It’s American Thanksgiving today. Cause for celebration, right? Not necessarily. I’m ruminating on what Thanksgiving means as an expat living in Saudi Arabia, and as someone who has a spotty history with holidays ever since leaving my Canadian homeland in 1996 and taking to the international airways. Let’s face it: sometimes the seasonal holidays set off a sadness. Thanksgiving isn’t always a cause for celebration. But brave and bold Sinead O’Connor reminds us: we can always celebrate ourselves and our strong, strong selves…what we grew out of.
I saw Sinead O’Connor – one of the women songwriters of the world that first inspired me to become a performer – sing live in London in 1995 just after this song was released. She, The Pretenders and the Kronos Quartet played the Royal Festival Hall. This song blew my mind then with its potent simplicity, and its in-yer-face fire from Sinead’s live performances is the best.
“Thank you for hearing me. Thank you for loving me. Thank you for seeing me. Thank you for breaking my heart and now I’ve got a strong, strong heart” … these words were and are a testament to the history of so many strong women who were once, twice, thrice injured. This song is a powerful antidote to broken-heartedness. Sinead O’Connor writes a powerful lyric.
She tells us and has been telling us as of late – in her most wounded moments of coming out about the sadistic abuse she suffered from her mother as a child – to ask for what we need. It’s not always popular, but it’s better than quivering in the delusion that there’s nowhere to go. There is. People are grateful for the opportunity to give or help when they can see a genuine need. The world is full of compassion. Give people a chance.
So, today, this song goes out to my neighbour who responded to my simple request: is there a Thanksgiving dinner I can join on the compound today? There was, and immediately the invite came, warm and punctuated with an exclamation. I presumed I was just ‘forgotten’, but not for long.
What do you do if you find yourself alone and feeling unloved during the holiday season? Do these moments unleash a litany of harsh criticisms of yourself and others? What if you don’t feel grateful but instead feel the bitter taste of heartache? Do you fake it and show up to the occasion? Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe you check out. There is no right or wrong. It’s about responding to your need.
Maybe you start by acknowledging to yourself the pain you’re in. It’s okay to feel down. Maybe you give yourself permission to go back to bed and take the day for yourself, to be with yourself. Or maybe you reach out to loved ones who really make you feel good. Maybe you let someone know you need in…you need to be seen. Maybe you show up to the occasion and let the presence of others remind you that you are not really alone. You know what you need. Let yourself have it.
But sometimes there are no easy solutions. Sometimes the blues persist…what then? A friend this year has told me on more than one occasion when I was having a rough time: put some music on. The second time she suggested it, I tried this. In fact, music did change my mood. Amazing. But why?
Because songwriters and singers have permission to express their feelings, and hang them out there for the world to appreciate. There is something so powerful about the potent, rawness of a heartbreak hung up for all to see through music. Music is soothing and can be a therapeutic tool and gift from the artists who pave the way to be yourself. Singing through pain heals it.
So, here’s to “all the broken-hearted people living in the world” out there – to borrow from the song ‘Let It Be’: remember that these hard things in life, and these difficult occasions, make you stronger. If you’re still here, you’re still striving. You’re stronger than you think and YOU deserve credit for nurturing YOU through these ‘times of trouble’. So, go easy. Look after you. Give YOURSELF credit today for being a strong woman, for you are stronger than you think.
Love to you this Thanksgiving.