Sunday essay: What we really crave at Thanksgiving — the human connection

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A Passage family holiday gathering from 1986.

Human beings are hard wired to seek out others of our species. Modern times offer electronic devices that zap images, annotated by sparse shorthand acronyms, a game of electronic ping pong. Fingers wrap around smart phones in death grips. Androids and iPhones become lifelines, connections to our friends and loved ones.

A call to an older family member ended with a discussion of Thanksgiving dinner plans. She remembered different times, when her family couldn’t afford the luxury of travel to dine at the same table with loved ones. Holiday long-distance rates afforded the luxury of brief connections with groups gathered at the homes of family members. Priority given to households with the largest tables, so all could be seated while served their turkey and pie, was trumped by those with extension phones.

Calls from cousins far away elicited excitement. Roles of speakers and listeners were assigned for the incoming call. Seconds counted. Costs of connections dictated efficient use of precious phone time. Conversations later recounted, over coffee and a second slice of pumpkin pie.

My husband’s mother packed her suitcases, ready to end her visit and return home. She and I reminisced about the changes in travel, the modern era of security checkpoints and stark rows of seats at the gates. Ticketed travelers only, pass the corded queues these days.

We both remembered times when the entire clan converged at the airport or train station to “see off” our visitors. An entourage accompanied aunties or cousins returning to corners of the country not frequented by our local members.

Countless conversations, “Do you remember when…” words exchanged in case the individuals might not meet again in this lifetime. Strong faith often dictated the exchange of religious tokens. Holy Cards or flasks of “blessed water,” tucked into satchels, deemed better than flight insurance to keep the plane and occupants safe on the journey home. I’m not sure that TSA agents would allow, even in a 3-ounce bottle, any sort of unlabeled liquid these days.

Once the travelers boarded the flight — after we’d hugged, kissed and said our last round of “goodbyes” — we’d stand, at the huge glass panes, eyes glued on the plane as it taxied and lifted into the skies with its precious passenger cargo.

Human beings prefer conferences by committees, of friends, family members and spiritual supporters.

In years past, medical appointments and hospital procedures required substantial attendance. Rather than wait at home to hear the doctor’s prognosis, family, friends and often clergy would gather in the office chairs and hospital waiting rooms. Grannies attended to toddlers who might accompany their mother to seek medical advice and attention. Today I may witness this with older women and preschoolers, but their clothes are foreign and I cannot interpret the language they speak.

Today we connect with friends and family all over the world. Wireless signals bounce off satellites in space to fill screens on computers from Singapore to Scottsdale. Skype sessions allow loved ones to glimpse familiar faces, not just hear their voices.

Eyes tear up when it’s time to say “goodbyes.”  Doesn’t matter if I am the one to depart or remain behind. I stave the flow until the car is out of the drive and the garage door is closed, but my tissues are already in hand.

Never quite ready to let go, I steal one more hug from the ones I love. I feel a tinge of pain, anticipate loss though temporary. Iit’s human to crave connection.

— By Kathy Passage

Long-time Edmonds resident Kathy Passage writes the Edmonds Restaurant News column for My Edmonds News, and occasionally shares her essays with us.

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