As You Like It: Giving ThanksBy Joan Florek Schottenfeld
I used to write a column each year before Thanksgiving, thanking all the people who made my life joyful. I haven’t done it in years. It’s not that I have no one to thank; it’s just that I’m not as good as I used to be about keeping on top of the holidays. When I first began writing my columns, I would figure out exactly when to hand in my Halloween column, my Valentine’s piece, or my Fourth of July opus. But lately I’ve been remiss. Holidays pass and it’s not until they’re over that I think, “Darn, I meant to write something about that.”
I still remember when a reader told me, “I’ve always wanted to be included in your Thanksgiving thank-you column.” I was amazed. This writing business is a lonely one. You get feedback so rarely that you’re lulled into thinking that you’re just writing for yourself. So when someone tells you that something you wrote made an impression on them, it’s a shock. We forget how powerful words can be.
Each year I would begin by thanking the person who has made my writing a possibility, and this year is no different. Beth, my friend, my sounding board, my conscience, thank you for always listening, especially this year. You give me confidence when self doubt creeps in.
Thank you to our town librarians and their incredible director, Mark Lague. How much poorer my life would be without the library. And thank you to my fellow trustees who work to keep it vital. This year librarian Mary Owens retires, and her warm voice will no longer welcome me when I walk in the door. She will be sorely missed.
The older I get, the more I value people who introduce me to different points of view and open doors to new worlds. The fact that I am surrounded by co-workers and students who do this is for me a daily wonder. My site co-manager, Papa, is a testament to patience. If he wasn’t a Muslim from Senegal I would think that he was a Zen Buddhist.
Last month his wife and infant son were on their way to Senegal to visit family. As far as Papa knew they were at the airport waiting to board the plane. Suddenly his wife phoned to tell him that the airport officials informed her that she needed a visa for their two-month-old son or they couldn’t leave the country. Papa had a few hours to try and get his son the paperwork.
For the next few hours, as I bit off every nail I had, paced, and hyperventilated at the drama being played out in our office, Papa quietly sat at the computer trying to get the Senegalese embassy online, making phone calls, filling out forms. When he realized that the embassy’s site wasn’t working properly, he searched for a place where his wife and son could spend the night until he could get the visa. With a half hour to spare, airport officials decided to let them board, telling her she could obtain a visa when she landed in Senegal. I was a wreck, but Papa simply smiled and helped a student find his GED score.
Besides serenity, I’m learning about Islam and teaching Papa about Judaism. Thank you, Papa. You make my work load so much lighter.
Marilyn, our math teacher who teaches the pre-GED class with me, is a miracle of humor and flexibility. Together we juggle students, guide them, support them, and hopefully teach them. I would never make it to 9 p.m. every day if it weren’t for her.
My students, who teach me daily what perseverance means. Coming from jobs and children, aging parents and crises, they land in their seats at 6 p.m. (more or less) and alternately inspire and drive me crazy. They question, complain, compliment, and when it’s a really good night, they finally understand why I push them so hard. Easy it’s not, but it’s never boring!
Thank you to all my longtime friends with whom I have shared family joys, from our kids’ preschool graduations to their weddings and lately our sorrows — my extended family: Wayne and Roxy, Nancy and Harry, Nancy M., Dawn, Liz, Cheryl and Roberta. Some of us first met when our kids were babies, and our dogs were puppies! How rich you’ve made my life. And of course, our newest friends, Mike and Mary. Making friends later in life is always a joyful surprise. People seem to have friends from birth, unwilling to let new people in. So when you find people who open their arms to new fellow adventurers it’s exciting. Beginnings are rare later in life. When they appear they are cherished.
In every column I thank my family who give my life its very meaning: My mom for her courage and vitality; my husband, Steve, for his unconditional love and support; my girls, Lisa and Mariel, for simply being young women who make me feel that I have indeed done one thing in my life that is sublime and beyond regret. This year, I’d like to thank the young men in our lives: Matt, who is Lisa’s rock, and Dan, whose devotion to Mariel makes her complete. They have brought us their warmth and humor, enlarging our circle.
And of course to my readers — may you know only joy and love.
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