Finding grace amongst a dwindling family
I’ve always understood the celebration of Thanksgiving to be a time of welcoming expansion—around the holidays, everyone is family, and everyone is loved. There’s the food, sure, but the reason for the season is the people. Food is just the incentive.
But as I’ve gone through my college career at Washington University, my personal Thanksgiving celebrations have lost face after face. There was the divorce. The Alzheimer’s. The oxygen tank. The funeral.
There were the cousins getting real jobs and moving away. The cousins getting into college and moving away. The cousins realizing that money is tight and coming back after moving away just isn’t as easy as movies made us think it would be.
So, my Thanksgiving celebration these days consists of my mom, my sister and me. Just us three, eating the usual foods around the usual time and then going about our lives as we would any other day. The food is still there, but the people aren’t. So, what’s the incentive to celebrate?
As I’ve listened to people say “I hate Wash. U.” or “I need to go home” or “I miss my family” over the past few weeks because of midterms bearing down on them and essays waiting to be written, I’ve had to bite my tongue. I’m excited to go home and see my mom and my sister and maybe my friends from high school that are still around, but nothing feels so urgently necessary about it.
You see, while my own family disappeared, and our table got smaller and smaller, it was the people here who became my family and the community I want to celebrate.
For all of its academic rigors and its social pressures and its mind-numbing routines, Wash. U. has a certain homeliness to it. There’s the small things—waving as you pass the people you see nearly every day—and the bigger ones, like the outpouring of support I see the community give whenever a tragedy occurs. The people of Wash. U. look out for each other and build each other up, just as a family should.
A few weeks ago, Rembert Browne wrote a reflection titled “Thank You God, for Black Thanksgiving,” detailing his own experiences with his family’s Thanksgiving celebrations in Atlanta. For the most part, Browne struggles in the piece with the idea that now, at 30, the family will soon be his to run. “The dishes, the stories, the history of our family—this was on us to learn and to perfect, starting today,” Browne wrote, explaining the helplessness he felt in the face of that task.
The piece struck me for two reasons. First, I would never be passed down a family celebration and would need to build my own. There are no formal dishes, stories or history in the Jenkins family. There are no positive traditions that I need to keep alive. I will not be accepting the torch, so much as finding the wood and tinder and kerosene to make a new one.
Second, and more importantly, I realized it was my time to pass along my Wash. U. family. At this point, with my graduation only three weeks away, I am quickly slipping into the forced irrelevance all seniors face during the end of their Wash. U. career.
While I have always been reluctant to leave these grounds for any break, I have no choice, now.
So, before I leave for good, I have a request: Make sure that Wash. U. stays a safe space for people like me. Know that amidst the stress and the constant feelings of not doing enough, there are some who take so much solace from being here, around all of you.
That’s not to say everyone needs to love Wash. U. because trust me, I get it—this place is a pressure cooker. It’s only meant to say thank you for being who you are and doing what you’re already doing.
The humans of Wash. U. have made this campus my place of welcoming expansion, and I’m so thankful that it lasts more than one day each year.