Sometimes America takes a breather. Barack Obama heralds one of those eras. It's not that America completely disengages from the rest of the world, but it is a time when we Americans take stock of who we are and reinvent ourselves. I think of my niece, just starting her college career, who fell off a second-floor dormitory balcony last Saturday. She took a bruising, as have the United States in recent years. When she returns to campus -- back brace and all -- she'll have to either take on a persona of sheepish embarrassment, or buck up with a ''Don't fuck with me fellahs'' attitude, confident that the fall and not the recuperation was the hard part and that she has survived what might have killed a lesser mortal. It's all about how you spin it.
America has suffered its bruises these past eight years, but the recent election gives hope that no one should start counting us out, though there are murmurs from Tehran to Caracas. Whatever petro-dollars are being siphoned off to Russia and Saudi Arabia, no matter what happens with Wall Street, though we suffered a human-rights humiliation in California, America is full of surprises.
Another American metaphor is my Thanksgiving table, which like our glorious mutt country, has continued to evolve over the years. My first memories are of trekking from Springfield to Silver Spring for a traditional, extended-family Thanksgiving heavy on Catholic prayers, my nuclear family still intact.
Some 30 years on, things are much more dynamic.
We've got a dozen people -- though one, as of Metro Weekly deadline, remains in the tentative pile. So, who are we?
First, let's look at the hosts: a racially mixed, gay male couple. All together: Fabulous!
There are grandmothers, widows, divorcees, long-married straight people, one father, four mothers, spiritual and not, smokers and non, sons, daughters, a granddaughter and grandsons, cousins, a daughter-in-law and a son-in-law.
How else might I dissect us? We've got one veteran and one active duty -- both Army. One active vegetarian and, I believe, three lapsed. There are artists, an attorney, business people, retirees and students, dog lovers and at least one who loves cats as well.
Geographic affinities are divided, with certain allegiances to the South, the North, the Northwest, New Mexico, Texas and California. The Midwest will be only slightly represented -- thanks to one diner's stint in Columbus, Ohio -- so here's a shout out to Chicago's Boystown, which my partner and I first visited last summer.
This motley dozen have collectively lived in Iraq, Germany, Belgium, France, Mexico, England, Switzerland, Tunisia, Egypt, Mozambique, Brazil and Japan.
We have suffered tragedies. We have celebrated successes. Some will want to watch football. Others will want to dig into the new Absolutely Fabulous collection. I am confident that despite there being only one TV, we will find common ground.
When I look at us, I'd have wished for a bit more racial diversity, but that's the nature of reproduction: You tend to get your family's ethnicity. Still, we've got our bit of Latino-Anglo action. And we've got our breadth of diversity in experience, age, inclination and orientation.
As I sit down to this table, Thanksgiving 2008, and compare it to Thanksgiving circa 1975, I see an American table that has evolved as probably few tables around the world may have. And not for lack of opportunity, but for lack of -- dare I say it? -- liberty.
Family, in all its glory, cannot supplant the individual, as it does in many cultures, if we're to go places. In societies where people are perpetually beholden to their kin, they remain children. At my American Thanksgiving table, we sit down as a collection of individuals, connected by blood, by marriage, and -- most importantly -- by choice. As Americans, that has been, and remains, among our greatest strengths. Not only do I love everyone I'm sharing the holiday with, I respect them, which is of possibly greater value.
Desperate devotion to family gets you Hatfields and McCoys. Valuing your family as individuals first means you can't always keep them close, but you can feel confident they've got a better chance of thriving, which is better for all of us. It's an American strength that makes me as confident about the future as I am about the new administration.
That said, I plan to toast my niece's health at Thanksgiving and give her a call to tell her about how her uncle fell drunkenly from a tree in college, crushing a lower vertebrae. In defense of my dignity, I wish to point out that the tree was suffering some rot, and a very sturdy-looking branch snapped off like a twig.
An unrelated (no pun intended) aside: A Radical Faerie who read my column about donating Burger King gift cards to homeless people suggested I take a look at Charlie's Place in Dupont. I had some familiarity with this effort, as it was mentioned in Metro Weekly's Tom Goss profile, Aug. 7, 2008. And though I'm pleased Burger King is sticking with the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce when McDonald's isn't, I'm having a tough time finding gift-card takers. Maybe it's because there are so few Burger Kings in the District? It was super easy, however, to go online and switch that good intention to a monthly donation to Charlie's Place -- where they even hand out condoms, I'm told.
To the clients of Charlie's Place and all the rest, Happy Thanksgiving.
Will O'Bryan, Metro Weekly's managing editor, was born as the Stonewall Riots ended, making him a Stonewall Baby, he insists. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more about Charlie's Place, visit www.stmargaretsdc.org/charliesplace/index.html.