Thanksgiving is not meant to be easy.

For most people Thanksgiving is a choice between running a marathon of mindless and comforting chores or starring in a drama about existential questions related to family. Neither is easy and both are good. Whether you long for the company of people you love who are afar or committed to feeding and housing them for the weekend, there is no such thing as a relaxing Thanksgiving. It’s an annual ritual designed to be a struggle to make us stronger.

Hosting Thanksgiving for a large crowd of overnight guests who slogged through hours of traffic and weather to see you and therefore well-deserving of a clean bed and decent meal means there is no time to think about the relationship you have with your parents and children. The only tears are sprung from onions being chopped. There is no time to think about much of anything except the preparation of a ridiculous number of root vegetable dishes.

The sheer exhaustion of putting on Thanksgiving for a crowd is its own reward. When the dishes are finally done and you plop down on the couch and exhale its like you are Joan Benoit Samuelson for the day. The large glass of wine you hold up is your trophy. Your only thoughts are on what’s planned for breakfast the next day and whether your guests are warm enough.

Opting for a small gathering is a marathon of another sort but equal in its challenge and reward. The time and emotional space otherwise reserved for hosting Thanksgiving for a crowd is instead a room for reflection by yourself.

Reflection is when your heart keeps pace with the reel playing in your mind of what came before you and what you hope to leave behind and why. Fewer chores and not nearly as much shopping to do at Thanksgiving steers one on a different route to another kind of wholesome and utter exhaustion.

Reflection is your consciousness taking a trip down memory lane and slowing down for contemplation of all the speed bumps along the way of your childhood and journey to becoming an adult.

Reflection is when all that has been given to you by your parents and grandparents, sisters and brothers, aunts and uncles and cousins and friends — all of what is good — you want for your children and their children. It is a hunger worthy of the Thanksgiving feast the universe has once again miraculously bestowed. The finish line includes a glass of wine on the couch but instead of thinking about what to prepare for breakfast the next day you ponder the meaning of life and mortality. The challenge and reward presented by this type of race is being okay with that.

Reflection is when everything you love is before you and gone at the same time. It’s profound and wonderful and extraorinarily hard and good.