier is to think creatively. We can ask ourselves: How can I reframe Thanksgivi­ng?

One way would be to turn it into a day of reflection instead of a convention­al celebratio­n. Give thanks in a different way. By taking awalk and admiring the world around you. By giving money to a food pantry. By sending a thank-you note or text to someone you care about.

Make this sacrifice for the exhausted and endangered health care workers. Make it for family and friends and strangers. Make it for the future. And for yourself.

Thanksgivi­ng is just one day. It will come and go so fast we’ll barely remember what the fuss was about.

It’s not too late.

 ?? THE ASSOCIATED PRESS ?? Volunteers prepared individual Thanksgivi­ngmeals for seniors in Hawthorne, N. J., earlier this month. With a fall surge of COVID-19 infections gripping the U.S., many Americans are forgoing tradition and getting creativewi­th celebratio­ns.
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS Volunteers prepared individual Thanksgivi­ngmeals for seniors in Hawthorne, N. J., earlier this month. With a fall surge of COVID-19 infections gripping the U.S., many Americans are forgoing tradition and getting creativewi­th celebratio­ns.

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