All that's left of Thanksgiving is leftovers, and I've had time to reflect on what took place in my dining room and kitchen over the last few days. Cooking for 20 people leaves little time for reflection, but cleaning up is a long, slow process.
As I sort through the mismatched silverware my mother collected, the serving dishes my grandmother used for Jewish holidays, the plates my mother-in-law handed down to me, and the mugs my kids painted on rainy days at our local pottery place, I think about all the people behind those symbols of family and holidays. I remember the smell of my grandmother's house when she baked her flaky apple strudel, and the way my mother, an untraditional artist all her life, used to carefully follow a recipe for jello mold.
I'm grateful for the friends and family I love dearly, and for the many meals we've shared, on holidays and other days. But I occasionally feel a twinge of sadness, because my parents are not here to celebrate with me anymore. My father died 23 years ago. My mother lives in the advanced care unit of a nursing home. What would it would be like if I could snap my fingers and summon a table full of people at will, from my past and present? What kinds of things would we say to one another now?
While grocery shopping last week, I overheard a woman complaining bitterly about someone she'd spent Thanksgivings with in the past. As I left the supermarket, I thought about the occasions that bring people together, voluntarily or kicking and screaming.
The most memorable meals of my childhood came back to me. The endless Passover Seder my great-aunt hosted that used to bore me to tears, the first time my father cooked the flounder we'd just pulled out of the sea, when my sister cried at the memory of the flat fish swimming below her earlier that day. The filet mignon dinner my father cooked the first time I brought my future husband home to meet my parents...
I wondered what it would be like to sit down now and break bread (or matzoh) with the people who caused me pain, brought me joy, loved me, confused me and scared me over the course of my lifetime.
What if we could have imaginary dinners with people at will? What if we could break bread, heal old wounds, clear the air, and right the wrongs we've done to people over the years, even after they're gone?
I've met extraordinary teachers and healers lately, while I researched and wrote a book about meditation and other healing experiences. I've had the good fortune to meet fascinating people all across the country, while I've been promoting my book. I've discovered blogs filled with beautiful writing and important life lessons. I've received extraordinary emails from readers I might never meet in person, who've shared their lives with me honestly and courageously.
In a spontaneous burst of appreciation last week, I reached out to some of the wonderful people I've met on Twitter this past year, giving them all seats at my imaginary Thanksgiving dinner table. I loved the thought of engaging in long, spirited conversations with them, over good food and good wine instead of the internet.
Which led me to wonder what other imaginary holiday dinner tables I might put together.
I'd like to cook Thanksgiving turkey for Eleanor Roosevelt. I'd make just vegetarian side dishes for His Holiness the Dali Lama. I'd iron my tablecloth for Jackie Kennedy Onassis, put on makeup for Paul Newman, and become uncharacteristically silent in the presence of Spalding Gray and Patti Smith.
I'd like to seat Dr. Seuss next to my mother sometime, and see what conversations would ensue. I'd like to see what Timothy Leary might add to my New Year's Eve menu. I'd love to feel my dear, departed dog Mickey curled up under my dining room table once more. I'd love to get to know my grandfather, who died when I was seven. Or my art professor from college, who died when he was forty.
I'd love to gather together neighbors I barely know and people I've wanted to know better, to hear how they celebrate the holidays in their own homes, how they met their true loves, left their hometowns, developed their passions, succeeded or failed, gave in or gave up, struggled or thrived.
Every day or holiday, Thanksgiving or otherwise, is an opportunity to dream big.
Priscilla Warner co-authored The New York Times bestseller "The Faith Club." Her new memoir, "Learning to Breathe -- My Yearlong Quest to Bring Calm to My Life", is published by Free Press. Follow her on Twitter on Facebook or on her website.
Follow Priscilla Warner on Twitter: www.twitter.com/PrisWarner