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Thanksgiving comes to us as the holiday with no strings attached. We don’t sing Thanksgiving carols. There’s no rush to mail Thanksgiving cards. No costumes. No presents.

In fact, some years it seems as if we just give Thanksgiving a wave out the window as we roar by on the Christmas express. (And yes, the decorations are up too soon. We’re just going to have to get over it.)

But Thanksgiving survives and thrives on two abiding principles — eating too much and gratitude.

It is the one day of the year when you may be applauded for having a second piece of pie; the holiday when there’s a satisfying lack of guilt for overdoing it. Because if you don’t double-dip the stuffing you are clearly letting the host/hostess down.

Locally, the gratitude part is going to be tough this year. We’ve all experienced loss in our lives and it is always painful. But the wildfires have left us without words.

To lose a loved one is unbearably sad.

Losing a valued possession can be wrenching.

But the concept of losing everything — from closets of favorite shirts and dresses, to family photos, to the entire house — is beyond comprehension. I hate that I have become numb to the photos of families sifting through blackened, flattened lots where their homes once stood.

Although we’ve seen those images over and over, each represents a family, a life and a tragedy.

My wife and I were in Calistoga for lunch a couple of weekends ago. We stopped at a bakery and a reader came over to chat. Inevitably the topic turned to the fires. He was lucky, he said. The flames stopped just short of his house. He still wonders how and why.

As he talked, two women came up to the table.

“Are you talking about the fire?” one asked.

We always assume people don’t want to talk about tragedy. And for many people that’s true. But in cases like this, it has been my experience that there can be a need to tell what happened to them.

Their stories were like many others. There was the neighbor who smelled smoke in the dead of night. How he got up and ran house to house, banging on doors, waking the neighbors. The shouts as people realized they were going to have to evacuate.

And then, in the pitch dark, with the flames on the horizon, the realization that they had to go. Right now. What they grabbed. And what they wish they’d grabbed. Then they fled, just glad in that moment that they’d escaped with their lives.

And then to return and see that there was nothing left.

And for a moment in that bakery, we all choked up and felt a little of that debilitating sadness that we know will live with those women for years.

Now, there’s a case to be made that this is no time to be talking about sports. And that’s true, at least on one level.

These are foolish games, created with a ball, a goal and uniforms in the color of Easter eggs. Players run and leap, points are scored and denied, and the world remains unchanged.

We know that here in the Bay Area. Our teams have won Super Bowls, World Series and NBA championships — all more than once. And I’d be at a loss to say how any of those have changed or improved our quality of life.

But there is something to be said for a return to normalcy. Not to forget, but to move ahead.

A few years ago, a friend lost his son in a pointless, random traffic accident. After a few months, someone asked him if the hurt was lessening.

“No,” he said. “And it never will.”

But he went back to his job. Deeply talented, he did amazing work. He talked to co-workers. He laughed at jokes. And eventually he watched, and rooted for, the 49ers.

There’s nothing wrong with getting caught up in the fray. We can groan at the near misses, rail at the officials and lean forward in our seat with the game on the line and the ball in the air. That doesn’t mean we’ve forgotten.

And, if you’re lucky enough to follow a team that has a coach like Steve Kerr or a star like Steph Curry, you can watch the Warriors knowing that these are thoughtful, well-informed guys, who play a silly game where you toss an inflated ball through an iron ring, but also have perspective on the larger things in life.

This is going to be a difficult holiday for those who have lost so much. The games aren’t going to heal the hurt. But they may begin to show a path for the way forward.

Around the Thanksgiving table this year, it is our wish that victims of these terrible, hurtful fires will be able to put their grief aside for a moment. Perhaps they’ll watch a game on TV. Maybe it will provide a moment of calm and relief.

And then, hopefully, they’ll have a second piece of pie.

C.W. Nevius is at cw.nevius@pressdemocrat.com.

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