“Finding Your Moment of Moo”: Thanksgiving Traditions (Pandemic Edition)

25 Nov 2020

By Cheryl Zogg

2020 has been… a year, and yet, like any other year, as this particular year begins to draw to a close, I find myself reflecting back on the simple moments that have helped shape my memories. It is a simple tradition, one started by my oma (grandmother) when she was a child dealing with troubles at home. For many years growing up, I simply dismissed it as a part of my family’s Thanksgiving tradition (a holiday falling on the fourth Thursday of November in the United States for international readers of this blog) when the start of winter holidays came around.

“Tell me something that you are thankful for!” my oma would cheer over the din of family and chaos of meal preparation as we all gathered around, summoned by the clanging clapper of a loud Swiss cow bell that she proudly swung as she strutted out onto the front steps of the farm porch. Bedlam ensued as my opa (grandfather) and uncles came in from the fields, my aunts and I briefly abandoned the food (fervently hoping that the turkey, ham, and lebkuchen [think chocolate gingerbread cookies] did not burn), and someone was sent to round up the kids. Oma would perfectly arrange us into an inevitably lopsided circle (much to my oma’s chagrin) and ask each of us to share something that we were thankful for that year. After a round of responses, ranging from heartfelt and insightful to eye-rolling and silly, she would pause and in German say that what she was thankful for were the simple moments that made up her year, the simple moments that she might otherwise take for granted that enabled us all to be there.

As she grew older and eventually passed away in 2018, the tradition largely went with her. That year, the family did not feel like celebrating, and, the following year, in 2019, several of us had other commitments that kept us away. This year, in 2020… well. 

This year, I decided to do something different. If eight-months of forced virtual meetings and teaching graduate-level biostatistics to masters and PhD students on Zoom have taught me anything, it is that you would be amazed at how creative you can be when you have precious few other options! Therefore, this year, my family received a Zoom invitation, informing them to be present on Thanksgiving at noon. The subject line of the email simply read: “Moo.”

From my family to yours during these troubled holiday times, I hope that you can find comfort, friendship, and safety wherever you are. In the midst of a world in chaos with so many of us stranded far away from the people we love, I know that my heart echoes my oma’s words. 

This year, I am thankful for the friends and colleagues both near and far who have helped me to get through this year and enabled me to still be standing here. I am thankful for the simple moments of creativity and ingenuity that, in the midst of a global pandemic, have enabled the incredible community of an organization like AWS to thrive. 

As the current Chair of the AWS National Medical Student Committee, I will be the first to say that this year is not what any of us had planned! As an MD-PhD Candidate, I did not intend to complete and defend my PhD locked alone in my room. I did not intend to return to clerkships dressed up like a bad Halloween scuba diver cum astronaut in a face shield, scrubs, goggles, and mask. I did not intend to not be able to walk in the front door of the emergency room with my friend when she was hurt, and I certainly did not intend to celebrate interviews, match day, and graduation with my medical school classmates watching them open their match day letters and receive their MD diplomas over Zoom. Yet for all of the chaos that this year has wrought, they did graduate. They did match. My friend survived her solo journey to the ED. I dressed up like a confused scuba diver cum astronaut and somehow managed to complete a PhD.

Not everyone has been so fortunate. Far too many have been forced to live with real loss. It is for that reason that in reflecting back on one… of a year I find myself returning to my oma’s tradition, a tradition born from the experiences of a survivor who lived through too much as a child. I find solace in her words, for it is the simple moments—good and bad, familiar and strange, joyful and earth-shatteringly painful—that have brought us to where we are today and given us the opportunity to look forward to tomorrow.

Thus, as 2020 finally draws to an end, I wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving and encourage you to (in the words of my mother on seeing the Zoom invitation): “Find your moment of moo.” In saying as much, I am rather certain that my oma would have more than a couple of questions about what we have done to her tradition and am admittedly more than a little scared that the phrase will continue to live on within my family for far longer than this year! Yet for all of the absurdity begotten by my mother and far too many hours on Zoom, I am thankful for the moment to celebrate. I am thankful for my moment of moo.

Cheryl K. Zogg, MSPH, MHS, is an MD-PhD Candidate at Yale School of Medicine where she is currently in the process of completing her PhD in Chronic Disease Epidemiology (Quantitative Health Services Research). She is the 2020-2021 Chair of the AWS National Medical Student Committee and a proud medical student member of the AWS Blog and YouTube Communications Subcommittees. Her clinical and research interests lie in the intersection of health policy and quality as it pertains to outcomes of surgical patients and differential access to care. She anticipates a career in academic surgery. Outside of work, Cheryl is an avid dancer, traveler, bookworm, and (aspiring) biker and runner who loves to mentor and teach. She can be found on Twitter as @CherylZogg.

Our blog is a forum for our members to speak, and as such, statements made here represent the opinions of the author and are not necessarily the opinion of the Association of Women Surgeons.

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