Sunday December 6, 2020
I was baffled after our phone visit yesterday, and your detailed recount of Thanksgiving. I listened to what happened to you and your family: how you decided to celebrate in person together; all took COVID tests in your respective states and then flew from California or drove from DC and New York to Massachusetts. I heard the terror in your voice when your son received a late test result by email after you’d been together a few days. Positive. I followed the frenzy of everyone immediately separating and then fleeing on Thanksgiving eve to places of quarantine. I even laughed at how you divvied up turkey to the departing couples, and discovered none left for you and your husband, alone and by yourselves when Thanksgiving arrived.
“We did everything right.” You said at least three times as you explained where each couple has landed, ten days later, asymptomatic all. And in the moment of conversation with a friend, a person I care about and want to support, I did not chide or correct. But afterward, doubts nagged. About my responsibility as your friend. Because sometimes being a friend means delivering difficult news. And if you honestly think you did everything right, maybe a true friend has to step up and set you straight.
Anna, dear friend, you and your family did not do everything right. In fact, you did wrong. In drawing together a family flung across four states during a pandemic you violated the law and health guidelines. You invited danger and disease among your family, and exposed others in the process. The fact that it appears your family suffered nothing more than an abrupt end to your reunion and a misdistributed turkey is pure luck. The kind of luck that more often falls upon families of privilege, like yours, and contributes to the arrogance that we are above this disease, that the rules of public safety don’t apply to us, that our individualist desires take precedence over the common good.
You asked about my own Thanksgiving. I enjoyed a long walk outside with a friend, and spent the evening on a binge watch. Not a traditional Thanksgiving, though memorable in its singularity. You and your family also created a memorable Thanksgiving, and for years will tell of the celebration aborted by a positive test.
As your friend, I hope that you and your family shape that story to include the fundamental truth that you were ethically wrong to gather during this pandemic. That “doing everything right” after the fact cannot counterbalance your initial, wrong choice to come together. That you will acknowledge your selfishness, learn from it, and not put personal desire over collective wellbeing again.
You are not the only family who made wrong choices this Thanksgiving. Millions of Americas did, as evidenced by the soaring caseload, hospitalizations, and deaths from coronavirus we chart every day. I would like to reach out to every one of them in the hope that they learn from their indulgence. But I am not their friend; I do not have their ear.
However, I am your friend, and hope to remain your friend. I hope that you receive this letter in that spirit. I hope you reframe your Thanksgiving story from, “we did everything right,” to, “what we did was wrong, and we learned from it,” and in the future, act accordingly.