Outside the Circle

Cindy Milstein

What Weighs Heavy


I woke this Thanksgiving morning feeling an exhaustion that sleep won’t fix, even though I tried pulling the covers over my head several times to shut out the light. Even after coffee, my eyelids feel heavy.

Heavier still, though, is the weight of this day, and what it marks, historically yet also personally.

That history is dark, like the meat on a roasted turkey that many try to avoid.

We’re taught that this day off school and work is about some sort of original solidarity in the origin story of a nation, “our” nation, where different peoples shared the cornucopia of food and friendship. But solidarity runs thin, if it’s there at all, in such myths. Even today, especially today, we see the way that solidarity becomes either charity or forgotten altogether. Likely the crowds in Manhattan were not charitable when people attempted to #StopTheParade in solidarity with Ferguson; the police certainly weren’t.

Yet even those of us who know the genocidal histories and daily strive to mend this broken world feel the need for a tryptophan Thursday, for a bit of sedation from the weight of this society that is so hard to bear. The adrenaline of resistance instantly following the nonindictment of racism in these United States crashes, whether we want it to or not, into the weariness of knowing that more blacks will be murdered by police and white supremacists, more indigenous peoples will have their unceded territories (re)stolen, more bodies of all colors and genders will be confined in occupations and traumatized by torture, war, and rape.

We need some rest, though there is none.

So many of us gather with chosen families and communities, to mark out the solidarity of bonds we’ve aspired to create against all odds. To make and share food that embodies the goodness of our gratitude rather than the caricature of our thanksgiving. To remember that we need to be awake to the suffering of this world together, again and again, with a cornucopia of empathy, and via rebellious experiments that at once also illustrate the possibility of life-affirming lives for all.

Still, it’s hard to throw off the covers of the weight of history — human history and our own personal narratives.

I awoke this Thursday, so sleepy, to a text.

The words held love from my chosen-bio-sister, too many miles away, who I spent years of Thanksgivings with while growing up and as an adult.

This Thursday was always my parents’ day. They so loved to fill my childhood home with dozens of chosen family and chosen friends, constant hubbub and lively political debate, and the warmth of ovens and pies, closeness and silliness. That the food was mostly processed and not all that good, that falsified histories of this day were not chewed over, and that yes, various ones of us bickered here and there, did not take away from the simple fact that I can’t avoid: I miss that past.

I miss a personal history that will forever be imprinted on this day, making it exhausting in a way that sleep can’t cure, and other types of dinners can’t fully heal.

I miss my parents, through the mist of memories ambiguous but tender, and a home that’s gone, filled with ghostly voices that reside in my heart still.

There is no simple history, no good story with good ending. But there is love and solidarity, true and genuine, bundled within fraught pasts.

* * *

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(Photo by Cindy Milstein, “this is not what solidarity looks like” turkey,
window on Market Street, San Francisco, November 2014.)









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This entry was posted on November 27, 2014 by in Dispatches from Life, Uncategorized.
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