Thanksgiving Love and Tears

A recent fall walk through the Jardin des Plantes.

A recent fall walk through the Jardin des Plantes.

Since living in France, Thanksgiving has always been an improvised affair. Some years I’ve gathered in the apartments of friends who are much braver than me – they hunt down the obscure cranberry, shove large turkeys into tiny Parisian ovens, spend small fortunes on the fixins’, many of which are foreign foods here.

I’ve been to lively potluck parties and more intimate dinners, and sometimes, not even celebrated at all. It is just another Thursday in L’Hexagone.

The past few years, Thanksgiving has unwittingly become an unofficial marker of my relationship, too, though my beau probably knows I think this only now that I write it. A couple years ago, we had only just started seeing each other, so new it was that when people at that Thanksgiving referred to him as my boyfriend, he gently corrected them (but since there’s no French word for dating, I’m not sure what term we were then. Just curious about the other, I guess).les jardins des plantes, close-up

Last year, I was with my family, a rare occasion, and I was grateful to have the time with them. Just before the holiday, though, I got to experience that special bittersweet twinge unique to romantic partings. When I left Paris, it wasn’t just to return home for the long weekend, but to go to a long writing residency at the Kerouac House; my beau and I were saying goodbye for 3 months. I was moved to feel how greatly we’d both miss each other.

This Thanksgiving, it was just the two of us. I’m no cook, which he knows well by now, so no feast was expected. Sweet potatoes were my only nod to tradition, though even those got the microwave treatment. As for the rest: chicken fingers from Picard and fresh salad and clementines from the market. My heart swelled over such a simple meal. It was enough. We were enough. I realized there was no one else in the world I’d rather be with.

It was a hard week last week. For many, it continues still.

The Luminaries by Eleanor CattonOn Monday night, I’d gone to hear the writer Eleanor Catton at the famed Shakespeare and Company bookshop near Notre Dame. Her novel, The Luminaries, won the Man Booker Prize last year. In person, she was brilliant, her enthusiasm and intelligence shining through and infectious. Catton described the astrological underpinnings that had set the story in motion and the mind-blowing structure of her novel. I loved her ambitious experiments, her delight at knowledge, her irrepressible excitement. It made me excited about writing, too.

The next morning I jotted a few notes for a new project on a legal pad, happily working away (happy and working usually a combo that’s hard to come by for me). Then I turned on the computer, logged into Facebook, and sadness pummeled me in the gut. I learned that while I’d been sleeping in Paris, my country had added another heartbreaking chapter to our history. I saw Ferguson, Missouri aflame.

I cried most of the day.

Street art in the 20th

Street art in the 20th

I am friends with many writers, and the quotes I saw as I scrolled through my timeline were apt. From Martin Luther King, Jr, and James Baldwin and W.E.B. Dubois. But words, no matter how thoughtful or true, don’t always seem enough.

And so, I will not try to unpack it all here, only to say that Thanksgiving was also a grieving. I thought about all I’m grateful for, as well as my country’s troubling legacies. Living across the ocean, I have more distance to see where I come from. My heart flies the thousands of miles home, but I also feel so far away.

French people ask me questions about the United States. Though I have more context to offer, really I share the dismay inherent in the questions: the rampant gun violence, the repeated killings of unarmed black men, health care proffered as a privilege, not a right, why some people seem to matter more.

Que m’est-il permis d’espérer? What may I hope?

Que m’est-il permis d’espérer? What may I hope?

I met one of my friends recently at the popular café in the Marais called Les Philosophes. Even the bathrooms there pose philosophical questions. The stall I entered at the end of the meal asked this: What may I hope?

It is one of Kant’s questions (and yes, I had to Google that).

It is naïve, but as I am filled with both love and heartbreak, I hope for peace, justice, compassion. And I hope for hope. So many are tired from these disillusioning cycles.

On Saturday, I had an(other) Thanksgiving dinner with 4 friends, this time an unconventional vegan feast.

The town hall of the 5th arrondissement

The town hall of the 5th arrondissement

Then 2 of us popped by a jazz ball in the 5th’s town hall, then another heart-to-heart next door in a cafe. These connections, these sharings, are the only way I know how to keep going in the world.

During the holiday season, meant to be jolly, so many are in pain. Hold tight to those you love. Look for light where you may.

14 Responses to “Thanksgiving Love and Tears”


  1. 1 Jackie December 1, 2014 at 7:46 pm

    Thank you for your post. I think you have the curious and empathic genes. I have those genes. I was recently watching The Roosevelts: An Intimate History (http://www.pbs.org/kenburns/the-roosevelts/ )and thought to myself the same issues are still unresolved in our current history. I guess it’s just something about being human. We have to go through the same journeys that our ancestors did and repeat history, again and again.

  2. 5 Julie Christine December 1, 2014 at 8:28 pm

    I can’t tell you all the many ways I love this post, from remembering my own Thanksgivings far from home (in France, even), to the agony that is Ferguson and racial injustice and inequality in the United States, to the beauty of love and companionship. I’m thankful, during this season of grace, to have made your acquaintance here, on Facebook, as a writer, a Francophile, and a new friend. Peace and Season’s Blessings to you, Sion.

  3. 7 Betty Carlson December 1, 2014 at 9:40 pm

    In 24 years, I have not spent a Thanksgiving back in the USA. I think even one is lucky…

  4. 9 Jan Janzen December 2, 2014 at 12:23 am

    A poignant post. It is hard to feel festive when so many are hurting. But we try. All we can do is try. And as you stated, hope for hope.

  5. 11 buffyschilling December 2, 2014 at 6:06 am

    Happy belated thanksgiving. Sounds like you and your man had a delightful thanksgiving. It doesn’t always matter what you have for dinner as long as you are together.

    On the sad note, I do not watch the news on a regular basis. As sad as this sounds, I really don’t want to know what’s going on sometimes. I already know that’s not the way to look at it. But my best friend is a police officer and I know her job is rough. There is so much bad out there it seems. Where I live seems to be getting worse. I’m not going to comment much on ferguson except to say it is carrying over close to home. Today people laid in protest on the 14 th street bridge in DC. I think Martin Luther king would be ashamed to see what’s going on in ferguson and other places. He was about peace not violence.

    Take care and think happy thoughts in the mist of the bad.

    • 12 paris (im)perfect December 2, 2014 at 11:39 am

      Hey Buffy. Thank you! I hope you had a good Thanksgiving, too.

      I know what you mean and the balance is tricky. I feel so much saner and grounded when I don’t watch the news. But then I feel guilty for my willful ignorance. But then *again*, I do no one else any good for feeling bad. Aie! The hope I do have is that progress often comes with painful transitions. I think we might be at a tipping point about a lot of things. People do need to make their voices heard.

      I wish for you a merry holiday season. I will be joining you in turning off the news for much of it. I hope for peace everywhere, but also in myself. We do have to take care of ourselves! Each one of us decides for ourselves what that looks like.

      • 13 buffyschilling December 3, 2014 at 12:57 am

        Hope you have a merry holiday season as well! One year I would like to spend Christmas in Europe. Each year seems to go by faster and faster. I guess it is the fast pace we keep in life. Let’s definitely wish for a peaceful new year.

  6. 14 G G Collins, Author & Journalist December 8, 2014 at 4:52 pm

    And why our elders are housed in dark warehouses as if they no longer matter? Rich men steal billions from people who trusted them and not a one goes to prison, but there is “no” money for healthcare, food, education or the elderly to have a decent roof above their heads. I can’t explain it to any of my friends in other countries. It makes me angry and ashamed. Why does the land of plenty have so little compassion?


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paris (im)perfect?

Sion Dayson is paris (im)perfect. Writer, dreamer, I moved to France on – no exaggerating – a romantic whim. As you can imagine, a lot can go wrong (and very right!) with such a (non)plan. These are the (im)perfect stories that result.

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