Thanksgiving Travel Guilt and Other Tales of the Pandemic

8 minute read
Susanna Schrobsdorff writes the It’s Not Just You newsletter on Substack

A version of this article was published in It’s Not Just You, a weekly newsletter from TIME. 🌞 SUBSCRIBE HERE to get a weekly serving of big-hearted advice delivered to your inbox.

“We live in deeds, not years; in thoughts, not breaths;
In feelings, not in figures on a dial.”

Philip James Bailey


Well hello! I’m so glad you’re here. This week we have four gems from TIME’s 100 Must-Read Books 📚 list, timely inspiration from Dolly, your weekly dose of human kindness, thoughts on holiday guilt, and a super-Zen comfort dog.🌞

In my twenties, I was a selfish dope about Thanksgiving. Instead of going home to my parents, there were a few years when I decided to spend the holiday with friends in some other city or country because it was easier or more fun. I thought of my mother and father as constants—like the ocean they lived near, or Mephista, the ancient and eternally outraged cat my father insisted was “too evil to die.” He pretended to despise her, but every morning he made two bowls of oatmeal with cream, one for her, one for him. And God help us, she ate her bowl on the counter right next to him.

Back when going home was just a bus ride, I didn’t understand what it meant to my parents to have the whole family around the table. And I really didn’t get the inevitable fragility of the generation before me till I had my own kids. That’s when you start to do the math about how long your children will have their grandparents.

With my mom and dad and many aunts and uncles gone, l can say that time with beloved elders when they are still themselves goes so much faster than you think. Now the unspeakable toll of COVID-19 is making that equation brutally real to too many of us—including a lot of young people who are figuring it out way earlier than I did.

When I hear young friends talk about getting tested and quarantining for weeks so they can spend Thanksgiving with their parents safely, I sink into a little puddle of regret. If my parents were still in that little Cape May house, I’d corral my kids and have Thanksgiving dinner at a card table in their driveway wearing our parkas if we had to.

And like everyone, my heart cracks open when I think of the tens of thousands of people this year who are facing their first holiday after losing someone they loved to the virus, or who will be alone this year to avoid traveling.

So if you can’t be with your family, the one you inherited or the one you’ve chosen, when you get on that Zoom or FaceTime or speakerphone call during the holiday, ask your loved ones to tell the stories you’ve heard too many times. Then hit the RECORD button.

As we’re learning in this oh-so-difficult year, getting bored, lectured to, or teased in person by the ones you love is a luxury.

💌 p.s. A related thought:

“They sat far apart
deliberately, to experience, daily,
the sweetness of seeing each other across
great distance.”

― Louise Glück, 2020 Nobel Laureate, Poems 1962-2012


🎥 Missing your affectionately dysfunctional family? Host a remote streaming of the classic comedy Home for the Holidays with the fam because watching Holly Hunter having to wear her mom’s puffy coat is everything. Directed by Jodie Foster with Anne Bancroft, Dylan McDermott, Holly Hunter, AND Robert Downey, Jr.

TIME Best Books 2020
Justin J Wee for TIME

📚 Books, Glorious Books! TIME’s 100 Must-Read Books of the Year list is out and books editor Lucy Feldman has these recommendations for anyone who wants some reassurance that … it’s not just you:

  • Big Friendship Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman, best friends and hosts of the popular podcast Call Your Girlfriend, offer a peek into how they maintain their cross-country bond. They argue that like marriages, friendships take nourishment.
  • Can’t Even Anne Helen Petersen expands her viral essay on millennial burnout into a book that serves as an essential balm for millennials blaming themselves for economic circumstances beyond their control.
  • Wow, No Thank You. Comedy writer Samantha Irby’s brisk, self-deprecating, and surprisingly joyful series of essays tackle topics we don’t usually share, like: why following through on long-planned nighttime outings so hard, or hiding bills under your pillow.
  • She Come By It Natural In her stirring, insightful collection of essays about country music icon, Dolly Parton, Sarah Smarsh gives Parton and working-class women their due for redefining womanhood even as their culture worked to keep them down.


    Speaking of 🦋 Dolly Parton, 🦋 patron saint of the resilience, give a listen to 🎶 “An Eagle When She Flies” her gorgeous tribute to the strength of women who are under all kinds of extra stress during the pandemic–turns out, they’re holding up way more than half the sky these days. The song and a few others were performed with The Highwomen at last year’s Newport Folk Festival–and here’s a little snippet of the lyrics:

    She’s been there, God knows, she’s been there
    She has seen and done it all
    She’s a woman, she know how to
    Dish it out or take it all

    And if you haven’t soaked up the spectacular Dolly Parton’s America podcast, do so right now–it’s about women, and cultural divisions and love.


    🧁 Have Your Cake As we head toward the holidays—and new stay-at-home orders in many states—some of us are turning to sheet cake (or its sister snacks) for stress management. If you’re anything like me, that means feeling both ill and slightly out of control. But there may be a way to have your cake and eat it too, just very, very slowly (and gratefully!). Here’s a TIME primer on mindful eating.

    💗 World Kindness Day is a real thing, but if you missed it this Friday, November 13, you can still celebrate daily with self-kindness and then radiate all that goodness to your neighbors and even across the earth. And check out U.C.L.A.’s new Bedari Kindness Institute for what they have to say about the mental and physical benefits of kindness.

    🤗 If finding emotional balance right now feels impossible … it’s not just you, particularly if you are recovering from COVID-19. Those who’ve had the virus are about twice as likely to be diagnosed with a mental health disorder, compared with someone who have had the flu, according to a new study from the University of Oxford. People struggling with job insecurity are also seeing high rates of anxiety and depression, for all the obvious reasons (you can find resources for navigating pandemic support programs here). If you need help, don’t hesitate to check out these resources. And if you want to find out how group texts can be an essential mental-health lifeline, and learn something about psychological first aid 🧰 to help those you care about, learn more here.


    Even before the COVID-19 crisis, most Americans didn’t have $400 in the bank to handle an unexpected expense. Now so many more of us are on that financial edge and struggling to manage the stress of living without a safety net. That’s where Eddy, a Queens, N.Y. musician, who also works in a flower shop, found himself this summer when he needed help with an apartment deposit and discovered Pandemic of Love, a mutual aid organization. Eddy, who’s now doing charity work of his own, says he’d been struggling with apathy and depression until strangers stepped in to help. “Just the fact that people cared enough about what I was going through to even WANT to help was such an incredible weight off my shoulders,” he explains.

    –Shelly Tygielski, Founder, Pandemic of Love


    💛 Mathis in a Zen moment, shared by MRL, Mill Valley, CA. 💛

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