Let’s go back to 2016 in Phoenix, Arizona. Wanda Dench sent out a group text message to family members with the plan for Thanksgiving dinner. One text, meant for one of her grandchildren, was sent to Jamal Hinton, a 17-year-old boy from Phoenix. Jamal responded to the plan asking who it was, and asking despite the text being sent to the wrong individual if he could still join for Thanksgiving dinner, Wanda’s response? “Of course.”
I remember this story from 2016, as I hope many of you do as well, what I didn’t know was how this sparked something larger. In 2016, Wanda met Jamal in the driveway for dinner and said “I’m so happy you came” and he said “I am too” and the two shared a warm embrace. From that moment bud a beautiful and unconventional strangers-turned-framily (friends who we view as family). This year will be their fifth Thanksgiving celebration together, this year bringing a new moment to the pair. Below are annual photos from 2016, 2017 and 2018 dinners.
Wanda lost her husband in recent months to the COVID-19 virus at which time she was also positive for the virus. Jamal and Wanda keep in touch and reviewed how challenging this time was. Like many, the COVID-19 outbreak has transitioned the Thanksgiving plans for Wanda and Jamal as they decided to not hold a large Thanksgiving dinner, rather a more intimate setting. Jamal self-quarantined for two weeks in order to safely travel to Wanda’s home for a dinner the week before Thanksgiving. This was to ensure the safety of the pair but also of their individual families with whom they’ll sit on the actual holiday this year. The two had dinner together alongside a lit candle and portrait of Wanda’s late husband, Lonnie.
Jamal and Wanda recalled memories of Lonnie together as they embraced the ability to spend such moments together. Jamal recalled Lonnie’s ability to remain positive and how his life and memory should continue to be celebrated rather than remaining in despair, he recalls Lonnie as a good friend. Jamal has stated that Lonnie was supportive of his accidental friendship with Wanda and the pair has treated him as a friend since those first moments, with no hesitation. Wanda discussed how celebrating without her husband of 43-years was challenging but she knew it also held importance for her new reality. She reports how it brought her moments of joy, sharing a meal with Jamal, laughing and enjoying these times together, reminiscing on the past and looking forward to the future.
For me, this is a message of meaning of what Thanksgiving is truly about. The holiday is about giving and it’s about bringing people together. Breaking bread with one another no matter our differences, no matter our circumstance, in good times and through the challenging times. The origin of this relationship highlights what Thanksgiving is meant to provide us; family, moments, and love. Today, this story sheds light onto this year’s unconventional holiday season we are entering. It is not about anything other than moments and sharing safely those moments with the ones we hold close. While it may not appear to be like years past, the meaning of the day remains the same.
Years ago, my family would participate in large Thanksgiving dinners and days filled with extensive family and controlled chaos. In recent years, following my mother becoming ill, a long month of uncertainty, of hospitals and of fear, we decided to change our holiday. Since then, each Thanksgiving we’ve maintain our goal; we take this day to be with ourselves, to soak up the day and the moments we’re given, to be grateful for each passing moment we are able to share with one another. Last year I found myself in a medical hospital throughout the holiday season, yet waking to find my parents asleep in the chairs around me on Thanksgiving gave me great pause. It’s hard to find a blessing in those moments but that’s typically when we need to the most.
This life is unexpected with bumps at every turn and I’m blessed to have those around me throughout the hard days. This year, amid COVID-19, in a household full of essential employees, our goal remains the same. To cherish the time we have with one another, to focus on these moments and the gratitude we hold for our ability to be together. Sometimes it can take the most challenging moments to ground us. My heart is with those who are unable to spend this holiday with loved ones, may you find a way in this virtual world to soak up moments in any capacity. For those grieving this holiday season, may you find solace in the memories of past moments, may you find support in those close and may you find grace for yourself as you push forward. Hold onto the meaning of the day, soak up the moments, share love and maintain your gratitude even in the moments it’s hard to find. I continue to pray for the health of those around me, for those I know and love, and for those I don’t have the privilege to know; I pray for your today and I pray for your tomorrow.
May you all have a holiday filled with joy, laughter, good food and moments that you’ll savor forever.