Giving Thanks Under the Mask

Thanksgiving has always been my family’s favorite holiday. My parents usually host 20 or more family and friends for an incredible day of feasting, football, and fellowship. This year, our tradition will be broken for the first time in my life. It has been a tough year all around. My parents have only held my newborn son—born right at the height of the bell curve in New York in April—outside with masks on. Things are pretty bleak.

And I am one of the most fortunate. Some of our neighbors don’t have a roof over their head or a family to lean on. 240,000 of our neighbors, and growing, are no longer with us. So many have lost a loved one and had to grieve, often without ever getting a chance to say goodbye.

It feels a bit shallow to search for silver linings in a public health tragedy and a year of sustained hardship, but we do continue to see incredible ways that our community has come together. Before COVID-19, how many people stopped and thanked a grocery store worker for showing up to serve the community? This pandemic revealed that there are people all around us doing essential work in our communities. They’ve always been there.

I’m thankful to all of the frontline heroes—especially our healthcare workers and of course Westhab’s incredible team. In April and May when most of our community was shuttered in, Westhab staff in our shelters and other essential programs never missed a shift. As time wore on and many began relaxing standards, Westhab staff and clients stayed vigilant. We care too much about each other to put anyone in our community at risk. I will never forget the passion and commitment shown by Westhab staff this year.

Everyone in our community has found creative ways to adapt. We have a new vocabulary—social distancing, quarantining, distance learning. Most of us didn’t know about Zoom meetings a year ago. Now we’re doing Zoom birthday parties. I couldn’t have imagined wearing a mask every day. Now my five-year-old wears hers all day in kindergarten without complaint. Graduations, award shows, and concerts have all gone virtual. The NFL draft was held in a basement in Westchester. This battle is far from over, but I’m thankful for the way our community has adapted for the common good.

I left my office the other day and made it about 10 steps down the hallway before I realized I didn’t have my mask on. It was the first time I had crossed the threshold of the door without it and I quickly hustled back to retrieve it. I remembered for a moment what things were like just nine months ago. No fear of people walking by in the street. Handshakes and hugs. Packing into conference rooms, banquet halls, stadiums, and concert venues.

When I gather with only my immediate family this year, carving the smallest turkey in our Thanksgiving history, I’ll try not to think of anything we’ve lost, but instead think of the abundance of things I am thankful for—our essential frontline heroes, the way our community has adapted to the new reality, and the small piece of fabric that keeps those around us safe. And my newborn son too of course, whose grandparents are willing to sit outside in the cold with masks on just to see his little face. Truly, so much to be thankful for.

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