Thanksgiving Carries Deeper Meaning, Even As Gatherings Are Expected To Subside

by Edwin Quinabo

Well over 250,000 already dead in the U.S. from the pandemic – the numbers are staggering, breathtaking. The second-part of this pulse-quickening tragedy, millions have lost their jobs and tens of thousands of small businesses have closed down.

It’s no surprise that this year’s Thanksgiving is already emerging to be one like no other. For some Hawaii residents, they talk of it having added special meaning. Highest up on the list for most is being thankful for life and health for themselves and their families.

Viktor Emil Frankl, a neurologist and psychiatrist, wrote about his experience in the Holocaust in one of the best-selling books of all time “Man’s Search for Meaning.” Since his book was published, it has inspired people to overcome personal hardship and it has become a useful guide for some during these tough times.

“To suffer unnecessarily is masochistic rather than heroic,” Frankl wrote, which some have interpreted as to attach purpose or meaning to what is causing us to suffer sometimes can deliver us from suffering itself.

The answers as to why bad things happen in life might not be easy to find or attach meaning to, as Frankl recommends.

But no matter what has happened in our lives earlier in the year, Thanksgiving day has always been about finding something to be thankful about.

And often people say, that the person or thing they’re thankful for somehow gives them a sense of meaning to their life or makes acceptance of tragedy lighter.

When individuals, when society are faced with possible finality in the wings like a deadly pandemic threatens, a natural reaction is to love deeper, hold on tighter, and be more thankful than ever before. This is the grand mise en scene for Thanksgiving 2020.

Being thankful and finding meaning
Erlinda Sagayadoro of Ewa Beach, has a daughter Rowena who is a nurse at one of Honolulu’s largest hospitals. Since the COVID-19 outbreak, Erlinda has been praying for her daughter’s safety each night because Rowena is a cancer survivor of less than four years, which puts her in that category of the population more susceptible to getting infected by the virus. The fact that Rowena works in a hospital puts her risk even higher.

Last month, Erlinda was terrified when her daughter’s doctor said he found a growth in the area near Rowena’s original stage 2 ovarian cancer. “I just cried in my room. So afraid. My daughter already suffered a lot to beat cancer. I never forgot how painful it was for her. Or the thought of losing her,” said Erlinda after hearing of the news.

“Rowena told me this time she wanted to keep private whatever the outcome would be. She said she didn’t want people worrying about her again. Or being concerned about her working at a hospital where she is at greater risk for COVID-19,” said Erlinda.

“I am thankful to God because the tests came back and the growth was not malignant. It was removed and my daughter is safe.”

Erlinda said she still worries for Rowena’s safety at work. “Until a vaccination is out and the virus is all but gone, I can only have some peace of mind.

“But for now this is great news that Rowena’s cancer did not come back. I’m most thankful about this news this Thanksgiving. Thanks to God,” said Erlinda.

Romeo Domingo of Waipahu said “I already knew my wife and children have been most important in my life. But I am thankful because in the past months, I realize this even more. In a strange way, this (heightened awareness of love) happened because of the pandemic.”

Domingo has been out of work since April this year. He worked in the hotel industry for over 27 years. Tourism has recently reopened in the last month but business has not picked up enough for him to be called back to his job.

“My wife being understanding of my job situation makes me love her more. What I’ve been doing for now is to try to make her job easier before I do others things that need to get done,” said Domingo.

One of the things he’s also been working on is the requirements for unemployment. He is concerned about his unemployment running out before he gets a call back. But he says he’s thankful he’s able to help with his wife’s care home business in the meantime. “I prepare meals for my wife’s clients. I help out around the house so my wife has an easier time and can just look after her clients.

“I am also thankful because we have good, steady income from her work while I am out of my job. I know many of my coworkers and workers at the hotels are suffering financially and afraid of what’s going to happen when their unemployment runs out and can’t find a job,” said Domingo.

Since Oct. 15, when tourism reopened, some hotel workers have resumed their jobs. Filipinos comprise a significant proportion of hotel workers and the community has been hard hit by the pandemic.

Not just in terms of jobs loss, Filipinos places second in terms of numbers of people infected by the virus in the state of Hawaii.

It’s a double whammy for the Filipino community. And as tourism reopens, Filipino workers will be frontline workers and be greater at risk for exposure.

One of the main goals of UNITE HERE Local 5, President of the union Gemma Garampil Weinstein told the Filipino Chronicle months back, is to make sure that safeguards to prevent the spread of the coronavirus are in place to protect both tourists and workers when they come back.

Domingo has confidence that when he does return to work, the safeguards will already be well in place to protect employees in the kitchen where he works.

Keinn Arcelie Pagulayan of Honolulu said she is most thankful this year for her family’s health. The pandemic, to her, also deepened the meaning of giving thanks and of life itself.

“The pandemic made me realize that life can be taken away at any time, at any moment. The pandemic has given us time to reflect on how much we take almost everything for granted. For me, I’ve been spending more time with my family, loved ones. At the same time, the pandemic has kept me away from my other family, loved ones. This breaks my heart every day.

Pagulayan said times have been stressful. “Now more than ever, I am questioning what comes next in term of health, finances and the future in general.”

“The pandemic changed us all. Even though we don’t see each other as often or may not see each other on Thanksgiving day, I think we have deeper love and appreciation for each other. That’s really the essence of what Thanksgiving is. Not being in the same room for the holiday is small compared to how big our hearts have grown. And putting ourselves at risk for one day is not worth risking a lifetime we can spend together.”

Erlinda Sagayadoro, Ewa Beach

Like Pagulayan, for many feelings of uncertainty are more pronounced leading into this year’s Thanksgiving.

Cesar Fronda of Waipahu said he and his wife have been out of a job for several months now. While he is concerned, he remains optimistic that his family will overcome all the problems they are facing brought about by the pandemic.

Going into Thanksgiving, he said the pandemic has changed his family’s outlook and appreciation for life. “It has been a wake-up call to be much closer to Almighty God. We are reminded to have stronger, binding and closer relationships with each other, and to maintain and sustain happier and more meaningful family times together,” he said.

Fronda said he’s thankful “to our Almighty God, for all the blessings and graces he has showered onto my family. I am grateful to God for taking care of our safety from the COVID-19 virus. I am thankful for my brothers, sisters and friends for their unwavering support always keeping me in high spirit during this pandemic. Lastly, I am grateful for having my second grandchild this last week of September.”

Rommel Raymundo of Ewa Beach, Marketing VP of the Filipino Junior Chamber of Commerce, said despite the pandemic, “I am most thankful we’ve allowed ourselves to continue to grow and assist our community.”

“This pandemic has made me realize and appreciate the importance of health, family and friends, and that we remain safe so we may gather next Thanksgiving.”

Carolyn Alhambra of Ewa Beach said she is most thankful for life and her family and friends. “I didn’t realize how precious my life was until there was a possibility of a virus that could easily damage my health.

“This pandemic has changed my perspective on relationships, especially with my own family. Before this pandemic, I was a pretty busy person. So even though I live in the same house as my parents and brother, I barely saw them. But staying home had made me appreciate the small moments with my family. Also, I realized that when you don’t see friends and family on a normal basis, it’s hard to stay connected. So I decided to start reaching out to those people, and even others that I’ve actually lost touch with. It is heartwarming when other people started reaching out to me as well.”

Like Alhambra, Tiffany Salvador of Waipahu talked about carving time in her schedule to connect with loved ones. Salvador, the 2020 President of the Filipino Junior Chamber of Commerce, is thankful for the gift of life and health, and says the pandemic has changed her perspective. “I had a busy schedule and was always “on-the-go”. Now that I’m working from home and have more time, it has allowed me to invest more time in myself and my health, and to also reconnect with those that I’ve lost touch with over the past few years.”

Nicole Ashley of Honolulu talked about putting things in the context of a bigger picture. She is most thankful this year that her family is healthy. She said, “the pandemic put a lot of things into light, whether good or bad. I’ve always appreciated life but I do find that my heart and soul are very much at home, at a slow-paced life. Life is too short to stress over things that in the grand scheme of everything, it really doesn’t matter.”

Natalie Millon of Waipahu said “I am most thankful for beautiful sunrises because they are reminders of a new day to continue the things I love to do and spend time with the people that I love.

“Not everyone made it through 2020. The pandemic changed my way of greeting someone whether it’s in person, via text, or email. I find myself saying ‘take care and be safe’ more often because I care about everyone’s well-being.”

On top of most people’s list of thankfulness is having good health and surviving the pandemic. Jesand Amodo of Kalihi echoed what others have said, “I’m most thankful to be alive and for my loved ones and to be surviving through this pandemic every day.

“Not being able to spend more physical time with my parents and grandparents has been hard. But we are getting used to the new safety measures and precautions. It’s important to try to stay positive every day.”

Celebrating Thanksgiving Day
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says small household gatherings are “an important contributor to the rise of COVID-19 cases.

It is recommending that Thanksgiving this year be celebrated with people only in your household.

But if you plan to spend Thanksgiving with people outside of your household, the CDC strongly recommends that face masks be worn with two or more layers and staying at least 6 feet away (about two arm lengths) apart from people who do not live with you, and washing your hands often.

Keeping hand sanitizer readily available at entrances or near the place guests are expected to gather is important.

For people attending a Thanksgiving gathering, the CDC recommends bringing your own food, drinks, dinnerware and utensils.

For hosts, it’s recommended that disposable items be used like paper plates, utensils, and single-use options for things like salad dressings in a packet.

Even with these precautions, the CDC recommends Thanksgiving gatherings should be kept under 10 people.

Another option the CDC is pushing is for virtual online Thanksgiving meals with family and friends who don’t live with you.

For Elisa Bautista of Ewa Beach, she said what she and her husband are most thankful for is their good health and strength. Because she and her husband are kupunas (age group vulnerable to catching the virus), they must take extra precautions this year for Thanksgiving.

Normally on Thanksgiving day the Bautistas serve as Eucharistic ministers at their church. Then they have a Thanksgiving potluck meal with their close friends. This year they plan to stay at home. “We’ve been empty nesters for many years now. My husband, who is a retired Navy chef, still likes to prepare a small meal just for the two of us. So that is what we’ll be doing on Thanksgiving.

“Fortunately, we have technology like Zoom and FaceTime so our children on the mainland can wish us a Happy Thanksgiving and feel like we are all together as a family although we are far apart,” said Bautista.

She said some friends still want to check up on us to make sure we are doing okay and bring us food. We will also share with them the bounties of blessings from our garden and give them fruits and vegetables.

“Pandemic or not, being appreciative of life and loved ones has always been a daily prayer of thanks to God for me. So every day is like Thanksgiving!” said Bautista.

For Fronda, he also said celebrating Thanksgiving will be different from previous years. Usually his family would have a large social gathering at one of his siblings’ place.

“This year we will be following state recommended safety guidelines. My immediate family will just celebrate in our condo with food like pinakbet, karekare, and turkey ordered from MAX’s restaurant.”

Pagulayan said they will be giving home cooked meals to the homeless on Thanksgiving, then celebrate “strictly with only family.”

Millon said he usually has a “Friendsgiving” gathering but it will be put on hold until next year. “We will celebrate in our own homes this time.”

Amodo said they will be using FaceTime and Facebook messenger to communicate with loved ones not present.

Sagayadoro believes most families will do what they plan to do, have an intimate gathering, very small, with only immediate family.

“Hawaii-style of Thanksgiving is usually a big gathering. We love to get together with all our loved ones and enjoy a wide spread of potluck from traditional local food, Filipino food, to the standard turkey dinner. But so much has been happening this year. People losing their jobs and money is tighter. Everyone is afraid of getting sick or is uncertain of the future. I think a small gathering with people in our household works out for everyone. It’s less stress during a very stressful year. We can sacrifice this so that next year, God willing, we can celebrate the way we want to.

“The pandemic changed us all. Even though we don’t see each other as often or may not see each other on Thanksgiving day, I think we have deeper love and appreciation for each other. That’s really the essence of what Thanksgiving is. Not being in the same room for the holiday is small compared to how big our hearts have grown. And putting ourselves at risk for one day is not worth risking a lifetime we can spend together,” said Sagayadoro.

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