Saturday, November 17, 2007

Giving Thanks

Every year at around this time, I have a tradition of sharing a Thanksgiving "thank you" with my coworkers. If the work is worth doing, it is inevitable that you're asking a great deal of those you work with. Thanksgiving is a wonderful opportunity to acknowledge the value and meaning and decency of that work, and why it is worth doing.

This Thanksgiving, I find myself a ronin, so I stepping back from grand corporate themes to something more personal.

I come from an immigrant family. Growing up, my parents knew nothing about Thanksgiving. It wasn't until we moved to the US in 1970 that we first became exposed to this holiday. My father was a graduate student at Penn State, and my mother was learning how to speak english and function in this strange place, many thousands of miles from family and home, with a three year child.

Looking back, it is incredible how so many in that small college community embraced our young family, so far from home and all that was familiar. In particular, the McCarl family (my father's graduate advisor) made a point of inviting us to their home every Thanksgiving, to share the holiday with them and their kids. It is there we learned about the holiday, and the real meaning of giving thanks for your blessings, and sharing those blessings for others.

Over the years, Thanksgiving grew to be (by far) the most important holiday for me and my family. My parent's Thanksgiving table was always open to others who were far from home, alone, or new to the community.

Fast forward to 1987. I am in England working on my masters and for the first time going to be away from home at Thanksgiving. One of my fondest memories of my year in England is borrowing pots and pans from the college kitchen and preparing a full Thanksgiving meal for 50 other expatriots and English friends. Sharing the meal and the meaning of Thanksgiving with so many friends is a blessing I will never forget.

Last year, we were all at my parents house in Washington DC for the holiday. Around the table, we were blessed with 14 people, with our family, my sister and her family, my sister's husbands parents joining us from Nevada, and a coworker of my father's from Japan. After 35+ years, it was incredibly moving to see what our family had grown into since those very first Thanksgivings with the McCarl family.

This past January, Dr. McCarl passed away at the age of 79. In his nearly five decades at Penn State, Dr. McCarl had made many contributions to science, the community, and the university. For this immigrant's son, I will always remember him and his family for being the first to show me, through their kindness and how they lived their lives, what it means to be an American. Thank you.

As you sit down with friends and family this holiday, remember those who through their decency and example have touched your life, and be mindful of the opportunities you have to touch others. It is through these touches that who we are echoes and ripples through time.

Best wishes for a happy, healthy, thoughtful, and reflective Thanksgiving with friends and family.

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