The week before Thanksgiving 1991, I piled my meager belongings — mostly clothes and a few electronic items, like an alarm clock — into a big blue bag intended to hold golf clubs. My parents drove me to Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport and, nearly a decade before 9/11 took such simple things away from us, sat with me in the boarding area while I awaited a flight to Seattle.
I don’t remember what we said. It doesn’t really matter. My emotions were all over the place. I was sad to be leaving the place I had called home for 18 years. (Odd to think that I’ve now lived elsewhere for as long as I ever lived in North Richland Hills.) I was thrilled to be heading off to my first real post-collegiate job, as sports editor of a small paper in Alaska.
In Seattle, I was joined by my grandmother, who had flight privileges on Alaska Airlines because my grandfather, by then 11 years dead, had been an executive with the company. She was coming north to help me get settled, and she ended up doing so much more than that, buying me a car. (It was an ’84 Escort wagon, if I recall correctly. Brown. Oh, yeah.) For three days, she stayed with me in a world gone white and cold. And then she went home to Washington.
That was on a Sunday. Four days before Thanksgiving. I’ve never felt such crushing loneliness.
So why am I thinking of this at 5:34 a.m., 18 years later, while I sit in the dark of my house, with those I love most sleeping a room away?
Strangely enough, it’s because I’m thinking of a friend I’ve never met who’s a world away from his loved ones on this day of giving thanks. Of the many ways in which life has changed since I sat alone on Thanksgiving in a studio apartment in Kenai, Alaska, perhaps none is more notable than the technology that binds us even as we seem more adrift than ever from one another in time and physical distance. I can read Charles Apple’s blog and see the things he sees in South Africa, know what he’s had for dinner, experience his frustration and his jubilation as he does hands-on work with a newspaper there. I can flip over to Facebook and read my friends’ most intimate thoughts about what they’re thankful for, all because they’re compelled to say it and the Web site can move it from their fingertips to my eyes in an instant.
Let me tell you, it’s pretty damned glorious.
Nineteen ninety-one was undoubtedly a simpler time. If I view it through the hazy lens of nostalgia, I sometimes yearn for those days, when I was younger and my world seemed more pregnant with possibility. That can be dangerous, I think. Eighteen years ago, I had to swallow my loneliness; even a phone call home, in the days before unlimited cell phone minutes and flat-rate long distance, had to be short and bittersweet.
Today, I can think about Charles Apple and write down my half-baked thoughts and beam them out to anybody who cares to read them. Charles is going home Monday, and I can only imagine how happy his wife and daughter will be to see him after his two months away. It seems to me that will be a day of thanksgiving, regardless of what the calendar says.