The spirit of Thanksgiving Day was born, as history tells, during what surely was a reverential meal shared by a group of immigrants in the embrace of Native Americans near the shoreline of Massachusetts about four centuries ago.
Years later we adopted that frontier feast for its symbolism, gave it a capital letter and marked it on our calendars every November as a reminder that each of our blessings should be celebrated religiously, should be cherished and even shared aloud with others.
We entered our commitment to that principle with fierceness, with a passion to convene our families and friends and indulge not only in our most famous meal of the year but also our most intrinsic gift to one another: grace.
But today is a little different. You might not be with the ones you love or even love the ones you’re with. You may not feel comforting arms or see soothing smiles or be buoyed by the ineffable tenors of your lives.
Some of those important people may not be with us any longer. Some may be sick. Some may be vulnerable. Some may even just be careful.
The coronavirus pandemic has changed Thanksgiving Day 2020 as surely as it has changed every other day. COVID-19 has stolen from so many both the stability of a foundation and the electricity of celebration.
Do you find it difficult to feel thankful this year?
Maybe you have survived the disease but lost a job. Maybe you’ve missed saying goodbye to a loved one or sharing milestone moments. Maybe you are sick and tired of hearing about those who are sick or fired.
We have reasons to be angry, to be insolent, to be downright dismissive of each other. How in the world do we say thanks when what we want to do is scream?
That’s what we hear a lot, the louder voices rising to the top. The intolerance claws from inside us. We divorce respect and conciliation and shove aside basic human kindness. And we wonder: Is there anyone among us who does in fact feel thankful?
We went looking those people and their stories, and we found a few, your neighbors and maybe your friends, who have true thanks they are willing to share in their unfiltered words.
And what we learned from them was inspiration and reinforcement and remembrance of how we are supposed to feel today: thankful.
Steven Doyle, editor
It was the first week of October when Sarah Shropshire started having some chest pains and allergy-like symptoms.
The 20-year-old junior at Averett University tested positive for COVID-19 on Oct. 8, just four days after she started not feeling well. She also experienced body aches, an upset stomach and a headache.
She quarantined on campus for about a week, letting her body rest until she started feeling better and she tested negative again.
Shropshire said she was diligent about wearing a mask and not being in large groups of people outside of her volleyball teammates, but she still doesn’t know where she contracted the virus. In any case, she’s glad the whole experience is behind her.
“I am very thankful that I was lucky I didn’t get super sick and got past it,” she said. “I am very thankful that I made it through and luckily didn’t pass it on to anyone else as far as I know.”
She described her experience as a “very mild” case, but it still sapped her of her energy for several days. She used the downtime to rest and catch up on some schoolwork. Shropshire is a communications major.
Shropshire said she falls into a high-risk category because of another condition, so she was still nervous about getting even more sick.
“I was very worried. I had been very cautious,” she said. “I was still worried until I started to feel better and come out of it.”
Throughout the whole ordeal, however, she said she was grateful to have the support of her teammates and the university behind her. Shropshire said head volleyball coach Danny Miller texted every day, and Director of Athletics Meg Stevens checked in along with other members of Averett’s administration. She also spoke highly of the food services team that delivered meals and made sure she had everything she needed on her road to recovery.
“Everybody was very supportive,” she said.
Avicia Thorpe, Virginia’s oldest living person at 112 years old, has spent her last several years at Stratford Rehabilitation Center in Danville.
Her most recent birthday, on April 16, was celebrated virtually because visitors were not permitted at her facility due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but she was thankful for the staff for making it a day to remember anyway.
“I was serenaded by members of the Danville Fire Dept [at] the front door and members of my sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, sang outside the front door of Stratford,” she reminisced through an email provided by a family member. “I could only look out the front glass door and wave. I missed being able to touch them or get close.”
The Stratford staff used tablets to coordinate a Zoom conference call with 24 family members from elsewhere in Virginia, along with eight other states and Washington, D.C.
“It was very different and exciting,” Thorpe said. “We laughed and joked about the new technology. And I was quite fascinated.”
Thorpe, a native of Danville and a longtime educator in the city, survived the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic and is now trying to remain optimistic while living through another global health crisis.
“In order to stay optimistic, I pray constantly,” she said. “I am very grateful for life and for the wonderful staff [at] Stratford who are taking such wonderful care of me every day.”
In addition to challenges brought on by the pandemic, Thorpe also recognizes the division in the country, especially along racial and political lines, but she is hopeful that President-elect Joe Biden and his Vice President Kamala Harris, a fellow Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority member, will have the strength to repair those differences.
“And I pray that they will have God's blessings for protection from Covid-19, for wisdom and for strong dynamic leadership of a unified nation,” Thorpe said. “We must heal from this pandemic and restore peace in our communities throughout the USA.”
After the health challenges Danville resident Linda Zimmermann has endured, she has learned to appreciate the presence of loved ones in her life and the ability to weather hard times.
Zimmermann has experienced issues with spinal stenosis and degenerative disc disease. She withstood several spinal surgeries and 41 rounds of infusions without becoming seriously ill. She is especially thankful for that.
Also, surgeries were postponed due to the pandemic.
"I was in and out of the hospital a lot and I am thankful for their [doctors' and nurses'] diligent work to keep all of the patients safe," said Zimmermann, 40.
She no longer loses the opportunity to express love for the people in her life, savor the good times and take lessons from the bad.
"I am thankful that I still have all of my loved ones in my life," she said. "I am thankful that I still get to tell every person I love, that I love them at every chance I get. I no longer take anything in life for granted. I am thankful for the hard times, and I am thankful for the good times. I am thankful to be able to give love and also receive love on a daily basis. What it boils down to... I am thankful for love."
Erin Klink and her husband, Tyler, of Danville, are thankful to have welcomed their second child — a son, Callum — into the world on Sept. 26.
Doing so during the COVID-19 pandemic, though, means that they will not be able to gather with friends and family in Richmond for Thanksgiving. Instead, they are opting for a dinner that includes just the three of them and 2-year-old daughter Heidi.
“I brought my daughter into the world at a time when it was OK to be around family and to take her out and show her off,” Erin said. “It’s a whole different ball game now with my son.”
She said the family has been fortunate to not be afflicted by the virus, but it has still been a tough world to navigate with two small children.
“[Heidi] is at that age where she wants to get out and go and do stuff and see things all the time,” Klink said. “It’s been hard to have to keep her home just to keep everybody safe.”
But, she added, Heidi has already taken to her role as a sister.
“She’s so excited about having a baby brother at home now,” Klink said.
In the absence of family gatherings this holiday season, the Klinks are trying to make their home even more festive. Even during a pandemic, holidays and a newborn still need to be celebrated.
“We’re normally not ones to put up Christmas decorations until after Thanksgiving, but we actually put our tree up [Saturday] morning just to bring some light and some positive spirit into a really strange, unfamiliar time,” Klink said. “We’re very blessed to have what we have.”
John C. Crane and Parker Cotton of the Register & Bee's staff compiled this report.