Thursday, November 24, 2005

Giving thanks... the greatest gift

Without really thinking about it, I asked my ex-wife the other day what plans she had for Thanksgiving. Normally, this wouldn't be such a silly thing to ask, except that she lives in France and it's not a holiday there. Duh!

That got me thinking... Thanksgiving is a truly American holiday, and actually a quasi-celebration of the creation of America itself (as we know America today, not the America it was before the Europeans came) and its ability to sustain itself in foreign lands. So it seems very fitting that families congregate and break bread together. Honestly, not even Christmas is this food-centered and there's something fundamentally fulfilling about sharing a well-cooked meal with family.

However, all holidays can let you slip into cynicism mode if you're not judicious about how you treat them. (Why, for example, are Christmas carols being broadcast in Kohl's when it's not even after Thanksgiving?) For that reason, I prefer spending some time on holidays to re-connect with the intent of that holiday. For someone who is not religious, this is about the closest I get to worship.

A few months ago, my wife's cousin was in a horrible helicopter accident. The two other people in the chopper did not survive the day, and by the luck of the stars, an ambulance happened to be four minutes away from the scene. As the paramedics arrived, my wife's cousin waved his hands slightly to let them know where he was in the crash and that he was still alive. A few minutes after that, he went unconscious.

If memory serves, he had a broken leg, two broken ribs, a collapsed lung and head trauma. After surviving a serious infection after surgery, he was put into a medically-induced coma to give him a better chance at healing. It became a waiting game, a nightmare time... a week passed, then two. If you don't wake up from a coma after that long, your chances of waking up at all become impossibly small. After four weeks, the term "persistent vegetative state" was probably being quietly discussed. After five weeks, most all hopes had faded. Still, his parents stayed by his bedside, clinging to whatever they had left inside that their child could still walk away from this tragedy and begin the path to recovery.

Forty days later, I got a tearful call from my wife: he had woken up from the coma. Unless you're a doctor, you don't really appreciate how impossible this kind of shit is—if this were to happen in the movies, the doctors would laugh themselves out of the theatre. We're talking the 0.1% chance here.

Finally, this last Tuesday, we received word that his cognitive therapist does not need to work with him anymore, and this Sunday, we'll be paying him a visit for the first time in months. Given that I haven't seen him conscious since before the accident, I can't wait to see him. In all honesty, I didn't know him as well as my wife does, or his own family, but the time I spent with him was good and full of laughter and he deserved to pull out of this ordeal. I get the impression that at some point, he stood before his Maker—if you believe in that kind of thing—and his Maker glanced over the interminably long list of people who loved him and concluded with a smile and shake of his head, "Sorry, I can't let you in just yet. Too many people love you... too many people deserve to have you back on Earth."

And so, this Thanksgiving has a very special meaning for me, if only to be reminded that we are not immortals, that our time on this planet is silently counted by sunsets and sunrises, and that when we leave this place that we are remembered by what we leave behind and the memories we made and shared with those closest to us.

Sharing time with family. Breaking bread. Making memories. Today, I give thanks for this, the greatest gift one can ever receive.

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