A small smile crept across my face. The young woman sitting next to me reminded the other people at the table we were eating at that is was Thanksgiving and then translated what she said into Chinese. I looked down at the red plastic tray which I had been eating from and a twinge of disappointment came at first and it was amplified by the cold rain outside. The city I am in, a couple of hours from Shanghai, seems to specialize in this rain. It is just cold enough to be miserable and get you instantly sick but not cold enough with the visual appeal of snow. There was very little to be thankful for a few moments.
When I work abroad this time of year is always the most difficult for me. My friends are literally on the other side of the world and because our lives, which were made closer by technology, have been made very distant by the same technology this time around. The lack of the smell of a turkey cooking in the oven, something that I thought was part of turkey day law , was adding to the increasingly frustrating wearing away of holiday cheer. The rain , of course, was merely making an appearance to add insult to injury.
I sat there and watched the young woman give a much more detailed explanation of Thanksgiving Day in Chinese then I prepared for the inevitable question of what Thanksgiving means in America Like many of the other holidays it seems to have lost its meaning Other countries spend their day remembering memorial days in solemn remembrance of people who selflessly gave their lives for a flag and an ideal and we spend it with family outings and car sales. Other countries honor their various religious holidays by attending places of worship and we spend them, and the beautiful opportunity to be able to observe holidays of our choosing with sales and trinkets. Thanksgiving , it seems , in America has become much the same thing. It becomes a marker of a selling death match at retail stores. It is a chance for a country to argue about the place of religion or lack there of in a country with far greater problems. What it isn’t anymore was a chance to be thankful and increasing number of people there is more and more to be thankful for.
I looked across the table and to my side at the woman sitting next to me and realized how great it was to have such helpful and friendly and warm people a regular part of my life. Not only just a still image on the computer but a living breathing laughing part of my life.
I realized how thankful I was for the wide variety of great cuisines that I have the opportunity to eat every day. Not only once a month at some overly pretentious restaurant but every single day to the point where they are as normal to me as pizza and hamburger.
I have a job that I love, and that allows me to have a comfortable life. I am not dependent on the charity of others. I even have the enough time , on occasion, to explore new places and new ways of living. I have been in the countryside and guarded the fish we were eatign for dinner from a cat who also had the same plans, I have been to the great modern megalopolises of China one day and ancient cities the next.
I poked around the red plastic tray trying to find the delicious beef that we had been served for lunch and realized that Thanksgiving is a great opportunity to distinguish what we need and what we want in life. I realized as I decided to give up on finding more beef and attacked the mountain of greens , that we spend too much time worrying about what we want and not enough time being content that our needs are met. Instead of what worrying about what we need and being happy that we get these things. I often wonder how many of the first pilgrims complained on that first Thanksgiving
If we always want things then our lives will always be a disappointment. It is actually that simple.
Yes we are going through tough times, but so is everyone else in the world is. Yes the rain is cold and will give me a cold that will mutate and possibly demand alimony payments when I get better, but I have a warm home to go to every night to fight it while chomping on noodles and watching a TV.
Yes I am far from friends, but one day I will be near them again and I will have great stories to tell them and I will be able to tell them about all the wonderful people who have been added to the never ending story which is my life. I also have great friends here and while communicating with them at times is difficult and they have this favoritism towards the Los Angeles Lakers that cannot be understood at all (except perhaps by other Lakers fans ) we have so many great adventures that I have not had any time to write about them.
My needs, are not only being met, but they are being far far surpassed. Sure I wouldn’t mind a warm turkey (preferably one genetically engineered to not have leftovers) but I am having Chinese food and really can anyone with any sanity find fault with Chinese food?
At some point the explanation got changed to something else because everyone had started laughing and I knew for a fact that Thanksgiving with all its sleep inducing tradition of football and turkey was not that funny . I was never asked what Thanksgiving was created for but I finally knew the answer. It was their to remind us to be thankful for the little things and to share those moments with the people we hold dear. So by every possible test, this had truly been a great Thanksgiving . I truly have had a lot to be thankful for the past four months from wonderful students, to fantastic coworkers to people who magically became long lost friends and family after meeting them even briefly. That is what the holiday is all about.