Last week, my excellent parents asked me what I would do for Thanksgiving. "I'll have my piano lesson in the afternoon, and then I'll go to my Thursday evening concert," I told them. "Will you take a turkey sandwich?" they asked. And the answer is no, I won't have turkey; I won't really celebrate Thanskgiving in any formal way. I'll (deo volante) put on a skirt and my boots and walk across town to hear beautiful music in a beautiful venue, and when it's over, I'll walk home and climb into bed with my mug of hot milk and read until I sleep.
Which is not to say that I don't have a lovely invitation to a Thanksgiving feast. I do, and the fact that I do is probably a large part of why I don't feel ugly pangs of loneliness about my plan to follow my usual Thursday plan of spending a lot of time with music and a lot of time alone.
I'm sitting tonight at the end of a simply gorgeous day, a day so picture-perfectly gorgeous that once I was outside, on my way to meet my new friend (provider of the dinner invitation) and her excellent baby daughter, I knew that I would be staying outside for as much of the day as possible. In a sense, I think that today turned out to be my Thanksgiving. I worked while I was waking up, and then I went to town and walked in the sun with a cappuccino in my hand and then (such fortune!) with a baby in my arms. We talked to the guy who pulled our coffees; we visited an organic foodstore; we stopped for a few dance steps in front of an accordion player; we soaked in the sun at the foot of the fountain at Trinity. After we parted, I bought groceries and then a new piece of music. I stopped on Trinity Bridge, facing the low-slung midday sun, and sent a text message to my friend to see whether he wanted to join in the long walk that that sun had just made me decide I would be taking for the rest of the day.
Literally moments later, the phone buzzed, and he said, "I was just checking my e-mail to see if you'd written back to my proposal that we go for a ramble." We made a plan. I went back to what I had been getting ready to do on the bridge: playing a short Schumann piece on the lichen-speckled stone, singing along to myself, imagining how my fingers would work once I was back at a piano. I faced into the sun some more. I headed for home and squeezed in a tiny practice, just enough time to try the Schumann out, and then I had just enough time to get a invitation to lunch at an eminent scholar's house on the weekend.
And then off we went, off again into the sun. By this point in the afternoon, it felt like the first day of spring on a college campus: everyone, it seemed, was out and about in Cambridge; everyone, it seemed, was getting a little giddy with all the light; we ran into my new friend's parents-in-law (new friends in their own right) before we'd even left our part of town. We were all wearing our college scarves. We stood and talked in the sun, and then we went our separate ways, still in the sun. Today there was enough sun to go around, and then some.
We rambled to parts of Cambridge I hadn't yet seen--colleges I hadn't visited, with Victorian stained glass windows and strange architectural details and unexpected sculpture. We walked blithely past signs warning away visitors; we prowled into balconies from which we could spy on other colleges' halls; we stood in chapels while organists practiced. We searched for Milton's mulberry tree; we found the deep pond into which young children might fall in one Fellows' Garden; we did not find the other danger referred to at the end of the sign warning about the deep pond: "Also there are hives and flying bees." "They should be glad they still have bees," I said.
We saw the oldest plane tree I've ever seen. We passed through courtyards and buildings that far pre-date the Mayflower's sailing. We heard birds I can't yet identify from their rippling chittery sounds. We saw waterfowl I've never seen before (I guessed grebe, again, but as with the moorhens back in September, I was wrong--these were tufted ducks; I should probably stop guessing grebe).
Though, of course, it was fully dark by the time we turned homeward around 4:30 (by way of the Mathematical Bridge at Queens'), nightfall felt less dire than it has for the past few days. Returning to the flat, I realized that what I wanted to do more than anything was to keep doing whatever I wanted to do more than anything--which at that moment was to indulge in a longer piano practice than the tiny one I'd shoehorned in earlier. And so I headed off to play for a good 90 minutes, by which point it was time to get ready for formal dinner.
Now the day is all but over, and I find myself exorbitantly grateful on this eve of a day for giving thanks--grateful for the fact that I've gotten to perch within these foreign shores for another year; for the fact that, as today reminded me (as if I were in danger of forgetting), taking up this perch has meant meeting a whole new world of people, some of whom lead me right back to some of my most beloved people in the world; for the fact that I finally learned, somewhere along the line, that it's more than acceptable to knock off working for awhile when a day like this gets gifted to me--that the world does not end when I leave my desk for an afternoon, that the work gets better and fuller when I am better and fuller.
And somehow, the intensity of today's quiet, content pleasures--of walking and talking, of meetings up both planned and spontaneous, of falling into step with someone for the first time in many weeks, of dining with people who are no longer complete strangers--has me appreciating more fully than I did at the beginning of the day the pleasures that I won't be having tomorrow: the funny combination of labor and laziness that Thanksgiving brings (the alternation (for instance) of pie-baking and television-watching), the chance to eat deliciously with the three most important people in my world (plus the deaf but ravenous dog). The chance to be in that other familiar rhythm.
Perhaps most importantly, it occurs to me as I type, the chance to celebrate just by being with people I love, being with the people in my life with whom, for instance, I actually get to be physically affectionate. This week, telling my friend about watching video of the littlest Lexingtonian eating her first bites of food, I found myself saying aloud, for the first time, that while I'm still not homesick, I miss my people. I miss the babies, who are growing so swiftly and (thank God) healthily. I miss the people who really know me. You're the ones I'm most thankful for, even when I have a stupid (read: often all too silent) way of showing it. I won't be missing Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow. I'll be missing you.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.