(Relinquishing) My Quest for the Best Feast Ever

My Arab Muslim family was all about Thanksgiving. We hosted friends at a huge feast at our home almost every year, quite possibly the most American of all our family meals (though my mother’s couscous stuffing is like no other!). Our home was full of delicious smells and laughter.

My first Thanksgiving away from home was in 2002, the year I moved to DC to be in the heart of politics. I spent most of my weekends that November glued to the Food Network pleading Martha Stewart to teach me how I would cook a turkey. Mistakes were made but everything was delicious. As I sat in my tiny studio apartment surrounded by the loved ones I had in DC, there was a sense of satisfaction that came from accomplishing this big part of our national culture all by ourselves; it felt like a sign that we were becoming independent adults in our own rites.

But over the next few years, my Thanksgivings gradually got out of control. Thanksgiving was a day to reflect on what we had individually and as a collective, and I was committed to ensuring that we would reflect over the best meal ever. Yet in doing so, I was spending the equivalent of nearly a month’s grocery bill on this one meal (granted, the leftovers fed my roommates and I for weeks)! I enjoyed the satisfaction of Thanksgiving as I would envision a marathon runner feeling after a race—a great sense of accomplishment for enduring a great physical trial (two straight days of cooking on my end) but utter exhaustion at the end of the day.

Four years later, as is the case with most young people who stay in DC, most of my friends had moved away. Yet despite that my guest list had dwindled down to three others, the menu was no less elaborate. Luck would have it that this was the year in which learned that I needed to chill out. I had been traveling in a developing nation and returned home to DC two days before Thanksgiving-- which I’d scheduled to give myself adequate time to shop for ingredients and start cooking. But by Tuesday evening, something was going on in my belly. By Wednesday I was in the emergency room with a severe case of parasites wreaking havoc on my digestive system.

With two years of distance from that experience, I can totally laugh at myself, but as I lay writhing in pain, slightly delirious, and majorly feverish, I kept demanding that the doctors fix whatever was going on because I had to go home and cook Thanksgiving. I did ultimately make it home in time for Thanksgiving, but one of my friends had to take over the cooking. That person, bless her heart, made an amazing feast—and only used about a quarter of the ingredients I had bought.(Yes, I was able to eat and enjoy—technically I was eating for millions!)

The humility I gained from my body being so damaged and from having this holiday meal forced out of my hands reminded me of the reasons Thanksgiving is such a wonderful holiday. It takes the most basic of our human desires—eating—and creates an opportunity for us all to slow down and enjoy not only the food before us but also the company we are surrounded by. I was making it An Event, when really, I needed to recognize it for the day of peace it should be. In times like these—economic uncertainty, political upheaval, civil rights being tested—we need Thanksgiving more than ever. We need a day to do the best we can to not focus on everything negative around us and focus instead on all the positive things we have in front of us.

I’m writing this blog post while starting my trek back West to spend Thanksgiving with my parents and adopted family, and to see the friends who have known me the longest. It’s time to return home. Because for me, there’s nothing I’m more thankful for than being able to go home to the people who know you best.

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