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Giving Thanks

Crossposted at Laughing Wolf

Today, Americans gather to eat a massive meal, watch parades, events, and competitions on television, and otherwise enjoy a day off.  The original meaning is, honestly, probably lost for many because we do not fear starvation in the coming months of winter cold.  Despite that, quite a few will take at least a minute to say thanks for the last year, and it is especially right that I do so today with you. 

This last year has been quite a year for me, one such that someone I know upon hearing "the latest" from someone a few months ago blurted out "How much more can he take?!?"  Looked at strictly for the negatives, it is a valid question.  My employment ended after a bit over a year of hell.  Jenny has gone fully blind, had a series of strokes, and has what appears to be the onset of canine dementia (think Alzheimer's for dogs).  There have been other delights on the same level.  Quite a few, in fact.

I could never be so lucky again. 

Let's step outside the box and look at this last year from a different perspective.  It can be hard to do, but is so worth the effort...

For all that I could say about the last year plus at Purdue, I can also honestly say I met and had the chance to work with some amazing people -- particularly out away from my area.  One example is meeting and working with someone that if I ever have to stage an event or production, they will be the first person I call.  Together, we did what some said was impossible, and not only did it get done it got done well.  There are a couple of other examples, but that's a good one to share.  It is people like them that cause me to respect Purdue as an institution, no matter what I think of anyone else.  As long as they and those like them work there, it will be a good solid place at the core. 

Time is indeed catching up with my dear sweet Jenny.  Her eyesight is pretty well gone, and there are days I am pretty sure it is gone completely.  She had a series of strokes in June and July, such that I thought she would not survive the 4th.  Checking on that led to the realization that she is showing signs of mental drop as well.  I treasure the good moments with her more than ever.  If it has slowed her down, and forced her to become an inside dog, well, she still will go patrol the yard and vigorously announce and attack any four-footed thing that comes near or in.  Those she hunts have little to fear, but she does it still and I actually enjoy having her try to steal my spot on the sofa from me.  Many things are lost, but the love and companionship grow stronger for the loss. 

The year has tested relationships of various types at various levels.  I will be honest and say that in a few cases, I have been the one to let others down by not stepping up as I should have.  I will be honest and say that I was very disappointed by some others.  Yet, as but one example of many, I saw someone I would go so far as to describe as an active enemy become a friend, and show signs of becoming what I call a true friend.  For all that was lost, and some treasured things were indeed lost, I have gained so much more. 

I have had some of the proverbial sleepless nights, worred (in a panic even) over finances and other delights.  The next dawn may not have brought the answer, but the next several dawns have invariably done so.  Hard choices were and are needed; yet, a right answer (even if not the one I wanted) has always arrived.  When you realize that, how can one not have faith, and confidence in the ultimate good of all that takes place? 

My blood family sadly continues to shrink.  Yet, I am glad for those that are left and for having known those that are gone.  I am quite happy to know that others join me in remembering those gone, for as long as they are remembered in laughter and love, they really are still here.  My mail this morning brought a message from a former neighbor, a friend, who on this day each year raises a toast to my parents.  You see, when my parents were alive and did Thanksgiving at my house, we made him a part of it.  The fact that he was ethnically different, of a different nationality, and even a very different cultural perspective was not an impediment.  Indeed, it was what made it wonderful and special, for he was and is that and it added so much to the day to have him a part of it. 

Which brings us to a very important point, and to you.  That point is family.  One definition is that family is a group that has to take you in, no matter what.  I think that there are better ones, and that an important concept is that family are the individuals who know you for good and ill, and will invite you in any way.  There are some here that fully fit that definition.  Another is that family are those we fight with unless and until someone else comes along.  Again, there is some truth to that one here as well.  Fact is, you come here and attack anyone without just cause, and I will have their back.  Like doesn't factor in to it, brotherhood does.  Come here and demand that we walk in some rigid lockstep (or insist that we do so no matter the obvious disagreements in posts and comments), well, don't let the door hit your obvious brain compartment on the way out.  The first is your problem, not ours.  The second, well it shows your mental shortcomings clearly and I suspect that it is a sign of, er, other shortcomings as well.  Both are your issues, not ours.  I've found that those who insist on a, er, measuring contest do so out of deep-seated and well-founded insecurity...

If you've stuck with this, what this all means is that family can be and is more than just mere blood.  One of things for which I have been thankful for many years are some of you here.  Getting to meet a number of you in person has been a blessing, and has enriched my life and that has continued this last year.  Some of you I still haven't met, but you've stepped up by e-mail or phone and enriched my life that way.  For that, and for the simple opportunity to get to "meet" you here in comments, I truly do give thanks.

This last year has seen my passion take form, and for that I am truly thankful.  As background, I have never felt more alive, and more confident that I was in the right place, at the right, time, for the right reasons, and doing the right thing than when I was on embed with the troops.  It was not so much that I was telling their stories; rather, it was that I was the means for them to tell their story.  Doing that also set me on a course of trying to do more for them, and in particular for the wounded and those that give care. 

That led directly and ultimately to Cooking with the Troops.  Concrete Bob and I probably drove some mad both with our determination and on getting "bogged down" with a level of detail that some thought unneeded and unnecessary.  That detail, however, has paid off.  In just about six months time, we have gone from incorporation to ringing the opening bell of the NASDAQ stock exchange.  We are moving fast to raise funds and not just do food events, but to take the first steps on three major new program areas.  It took having some people hit me over the head with it (yes, that is the best way to get something in there), but it is not just something I care about, it is my passion in life. 

It is a passion that may well allow me to eventually do the embeds that I love and the troops support I have to do.  Not want, not need -- have to do.  I can do no less, and want very much to do more.  How can one not be thankful to clearly see what one should do, and have the means to do it take form?  It has come with a cost, but I give thanks that I not only could pay it, but that I did so.  My life is much the richer for that cost and the loss that went with it. 

I give thanks for Bob, and having the opportunity to get to know him better.  For the opportunity and privilege to get to know Susan Katz Keating and Mary Katharine Ham.  For the opportunity to get to meet and do with those who serve.  For we do not do for them, we do it with them, and that makes all the difference in the world. 

For all that is lost, I am the richer.  For all that has come into my life, I am richer.  For those that have come into my life, I am richer.  For the new family that includes so many here, I am richer. 

For the richness and opportunity this year has brought, I do truly give thanks this day.  I also offer my thanks to all for the opportunity to share and make a difference for the better. 

As a final thought, I give thanks to all who serve.  For those of you on the line this day so that I and others may enjoy it, my profound thanks.  We deserve not people like you, but are damned glad that you serve anyway.