Between 2000 and 2004 I lived in the Lakeview neighborhood of Chicago. At one time or another you may have heard me mention a place called Ashland Estates. That was our house and if you ever want to hear stories of people occasionally doing not-so-smart things, let me know.
Around the corner from us lived a retired Marine named Ernest. He loved sitting atop his narrow front staircase and talking with passersby. Since he saw me walking to and from work every day, we often had a chance to talk. On those days when we spoke during my walk home, he would always end with, “Go home and have a good meal.”
There is no better day for which that advice applies than Thanksgiving. And as I learn more and more about the world’s complexities, I believe there are few better ways for creating understanding and cooperation. It’s interesting how, regardless of the culture, there is heavy symbolism and meaning attached to people gathered around the table sharing a meal. Equally impressive is the human instinct for connection and creating it over a common denominator: the need for sustenance. Strip everything away and we quickly realize commonality. And while not every day is a national holiday, there is embedded within the ritual some element of thankfulness - for the food, the company, the chance to share our lives with each other, even if incrementally.
Since arriving in August there have been numerous group dinners at various apartments, each one a chance to show off culinary prowess and get to know new friends a little better. We sometimes include traditions or practices of the cultures from which we come. In the first month or two my apartment seemed to team up with a neighboring trio of women. I don’t remember how it unfolded but they invited us to their place before heading out for some dancing and then we reciprocated the following week. The meal is central and always there is a sense of gratitude and an excitement in getting to know each other better.
And I’ve got another such event tonight. Two of my classmates, Yumna and Rachel, are hosting a few of us for an Arabian Nights themed feast. Both have a history in the Middle East/North Africa region and are ready to serve up a bunch of food I’m fairly certain I’ve never tried. I’m very excited for it. And in case you were concerned about the lack of traditional Thanksgiving fare, fear not. SAIS is hosting a large Thanksgiving dinner this weekend complete with turkeys and all the fixings. After all, it’s really Thanksgiving weekend, right?
So wherever you are and whenever you are reading this: go home and have a good meal. Think about what you have to be grateful for every day and let the thoughts - and food - fuel you to go out the next day and do it better.