Last Sunday, a brief post on this blog introduced Mr. Guy’s Thanksgiving Project, asking people to share any particular parts of their lives that bring special meaning, things they are thankful for.
Surprisingly, since Thanksgiving Day is an American holiday and Americans are generally thought of as religious people (at least in terms of public or “civic” religion, regardless of what they feel in their hearts or how they act), responses were muted in terms of any religious connection. Little religious perspective carried over into the comments people made about what they are grateful for (which in itself might be something to be grateful for, considering what comes from some of our more “religious” citizens!). The few people who mentioned “faith” simply mentioned it that way, as something to be thankful for. They did not elaborate.
Even without the religious connection, and with the full recognition that Thanksgiving started as a religious observance among early Christian believers in New England and Virginia, lovely themes are being played out on this most American of holidays. Generally, these themes fall into three categories: family, friends, and health. The last we don’t need to speak much about. In a time when healthcare and the American government’s role in supporting healthcare for citizens is much talked about, those people fortunate enough to be in good health, or under the care of a good healthcare team if they have health needs, are indeed very blessed, and it was good to hear that they are thankful for their good fortune.
Family is another matter. There are many platitudes about dealing with family “issues” during the holiday season which for many people begins with Thanksgiving, and colleagues (and even the media) are full of stories about the dissension that seems to come to a head in one’s family at this time of year. In the long run, though (from my observance and from what people told me), all the stories and gossip seem to be just that. Most people, given the opportunity to have a family observance of Thanksgiving and the year-end season are grateful for that opportunity. Even for those of us separated from our families by great distances seem to make particular effort think of other family members at this time of year, even – when possible – calling or sending an e-mail to have some brief interaction. It’s a sweet activity and one that happily puts the lie to all those so-called “horror stories” about family gatherings. They make for amusing (and sometimes not-so-amusing) sitcoms on television and in the movies, but they are not how most people spend Thanksgiving dealing with their families. Most folks are grateful for the love they share with their families and relatives.
Which brings us to friends, a topic that could be the subject of a post all by itself. Here we have a clear statement of what being thankful is all about, and this is an easy matter to discuss. Apparently most of us are very aware of the role of friends in our lives, and even people who don’t spend a lot of time thinking about gratitude and thankfulness as part of their daily lives move specifically in this direction when asked to describe what they are grateful for. Certainly for most people, we long ago learned that we cannot function alone, and even the most private of people seem to have some need for connecting with others, whether in the workplace or in their personal lives (look at the popularity and on-going utilization of mobile phones for an example – if you live in a metropolitan area as I do, you are very aware that most of those conversations are visits, and people are having a good time with those visits, even if they are not face-to-face).
For me, it’s the connection with friends that provides the true link to Thanksgiving, and this year, particularly, it’s a great joy for me to think about what’s gone on in my life over the past year and reflect on my friends and how important they are to me. It hardly needs saying that living in a distant land for a year strengthens the role of friendship in one’s life, and I’m very, very grateful to my American and international colleagues for being so “close” while I have been so far away. Personal friends, professional colleagues, even some people I never realized were particularly interested in my life or what I do have all kept up their connection with me (thank goodness for Skype, the posts of fellow bloggers, and especially e-mail). I have been truly blessed while I’ve been in Kenya.
And while it is probably not fair to single out individuals, the other three of what has become known as “The Great Four” of my African friends and colleagues and the other people I’ve met in Africa really need to be mentioned. It is not possible for me to identify and list all the many people I met in Nairobi and other parts of Kenya (after all, my work there required me to meet and interview what must have been a couple of hundred people!). Nevertheless, I am grateful and so blessed to have established a relationship with these three wonderful people. I wrote about Nerisa and Charles and Geoffrey in a post early in the month, so I won’t embarrass them by going into a lot of detail here, but it is a special pleasure to submit this word of gratitude to them. And to the other colleagues and friends I’ve met in Africa, both professional friends in my work at UN-Habitat (especially Hellen Nyabera, Joseph Gichuki, Isaack Waruru, and Daniel Mukangura) and in my volunteer work at the Information Africa Organization, I send my gratitude.
So for my many personal friends, acquaintances, and colleagues with whom I’ve had the pleasure to interact during the past year (indeed, throughout my life), I am very, very thankful. If Mr. Guy’s personal Thanksgiving Project had been a competition, it’s obvious to me that although family, health, and even faith are important as we count our blessings, it’s our connection with our friends that wins hands down. I’m very grateful to each and every one of them for including me in their lives, and my life is richer because of them.