After a year of “lasts” – last Thanksgiving in America, last Christmas, last birthday, last this, last that – the “firsts” began.
It started off slowly. First Moon Festival. Quaint really as my teammate and I were invited to the rooftop garden of one of our school officials. We were served so many peanuts and seeds I started hiding them in pockets. First National Day. It was only a day and not as big of a deal as it has become in the country. First Halloween.
But then the weather changed and almost overnight we went from wearing shorts to wearing all of our clothes at one time. Why did no one close the windows? And who thought restaurants with only three walls was a good idea? Would I ever feel my feet again? Who was the genius behind half a country without heat?
Packages began to arrive with paper turkeys, pumpkins, and pilgrims. If you thought The First Thanksgiving was a production, you should have seen the culture lecture Erin and I put on for our students. Naive and energetic, we wrote skits, required practices, and learned more facts than I’ll ever need this side of Jeopardy. (Speedwell, anyone, anyone?! How about this one, 51 dead?!)
But Thanksgiving is more than a production, it’s a practice. A discipline really. A slowing down and feasting together. A remembering of how great is Thy faithfulness.
A few problems arose when it came to the discipline and ritual behind creating that space. First, we had not yet gotten over the meat market traumatization our first week and the only food we had perfected was frying potatoes. So, eating more fried potatoes didn’t feel special, it felt like survival. Next problem, we had come to China, two intelligent women, without one recipe and Al Gore hadn’t gotten around to his greatest invention of the internet yet. To review, we had potatoes, a few other veggies, salt, pepper, flour and what I had learned to order from the bakery called yellow oil (aka very low grade margarine).
All sounds charming. Except we weren’t on an exotic cooking show cooking with random ingredients (and skill) trying to win a prize. And we were freezing. And it was our first big holiday. And “our people” were on the other side of the world and “our new people” had been in our lives all of four months.
In discussing this and getting a bit depressed and woe-is-us, Mark, the only other foreigner we knew at that point, wondered if Thanksgiving evening we’d like to go out for Beijing Duck. He spoke Chinese and could order for us – yes, oh yes!
Thursday we taught in the morning, had lunch with students and went home for a short rest before joining in the sports meet. In a bizarre reenactment of The First Thanksgiving (in 1621, you’re welcome), we too participated in games, as we found ourselves helping the English Department to a victory in the tug-of-war. Other departments sputtered it was due to our girth. Don’t invite amazon like women if you don’t want them to bring it! We might not have been great cooks, but pulling on a rope, now that’s more like it.
We went home, changed, and biked to the restaurant. Mark ordered and as the waitress was leaving, he placed a small 8 ounce tinned can on the table.
And that is the moment I’ll remember forever as my bridge from old normalcy to new normalcy.
Eight ounces of a flavor and ritual that linked old Amy with new Amy. Eight ounces that contained memories and assurances. Power and simplicity intertwined with cranberries.
I may have been on the other side of the world with people I hadn’t known long, yet enough was familiar. We were going to be eating a bird. It may not have been turkey, but it was meat that we did not have to purchase raw and figure out how to cook in a toaster oven. The spicy green beans were actually an upgrade. And we were with people we loved, sharing a meal, and remembering the many blessings we had experienced.
Isn’t that like God? To take something small and insignificant and use it. And so it will be for you. I don’t know what will be used this year to remind you that you are still you, you are connected and matter, that you have much to be grateful for.
I’d love to hear what God uses in your story!