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Thanksgiving Day as an Act of Faith

Thanksgiving Day will be quite different this year. As I write this, New York City is bracing for a second wave of COVID-19 infections spike. Yesterday, the New Jersey DOH recorded its highest daily case totals ever (more than 3, 877 cases in one day alone). As infections surge, both states have initiated statewide restrictions which include strict observances of weekday curfews.

This time of year, people are starting to go indoors. Because of this, only a while ago, the governor of NY has passed an executive order limiting all family gatherings to not more than 10 people.

Normally, my wife would have already brought in all the ingredients for Pancit Malabon as our contribution to her family’s traditional Thanksgiving dinner at her sister’s house. It’s an annual ceremony we’ve never missed.

Although an American celebration, not many of us are aware that Thanksgiving was once a Philippine celebration. During the American occupation of the Philippines from 1901 to 1935 Thanksgiving was a holiday in the Philippines by virtue of a decree by the then presiding Governor General. When the Philippines became a Commonwealth, President Quezon went along with the US decree by proclaiming Thanksgiving a national holiday. This was observed until the time of Marcos when Thanksgiving was moved to September 21 to coincide with the Martial Law proclamation. The EDSA revolution ended it.

“I’ll still cook Pancit Malabon,” my wife insists.

“Are we expecting visitors?”

“None. Just us.”

It took a while for my wife’s understatement to sink in.

After a long pause, I suddenly realized I had many reasons to say thank you.

First of all, I say thank you to the thousands of frontliners who keep on fighting this battle against COVID-19. These are members of the medical community which include their colleagues who have come out of retirement to join the war. Thank you to the care givers, the hospital food servers, the security guards, the custodians, the maintenance workers and other medical facility workers.

Thank you to the first responders, the EMTs, the firemen, the policemen and women, the other law enforcement agencies risking their lives to protect us.

When doors close, windows open. Here’s why. Despite lost jobs, I have every reason to feel thankful for the new job openings in other fields for supermarket workers, warehouse stock workers, independent food/grocery delivery drivers, online retailers, video providers (like Zoom), Pharmacy home delivery services, and mail package services like UPS and FedEx.

To cite one example, last week I came across my “empty-cans-and-bottles-collector” friend Oscar. He used to work as a part time delivery person for a restaurant in Manhattan.

“Dios es bueno, Manny!”

I asked him why.

He said he had every reason to be thankful. Because the restaurant’s delivery orders had tripled, Oscar was “promoted” to a full time job. The restaurant hired him as full time delivery person and so he makes more money now on tips on top of his basic minimum wage. As a result, he has given up collecting empty cans and bottles.

“Dios te bendiga!” I reply. “So happy for you.”

And let us not forget the subway operators, the bus drivers, and drivers of other modes of transportation that bring people to their workplaces, to clinics/doctors, to the grocery stores, and to other places in the city.

And how about the many good people who donate to food pantries, who direct the homeless to home shelters—the list goes on.

As I write this article a message pops out from my iPhone, from my brother in Daet, Camarines Norte. He has attached pictures of damaged houses, flooded farms and streets including his house inundated in mud and waist-deep floodwater.

The last two typhoons ripped off the roof of my niece Melody’s house in Naga, heavily damaging the ceiling and interior. The two storms also destroyed the fruit trees, fence, and roof of my late sister’s house in Tabuco.

My thoughts move to the first Pilgrims who arrived in this land of the free: When they decided to set sail on the Mayflower to go to a new world where they could live and worship freely, they braced themselves to the storms, the illnesses, and the deaths that went with the voyage. The dream was too risky that only 102 were brave enough to board the ship. Because of their persistence, courage, and determination, the Mayflower carried them across the seas to land finally on the shores of the Free World. Only a half of them survived to celebrate the First Thanksgiving. Something to ponder on as we prepare to observe Thanksgiving.

I glance at my watch and see that it is past my usual bedtime. I notice my pet cat Kitkat is still awake, sitting on top of my printer, waiting for my usual goodnight pat on the head. I almost forgot. I thank the Lord for Kitkat and all the comfort animals that are playing a huge role in keeping us company during this long night of the pandemic.

What matter. The night is darkest before the dawn, wrote Thomas Fuller. For this reason, and the many lovely people I have mentioned above, I have every cause to say Thanksgiving is not only a celebration; it is an act of faith.

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