3 Thanksgiving Cliches Renewed

I’ve never enjoyed Thanksgiving – in the way people look forward to turkey and stuffing all month, name it as their favorite meal, crave pumpkin pie. I’m glad I grew up in the United States. I love my family. I enjoy being grateful. But somewhere between my hatred for vegetables (yes, even mashed potatoes) and the holiday posts infiltrating my feeds, I haven’t found real meaning in the holiday.

Thanksgiving exudes cliche. I admit to mimicking the popular choice, “I’m thankful for my friends and family,” when we go around the table. It’s easy to go through the motions, especially when most of the motions involve ingesting seconds and thirds of American comfort food and falling asleep in front of the TV.

My problem is that I haven’t looked deeper, bothered to understand how the traditions affect my everyday choices. So here’s my attempt to trace Thanksgiving cliches back to the meaning the should always hold:

1. The “I’m thankful for _____” cliche. I am thankful for my friends and family. But is that all there is to it? Are these people simply there to benefit me and make me feel loved? We all know that’s wrong, but we often make it sound right. Someone recently asked me, “Was it just me, or were everyone’s ‘I’m thankful for’s a little shallow last year?” I jumped to the defense, but he had a point. This year, I want to reflect on the following blanks before saying what I’m thankful for:

  • “I’m humbled by ______.”
  • “I admire _____ because ______.”
  • “I often fail at _____, and I’m only able to continue because of ______.”

It takes vulnerability to complete these statements, and that’s what I want. I want my gratefulness to be so true that it hurts.

2. The “I have to visit my crazy family this holiday” cliche. Yeah, they’re crazy. They bring out the worst in us and they don’t bother to be polite and they hurt us. But I’m much more of a criminal then they are. More importantly, my family formed me and knows me better than anyone. And they still love me unconditionally. We crave ingenuity in this world blanketed with artificiality. Family is as real as it gets, baby. Perfection is not an option in a fallen world, but forgiveness and relationship will always be there.

3. The generosity cliche. I fall into giving because it feels good, because my blessings mean that I have a responsibility to give. I see the holidays infiltrated with this mentality. But this type of generosity is no better than hording everything for myself. I want to give because my sole purpose in life is to glorify my creator. Because every person reflects his image. Because I am a servant. Because loving everyone I know is not a means to feeling good but the end to loving God.

There are probably a few cliches in these paragraphs (*cringe*). And I know I’m participating in one simply by writing a holiday-themed post, promoting thankfulness via social media. I’m okay with that because it’s real thankfulness. And to get there, I’m experiencing real forgiveness, real love, and real relationship. Let Thanksgiving drive us not only to gratefulness but also unstoppably toward contagious, real joy.

You are beautiful. Thank you.

Thanksgiving table

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India Memories

I drank chai in the dry heat at least twice every day – my only break from rice and savory curry. It sat on the sunned bench in a small silver tank. The creamy brown tea was hotter than the air, burning my fingers through the small paper cup. I stood in the middle of the brown sand drive, loving my India dessert.

A gecko smaller than my pinky finger hid between my suitcase and the wall. He scampered out of the room through the crack under the door, came back once, and left again. I felt guilty for wanting him gone, concerned he didn’t like the open hallway.

I experienced love and homesickness in the form of baking chocolate chip cookies with once the wrong kind and once the right kind of vanilla extract.

Middle-aged women prayed for me on a Tuesday afternoon. We were under the ceiling fan with the window open – one in starched sari and one in worn salwar kameez.

I frequented the tailor shop, always scattered with uncut, patterned fabric, smiles the main form of communication, the green-gray-eyed seamstress always curious.

Rats, monkeys lived at the train station, the baby monkey clinging to its mother’s thin and stretched belly. I stood for hours, careful not to let the edge of my foot touch the ground beneath my sandals, ready to run if the animals inched closer when the light intermittently went out.

Sunrise

I watched the sun rise from my bunk on the overnight train, sandwiched into a compartment with one young and one old Indian man and my travel buddy on the three other beds. All were asleep while I fearfully clung to the orange ball shining through the dust-covered window. It looked like The Lion King out there.

The older man made conversation with us in 10 or less English words at the end of our train ride. I’d been afraid of him the entire trip after hearing him grunt and seemingly argue with an attendant.

I bought chai for two rupees from a chai-wallah who got on at one of the train stops while the others continued to sleep. He offered me a second cup and had the happiest smile.

We sped up switchbacks to the hill station in the back of a taxi, signs warning fast drivers in English at every turn.

I looked up to the moon in the clear black sky through the palm leaves, the fumes of mosquito repellent and gasoline-smoke strong.

I ate the sweetest supermarket pineapple alone on the roof, rushing to beat the mosquitoes.

Rat-or-bat noises squeaked through my window air conditioner after I returned from a two-week trip. I pulled my bed away from the wall. The noises stopped after a week.

chilis

My favorite dining hall dish was spicy red egg curry. On that forever mound of white rice.

I ventured into the kitchen pantry to find (and eat) the Nutella I knew was there but was only served when guests came for breakfast.

I pretended to learn to cook but was only overwhelmed – all to get some home-made food and spend time with generous friends.

We ventured to the city – to buy a cell phone, go to the dentist, and get subway – all in an auto on our own. It was a long day.

I haggled prices and talked with an accent that wasn’t mine. Did anyone think I was mocking?

I bought an expensive long green sweater for the mountain’s cold evenings – and because I trusted the quiet shop owner.

I squinted at the Himalayas after climbing hundreds of steps. We took the cable car down.

Himalayas

I rode a horse along the mountainside, fearing for the blisters I’d have from the stirrups, and fearing for my place in the saddle, as we galloped down the steep, stony path.  Sultan was white and followed my directions, but he listened more to our rushed guides.

I met students – held their hands and sang with them and told them about OHIO.

I watched older students mock their teachers in a skit. So composed were they usually, I finally saw them free and pressing boundaries.

I listened to the fears of young women facing long train rides and life in villages. They held my hand on their bunks.

I recorded the names of my soon-to-be-teacher-friends and attended their farewells three mornings in a row.

I ate lunch with beautiful ladies, young and old, every day under the pavilion. When it got hot, we moved to the almost-air-conditioned dining hall. They always shared their homemade food, and it was always the best. They always joked, and we always laughed, grinning and holding each other’s stares.

My friend some days in the spring brought to work jasmine for my hair, and I saved all of the flowers in a tin.

I fainted on the street in the busiest and most dangerous part of the city, but I wasn’t afraid. These friends I’d known a few months – I trusted them.

CLE + Joy: Natural Color

I didn’t expect to find color in Cleveland. And I didn’t expect to find joy in color. But because nature-colors are less present here than in rural areas, I notice them more. Not the colors alone, but the way they contrast with the buildings and roads and everything that is city-gray. I’m on a daily hunt for these intersections. And I am grateful for this fall surprise.

Shaker Blvd. Night leaves Golden walkway Progressive Field Dave's Buckeye-Shaker Fall tree Sunset Shaker Heights

CLE + Joy: Food Culture

I’m hesitant to join the food Instagram-ers, and I refuse to become a “foodie” to combat the Gen Y syndrome. But the spiritual and physical life-giving power of food brings me joy, makes me want to share.

Below are some of my Cleveland food experiences, made beautiful by art, relationship, and adventure.

1. Crepes, delicate, rich, and packaged the same way they are in France:

Crepes

2. Apple strudel at a Hungarian restaurant:

Hungarian Apple Strudel

The Hungarian owner, a gruff but endearing gray-haired man, waited on my table. He didn’t smile at our eager “thank you”s, but he waved from his chair at the back, in between overseeing the tables and ordering the bus-boys, as we exited.

3. Jokes on Shaker Square:

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4. Dim sum bringing cultures together:

Dim Sum

Every time I see West meet East, contrast is revealed. I delight in the conflict/communion/cooperation.

Today I heard that food is inherently good. Genesis 1:29-30 says “Then God said, ‘Look! I have given you every seed-bearing plant throughout the earth and all the fruit trees for your food. And I have given every green plant as food for all the wild animals, the birds in the sky, and the small animals that scurry along the ground – everything that has life.” Before sin!

Literal vs. figurative interpretations aside, food was placed here for us to enjoy, along with the rest of the universe. And it creates order within creation. So let’s receive.

CLE + Joy: The Faces of Downtown

The first of my posts on the small joys of Cleveland, this one is more universal than some of the beauties I described in the CLE + Joy introduction. I’ve been a shameless tourist when it comes to capturing downtown Cleveland in my month and a half here.

Being a tourist has allowed me to get a real picture of what downtown is – without letting all of the negative comments I’ve heard bring it down. Today, my boss said to the company, “Cleveland is the country’s best kept secret. We just have a self-esteem problem.”

There is much more beauty than dust in this city, and I want to share it. I can finally pick out the Cleveland skyline. And I love it. The lake sunsets, the intricate architecture, the fresh streets, the Wednesday business rush and the weekend excitement.

From Shaker Heights

From Shaker Heights on a summer night

From Ohio City

From Ohio City on a West Side Market run

From Progressive Field

From Progressive Field before a Tribe win

From St. Clair and E. 6th

From St. Clair and E. 6th on a Wednesday morning

From E. 6th

From E. 6th on 9/11/13

What are your favorite parts of downtown Cleveland? What’s beautiful to you?