COVID makes Thanksgiving travel risky. Staying home shouldn't earn you a guilt trip.

Young persons who have an underlying medical condition can be in an even worse bind. They may look healthy and vigorous, and want to keep their health issues private. The pressure can be even greater if grandchildren are involved. But declining an invitation should not require anything more than a polite refusal — “I just don’t feel comfortable visiting this year” — not the submission of medical records.

I think I (partly) understand why this is happening. The pandemic has made every event this year more fraught, and thus more precious. It’s easy, during this time of peril and isolation, to idealize our real-world experience of family feasts and cling to a Hallmark card image of what Thanksgiving is all about, even if holding on so dearly to an image of the past makes it impossible to cope with the demands of the present.

There’s also simple denial at play. When reality is inconvenient, it can seem easier to ignore it. People don’t want to believe that relatives might die if exposed; ironically, they force them to participate in dangerous rituals to strengthen their conviction of invincibility. But wishing for normalcy — even the fractious meals of yesteryear — doesn’t make it so. I would love to dine on my daughter’s flourless chocolate cake and sweet potato pie and superb mashed potatoes. She is the far better cook in the family, and traditionally kicks me out of the kitchen on Thanksgiving. But I’ll just have to get over it.