I have an immigrant's dream: a Better Homes and Gardens Thanksgiving dinner. One perfectly choreographed meal of American bounty and perfection. This photogenic fantasy meal represents something else: proof of my worth. Although I was born here, I used to feel I came up short on this most American of holidays. I am vegetarian. I am American, but there is no turkey on my table.
What I really want on Thanksgiving is to be accepted, embraced and appreciated: by my family, and more vaguely, by my country. Cooking my heart out may or may not be part of that.
It's ironic, since this is an immigrant's celebration. All I know about Thanksgiving is the primary-school, construction-paper-Pilgrim-hat and beneficent-Indian version. That's the other kind of Indian, a point which caused no end of confusion to my childhood. As with most things, I am woefully ignorant of the historical truth (if there even is a truth at all), so I've cobbled together my own present-day version -- a Hindu Thanksgiving. But I'm Hindu in an American way, so it's really a Hindu-American version, which of course, is really just American.
We create the community that we want to be accepted into. It is already there, before us, if we can just pause and let ourselves see it.
I grew up in a Hindu home that was open to any and everyone in our Northeast Minneapolis neighborhood-at-large. At Thanksgiving, my house today is as confusing, chaotic and lively as my childhood. But it's not "turkey day." Traditionally, we make lasagna. I'm not sure how that started. But it's perfect: an Italian dish, a Hindu cook, an American table.
I also make the whole, expected, shebang: mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn, cranberry sauce, about four different kinds of pie and chai. My family would rebel if there was no chai.
My family experience of being Hindu is deeply rooted in inclusiveness, social equity and community service. Chai-party values, if you like. Giving is part of being thankful: We acknowledge our own bounty and share with those who have less. This year I am achingly aware of those who have less, those who struggle to put everyday food on the table. I can't imagine the anxiety that Thanksgiving, with all its demands of abundance, must bring to those who have no abundance. I am shamed by my shallow vision of perfection.
Bounty is not only the material: it is the strength of our hearts, the power of our intellect, the wisdom of our traditions, the poetry of our being. Community is the communion of sharing these things. Sharing means giving as well as receiving. We are intertwined; our actions reverberate and echo and come around again. No one only gives or only receives.
Everyone brings something to the table.
On Thanksgiving, I have been surprised by unanticipated guests, interesting food, odd drinks, badly-behaved pets, talented teenagers, amazing stories and conversations both warm and contentious. More than anything, I have been surprised by the thrill of the unexpected amid the familiarity of ritual. My expectations are always challenged.
I have to surrender my image of perfection. The reality is far messier, but it is warm and real, unpredictable and delicious. It is the abundance at my table.
There's pumpkin pie on the table and chai on the stove. This is America, after all. We create our own truth, if there even is a truth at all. We are all poor in something. We share with those who have less. Everyone brings something. We are imperfect, real, enriched.