Home Alone, 2020

Holiday season 2019 seems like it was 10 years ago.


By Jock Lauterer

In our neighborhood this week, the Halloween skeletons are back in the closet (sorry, I couldn’t resist), the elections signs are down, mostly — and families are wrestling with how to handle the most bizarre Thanksgiving on record.

Cut to the chase: This Thanksgiving, I’ll be home alone. 

Not the Macaulay Culkin kind of inadvertent abandonment “Home Alone.“ But rather home alone by choice.

During this most extraordinary Thanksgiving, I suspect my little story is an American narrative, when in-house festive gatherings of kith and kin from near and far can result in a deadly Rose Garden super-spreader event.

All across the country right now I can imagine texts, tweets, emails, face-times and phone calls from families wrestling with this dilemma: how to celebrate Thanksgiving when you’ve got family members who are not on the same page when it comes to COVID-19 precautions.

Luckily for me, I don’t have to deal with the extreme spectrum of maskers vs anti-maskers. But there is a significant variance in the degree of caution exercised by various family pods with which I’m associated. One side is very cautious, maybe even a little paranoid.  The other side, not so much.

Let me make myself clear: both sides are big, boisterous, fun-loving, inclusive, and largely non-judgmental. Affectionately, I call them The Thundering Herd, and I love ‘em all. Be that as it may, this Thanksgiving, I find myself caught in the middle.

One side of the family has been quarantining for two weeks and is getting tested so that they all can gather in Atlanta. The other side, taking a more “Que sera, sera” approach, forces me to make an executive decision.

I will be joining neither gathering. Rather, I will be making pre- and post-Thanksgiving Day drop-ins to my grown children in Western N.C., both located thankfully close enough for separate day-trips from our cabin near Lake Lure/Chimney Rock. I’ll bring my own turkey sandwich, paper plate, utensils, a beverage of my choice, camping chair — and we’ll sit outside, six feet apart, masked, and have a grand old time. Then I’ll go home. Alone.

But I am not alone. This is a holiday season in transition for many of us. So, buckle up; “Transitions are rarely linear,” explains New York Times writer Rebekah Peppler.

All the same, thank fortune for technology! Imagine what this experience would be like had it happened, say, in 1995? This time around, we will be “Alone, Together,” as CNN’s Chris Cuomo keeps saying.

Former CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden puts it succinctly when he warns, “A Zoom Thanksgiving is better than an ICU Christmas.”

To be sure, I am not the first holiday orphan; at Thanksgiving back in 1846, did Henry David Thoreau shutter his cabin at Walden Pond for the day and run home to his mama’s cooking (and laundry)?

Thoreau, like me, chose to be solitary. But the iconic loner wasn’t dealing with a pandemic. And what a difference that makes.

So, in this new now, what are some helpful coping tactics? There’s been some excellent advice published lately in the popular press. On the subject of being creative and adapting in a crisis, AP writer Melissa Rayworth suggests that a ritualistic holiday celebration can be adapted to the challenges of the crisis — and maybe even be moved to fit an extended family’s needs and schedules. “What about Thanksgiving in July?” suggests MSNBC commentator Dr. Leana Wen.

In the communications field of crisis management there is a useful dictum: “Don’t waste a crisis.” Meaning that every dangerous situation also has a flip side of opportunity. For Americans right now, I posit that teachable moment involves an opportunity for mental growth and character development.

Instead of grousing and whining, how about a little gratitude. After all, Thanksgiving is a naturally introspective holiday when we ask ourselves, “What are we thankful for?”

Try this for a new family tradition: everyone makes a gratitude list, suggests writer Azaria Podplesky of TheSpokesman-Review of Spokane, Wash. Next, out of craft materials, make a little wire tree. Then write things you’re grateful for on separate pieces of paper and, finally, tape each one like little leaves on the branches of your “Gratitude Tree.”

Especially in this plague year of death and dying, social upheaval and a volatile election, what better time to step back, slow down, count our blessings.

Heading my list and pinned to the top of my Gratitude Tree will be a slip of paper marked simply, “Hope, again.”

And finally, there’s no better way to beat the blues than by performing some public service. Kudos to the many volunteers working with Meals on Wheels in our community to make sure that folks in need, many of whom are really “home alone,” get not just a Thanksgiving turkey meal, but also a visit (albeit masked and at six feet) from a living, caring fellow human being.

Dear Reader, rest assured, I am not feeling sorry for myself. Not one bit. Wisdom from the Ojibwa nation reminds the self-imposed holiday orphan to pull up his big-boy pants:

“Sometimes I go about in a pity for myself …
And all the while,
A Great Wind is bearing me across the sky.”

Jock Lauterer began selling newspapers for Jim Shumaker and Roland Giduz on the streets of Chapel Hill at the age of 8. For the last 20 years, he has served as a senior lecturer and adjunct professor at the Hussman School of Journalism and Media, teaching photojournalism and community journalism.

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