A little over 20 years ago, my first husband and I moved from upstate New York to Pittsburgh, PA. We moved to be near friends, but the real reason behind it was a misguided attempt on my part to save my marriage. Somehow I convinced myself that a move would be all it took to change my husband’s behavior; that the drinking and drug use would cease, that he would hold a job for more than a few months, that he would start to think of someone other than himself, that he might show me a little consideration and not be a whining child.
You all know the result. Nothing changed except our address. And one night, of course, he came home and told me he was thinking about quitting his job and I literally heard something go SNAP! in my brain. I remember thinking Do it, just say it and the words “I want a divorce” spilled out of my mouth. He blinked at me, shrugged, said, “Okay” and went off to the kitchen to get a beer. Harder than saying those words was the realization that seven years of marriage (and of my life) had meant absolutely nothing to him.
We separated shortly after and he moved into a dingy little basement apartment (that I had to find for him because he wasn’t researching apartments (maybe thinking that I’d ask him to come back?) and I wanted him OUT). The divorce was moving forward smoothly (we didn’t own shit so there wasn’t much to divide, although in retrospect I was far too generous) and would be finalized in December. But now it was November and for the first time in my life I was facing into Thanksgiving alone. I already had plans to take an extended vacation at Christmas and drive home, but could not justify the time and expense for a four-day holiday (two of which would be spent driving). So there I sat, alone in my apartment apart from the cat, wondering what to do. I was glad to be getting a divorce, but it was still a bruising experience and painful to endure. I couldn’t find the inner strength to put my chin up and make a cheerful little holiday just for me. I’m not sure it even occurred to me (or if it did, it seemed too depressing a thought). I didn’t want to be alone, I wanted to be around people. I needed laughter and companionship, not isolation. (However, I was not so bad off that I contacted my soon-to-be-ex and invited him for the holiday. Points for that!)
The friends I had moved to be near were silent as the holiday approached. They all knew I was getting a divorce. They had been “my friends” initially and (a truth I discovered later) had never much cared for my husband, but tolerated him for my sake. For reasons I still don’t quite grasp (although any hurt has long since vanished), not one extended an invitation to join them and their families.
On the Monday before the holiday, a woman from work who I barely knew asked me to join her, her husband Michael, and their young son for Thanksgiving dinner. Lynn and I had the most tenuous of connections — we’d both grown up roughly in the same part of upstate New York — but she was much higher-up in the food chain at work and did not usually interact with me except peripherally. At first, I thought to decline (mostly out of shyness/nervousness), but in the end I accepted. I am forever grateful that I did. I had a wonderful time! The food was terrific (a blend of the traditions from both Lynn’s family and Michael’s) and the conversation excellent. We laughed a lot (a lot) and I had great fun interacting with their son. In the end, it proved to be exactly the sort of tonic I needed…and a pivotal lesson in my life. Lynn must have had her own reservations about inviting a near-stranger to her holiday table, but she set those worries aside, showed me great kindness, and bestowed an unending gift, one I have endeavored to pay forward over the years.
My husband and I (my current husband; we like to call each other our “new and improved spouse”) have both been the recipients of such blessings, so it’s not unusual for either of us to say, “How about we invite _________ to Thanksgiving?” Too often it’s just the two of us here, as it is any other day. The invitation is extended as much for ourselves as it is for the receiver. We enjoy the company and appreciate the opportunity to get to know someone new. And it makes us feel a little less lonely, too, in this increasingly isolating world. And it isn’t only single people we invite. It’s amazing how many couples out there (including us) relish the idea of Thanksgiving not being “just another day.”
So this is by way of a yearly moment of gratitude for Lynn Coghill, who stretched beyond the borders of her comfort zone and reached out a hand when I desperately needed one. Not a year goes by that I don’t remember her with fondness and wish her well wherever she is. And not a year goes by that I don’t try hard to put the lesson I learned from her into practice.