Perhaps it oughtn’t be the case — me being a family-oriented traditionalist and all — but I’m not a devotee of Thanksgiving. It might be my workaholism. It might be my lack of interest in football. And I’m not a big fan of turkey. (In part because tryptophanic considerations trigger a workaholic aversion.)
It’s always nice to have a day off, of course, but with so much to accomplish in too little time, the frantic lethargy of the holiday tends to give me the shakes. I’m eager to be convinced otherwise, but it would strike me as rude to break out the laptop in the midst of an extended-family gathering. (Even a quasi-drunken, football-induced, introverted trance would seem more acceptable.) So when conversation ebbs — conversation that tends toward work, anyway — or when I’ve previously heard the story being told, I find my thoughts drifting toward things that I might otherwise be doing. And one can only discretely check an empty cell-phone emailbox so many times.
Yet there’s something in the illustration on today’s Providence Journal editorial page that awakens a longing in me. It’s of a partygoer departing from a house on a snowy evening back in the days of animal-drawn carriages. Back when the trip to the family gathering was a larger part of a holiday — and a relaxing stroll, at that, rather than a high-speed race through advertisement-adorned airwaves. Back when folks provided their own entertainment: a dance or a recitation or some kind of performance.
Is this a dysfunction of modernism, I wonder? There is nothing to stop we of blogs, gadgets, news cycles, and passive (massive) entertainment from setting the kids before a piano or pulling each other off the couches to dance. It would feel awkward, though, wouldn’t it? The sheer abnormality of the thing would encourage the feet toward dragging. How many of us even know the steps? And if we’re going to stand at the window and watch the children run around outside, we might as well split our attention to the television.
To some extent, these things are what we make of them, much like thankfulness itself, and just as I’m inclined to find the hand of God in life, I’m inclined to find the angle at which justifications for thanks come into view. It may help, this year, that I’ve now got a fully functional Web browser on my phone. That probably would have made a wintry carriage ride more tolerable, too.
I observed an interesting cultural development at the family dinner that I attended this afternoon: One twenty-something member of the family brought a game for the PlayStation for which the player uses a specialized guitar-style device to play along with songs on the screen, and the crowd in the younger boy’s bedroom watching the action (and taking turns, of course) gave me the impression of an old-time gathering around the piano. It may exist already, but I’d suggest that the software designers would do well to release versions for holidays.
Somehow it wouldn’t quite be the same as the old sing alongs, but it’d be close. Of course, even as I took my turn with the fake guitar, I couldn’t help but wonder whether the young man who’d brought it wouldn’t have been better served playing with a real one instead of investing so much time in the game over the past year. Thus does modernity seek to fill the cultural void that it creates, but always with something less, and something farther removed from the imagination.