a place at the table


This week I’m lucky to have the flexibility (and frequent flyer miles) to fly to Pennsylvania to spend Thanksgiving with my parents, my sister and my brother.  I have two other brothers who won’t be able to make it — but still, I’m very thankful I get to spend the holiday with the fam.[br]I haven’t always been able to be with family on holidays, though.  And I haven’t always had a place to go.

I grew up in Pennsylvania, but went to college in Los Angeles, and I couldn’t afford to fly home for Thanksgiving.  Another girl in my dorm was in the same situation, so we house-sat for a family in Los Angeles, who lived close to our college.   We spent Thanksgiving in our pajamas, doing homework.  We took a quick break to eat TV dinners, and then did more homework.   Then we decided we were bored, so we went to a drug store (still in our pajamas) and bought hair dye, and dyed each others’ hair.

Another Thanksgiving, I was living in Portland, attending a church of thousands of people, but no one invited me over for Thanksgiving.  The idea of spending the day alone in my apartment was depressing, so I called a friend in New York who was also single and didn’t have anywhere to go.  We met in Puerto Rico and had Italian food at our hotel’s restaurant for our Thanksgiving dinner.

Hair dye and spaghetti are not exactly, well.....festive.

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I know I’m not the only one who’s experienced loneliness on a holiday.  I have lots of single friends who have also spent holidays alone because no one invited them to join their family.

There was a widower in one of my dad’s churches when I was growing up who was so lonely, he would go to the grocery store and push an empty cart around the store for hours, just to feel close to people.

Another widower had Christmas dinner at the diner because his family was far away, and he didn't know how to cook.

We can do better, people.  We can do better -- as individuals and as a society.

Here’s the thing.  If we’ve decided as a society that it’s not polite to invite yourself to things, we’d better be darn good at inviting each other.

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I think it’s important for all of us to take a minute this week and think about the Invisible people around us.   So here are a few things I think we can do to take care of each other this week.

1) People who live on the streets need to eat 365 days a year, not just on Thanksgiving and Christmas Day.

It’s great to volunteer at a shelter, serving a special meal to people who live on the streets, on Thanksgiving or Christmas day.

But remember that homeless people are just like you -- they like to eat three meals every day, not just a feast on Thanksgiving and Christmas.   And your local shelter might prefer faithful volunteers throughout the year instead of a barrage of phone calls during the holidays from people who want to an unusual activity to do on Thanksgiving and Christmas.

2) Being lonely on a holiday is just as tragic as going hungry.  

Emotional pain is just as painful -- if not more so -- than physical pain.  So someone eating a T.V. dinner in their living room alone on a holiday is just as tragic as someone going hungry.   It's not fun, and it is 100% preventable.  No one needs to spend a holiday like that.

As human beings, we don't just need food on Thanksgiving; we need a place to belong.  We need a place at the table that was set for us by someone else with tenderness and care.  By someone who wanted us there.

3) Homeless people are not the only people who are Invisible. 

I guarantee you, you know someone who is planning to spend the holiday alone.  They might be a coworker or a fellow congregant or a friend or a neighbor who lives down the street.

And it is just as unnecessary for them to be alone as it is for a homeless person to go hungry.

So I would invite you today to pick up the phone, or get your texting fingers ready, and ASK people — especially exchange students and people who are single, widowed, separated or divorced — if they have a place to go.  And if not, ask them if you could set them a place at your table.

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It may not seem like a profound gesture to you, but trust me, just by asking someone that simple question — Do you want to spend Thanksgiving with us? — you could make the difference between someone feeling lonely and invisible this Thanksgiving, and someone feeling loved and wanted and known and seen.