Instead of helping to prepare for Thanksgiving, on Wednesday night I was at the San Francisco Opera, attending a performance of The Makropulos Case. A haunting piece by Leos Janacek that had its world premiere on December 18, 1926, it tells the store of a mysterious woman who claims to be 337 years old.
Born in Prague, where her father was an alchemist in the court of Emperor Rudolf II, Elina Makropulos was forced to sample a potion which could keep her youthful for 300 years. Over the centuries she has led a scandalous life using the same initials (E.M.) but taking the names of Eugenia Montez, Ektarina Myshkin, Ellian MacGregor, and her current Emilia Marty.
While not quite the female equivalent of Anne Rice's Interview With The Vampire, if a movie of the The Makropulos Case ever got produced the role would be perfectly tailored to Cher's talents.
After 337 years of life, Emilia Marty is ready to die. She's outgrown love, politics, greed, and the usual roster of base human instincts. As I waited for the bus to take me home from the opera (and kept thinking about Huffington Post's request for stories about Thanksgiving) I found myself wondering if it's possible to outgrow a tradition like the Thanksgiving dinner.
Two lyrics by Stephen Sondheim instantly came to mind: "Sorry/Grateful" from 1970's Company and "The Road You Didn't Take" from 1971's Follies. The following words certainly apply to Emilia Marty's situation:
One has regrets
Which one forgets,
And as the years go on.
The road you didn't take
Hardly comes to mind,
The door you didn't try,
Where could it have led?
You take your road,
The decades fly,
The yearnings fade, the longings die.
You learn to bid them all goodbye.
And oh, the peace,
The blessed peace...
At last you come to know.
For single gay men, Thanksgiving can be a chance to reunite with family, get together with friends, volunteer to help serve a meal to those less fortunate, or perhaps enjoy "the blessed peace you come to know." When I was much younger, Thanksgiving dinners were spent at the homes of friends in Rhode Island who had large, extended families. After I moved to California, I spent my first few Thanksgivings working as a medical transcriptionist in various hospitals so that others could spend time with their families.
The past decade has seen big changes in the way I celebrate Thanksgiving. My friend, Edward Hart (who often hosted Thanksgiving dinners), died of AIDS. I spent several years with a different group of friends who loved to cook but the host, Richard Lamberty (and several other friends who made those dinners so memorable), moved out of town.
Over the years, I also discovered that being diabetic takes away much of the gluttonous joy that accompanied the Thanksgiving dinners of my youth. Corn, mashed potatoes, cranberries, stuffing, pecan pie, and sweet potato pie are all off limits. Turkey has never really been my thing and watching football bores me to tears.
You're always sorry
You're always grateful
You're always wondering what might have been
And still you're sorry
And still you're grateful
And still you wonder
And still you doubt
Only maybe slightly rearranged.
On one or two occasions I've dined at a local restaurant with friends, but last year something interesting happened. By a curious set of circumstances, I spent the holiday alone. And it was beyond wonderful.
Good things get better
Bad get worse
Wait, I think I meant that in reverse
Why look for answers
Where none occur?
You always are
What you always were.
I've always been someone who likes to spend lots of time by myself (as the saying goes, "I am my own best friend"). So I'm spending Thanksgiving alone again this year, with (non-cranberry) relish. Instead of obsessing about Black Friday sales, it's a day to enjoy peace and quiet.
To be alone with my thoughts.
Indeed, there is much to be thankful for. But I prefer to do it alone, wallowing in the great gift that is solitude. Besides, there will be plenty of people at tomorrow night's performance of Aida.
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