In 1621, the Pilgrims celebrated their successes in the New World with the first thanksgiving feast. Later, in remembrance of that occasion, George Washington and other presidents periodically designated national times of thanksgiving until Abraham Lincoln made Thanksgiving Day a national holiday in 1863.
In 1943, artist Norman Rockwell forever immortalized the quintessential Thanksgiving in an oil painting, “Thanksgiving Dinner,” that appeared in The Saturday Evening Post. In the movie, The Blind Side, the main character, Michael Oher, stares longingly at Rockwell’s painting on the cover of a book as he contemplates his homelessness and absence of family. While someone like Oher may be thankful for simply having a full meal and a place to sleep, many Americans are currently appreciating the fact that they are still employed. For others, educational opportunities, health issues, faith concerns or growing families are primary considerations when reflecting on what it means to be thankful.
What are you thankful for? Gratefulness is subjective, so Columbia Metropolitan asked a cross section of people – some notable – about what leads to a grateful heart.
They responded: “I am thankful for …
… A Second Chance”
Mitch Smith appreciates the tumor he had five years ago at the age of 39. In his recently released book, Junk, published by Lulu, he outlines how the health scare was a wakeup call. He not only realized he was overextending himself, but the tumor also reminded him about what was most important: his wife of 16 years and their three children.
Besides being an author and speaker, Mitch owns Root Loud, a strategic, educational-based firm. He was sprinting up the success ladder, working with worldwide companies, establishing and selling businesses, serving on boards and even considering a political career – when the tumor redirected his attention.
“It was the tumor that gave me freedom and clarity to live out the rest of my life and business career with purpose,” says Mitch. “I now serve on no boards in the community or at church. My business supports my family and the Root Loud family, as well as certain ministries. While I spend a lot of time in my business, my family comes first with how I schedule my time.”
Since he recovered from his tumor, Mitch has been teaching others to be thankful as well. He regularly meets with men in their 30s and 40s at Lizard’s Thicket for breakfast. “They come to me having tried to be happy with making money but are realizing they are miserable and lost. My hope is to help them remove the junk in their lives so they can experience living. Life is not only about money or what can be gained on this journey. It’s about living each day fulfilling the passions that have been given us and doing it to help others succeed in their lives.”
… For More Than I Can Describe”
Joel Lourie has a wife and two children, and he is a Columbia native through and through. He was born in Columbia, attended the University of South Carolina and has been a South Carolina State Senator for seven years. He’s also the president of Lourie’s Department Store. He expresses his thankfulness for “a loving, healthy and supportive family, great friends and colleagues, and I enjoy my work in the Senate and in my business, more than ever.”
Karen Brosius was educated in Indiana, New York and France, then worked in New York for more than 20 years before moving to Columbia to serve as the executive director for the Columbia Museum of Art. Having traveled extensively and having met artists from all corners of the globe, Karen credits her job with instilling in her an awareness of the importance of interacting with people.
“I’m thankful for the opportunity to meet people from all walks of life,” she says. “Their experiences put your own into a broader perspective.”
… Gratitude from Others”
Thankfulness from others goes a long way in growing thankful hearts. “I am always humbled when someone tells me my writing has helped or touched them,” says Jess MacCallum, a married father of three who works in business development at Professional Printers, Inc. “Usually it’s in the form of an e-mail or a web post. The first time I got a phone call, I was so surprised that someone had taken the time to track me down that I still can’t remember what we talked about!”
Readers express gratitude for Jess’s books: I Married Wonder Woman, Now What? and Put the Seat Down, which he says is a “guy’s guide to making the first year of marriage a great experience for husband and wife. “Most share a glimpse of their lives and how they’ve taken my words to craft a better understanding of their situation,” he says. “It reminds me of loaning someone my car. You get to help them go some place they would not have been able to go if it weren’t for the loan of the vehicle.”
While Jess is also grateful for the gift of writing, he is just as appreciative when that gift teaches and inspires others.
… New Beginnings”
Lere Robinson misses her native country of South Africa. She moved with her husband and three children to the United States when her husband, Eddie, also a native South African, was asked four years ago to relocate a main element of the Live School to the United States. Lere, a nutritional consultant who owns and operates Alive Again, admits that it has taken time to adapt to the American way of life. She grew up on a 20,000-acre cattle farm in Zimbabwe and attended a boarding school. She was happily raising her family and using her “gift” of nutrition education to help people.
“We had to start over,” she says. However, in August, when the Robinson family returned to Columbia from a summer trip to South Africa, Lere says she realized that she was filled with a deep gratitude. “I realized just how blessed we are,” she says. “I am sad to have left our beautiful country, yet tremendously grateful for the life which we now have here in the U.S.”
The couple purchased a fixer-upper on four acres of land in Irmo, and Lere says she now feels a sense of contentment when she pulls into her driveway each day. “I’m deeply grateful for the fact that we now live in a place where we feel safe. Being able to lace up my running shoes and run on the open road and not be engulfed in fear of not returning … my three girls can play outside in the yard, and I don’t have to watch over my shoulder every five minutes. This is priceless.”
Even though we primarily consider giving thanks only in November when we sit down with family and friends for a feast, the Prices are thankful 24/7 for life. In fact, a few years ago, instead of sending out Christmas cards, they sent out a Thanksgiving card.
Both of Scott and Robin’s children have undergone tremendous challenges. Their son Jay, 9, was born deaf and wears cochlear implants. Their daughter, Anna, an 8th grader in the Dent Middle School single-gender program, was born with neurofibromatosis, a genetic condition of the nervous system that causes tumors to grow on the covering of the nerves anywhere in the body at anytime. She has endured surgeries and treatments to keep a tumor on an optical nerve in her brain under control. Currently it is stable, but her eyesight was dramatically affected. She has no vision in her right eye and tunnel vision in her left.
This summer, Anna underwent reconstructive foot surgery to correct a painful condition that was keeping her from being able to wear shoes or keep up with her peers physically, explains her mother, Robin. Until September, she was wheelchair bound.
Yet, despite these life challenges, the Prices are tremendously grateful. “We’ve learned not to fret too much about the path ahead and to try to live in the now,” wrote Scott on a Caring Bridge site a few years ago.
Anna has many friends, rarely brings home a B from school and is an encouragement to all around her. Jay plays baseball and is learning to play the piano from a hearing-impaired pianist.
“I’m thankful for my life and for such a great family that has a love for Jesus Christ. That encourages me and gives me strength. I was lying in bed a couple of nights ago and realized that it’s the little things in life that you come to appreciate. For me right now, it’s walking,” Anna says.
In this time of uncertainty regarding the economy, many Americans are thankful this season simply to have jobs. Such is the case for Satch Krantz, who began his career at Riverbanks Zoo in 1973 and has served as its executive director since 1976. He is one of the longest-serving zoo directors in the nation.
Satch credits his staff for making it a joy and a privilege to come to work every day. He says, “I am most thankful to work alongside an incredibly dedicated and talented staff.”
A native of Columbia and a graduate of Clemson University, Satch expresses gratitude, as well, for the opportunities his job has afforded. “I am very grateful to work in an industry that keeps me connected to the natural world. I’ve had the opportunity to do some extensive traveling over the course of my career – including 13 safaris to six different countries in Africa. In 2002, I was also fortunate enough to participate in a 120-mile walk across the Tsavo National Park in Kenya.”
… America’s Military”
Congressman Joe Wilson has had a drive to serve since he was in high school in Charleston. After becoming an attorney, he served in the U.S. Army Reserves from 1972 to 1975 and in the South Carolina Army National Guard. He retired in 2003 as a Colonel, having served as a Staff Judge Advocate, and was – at the time – the only active Guard member serving in Congress. His four sons also serve in branches of the U.S. military.
As a Congressman for 10 years, Joe believes that for Americans to be volunteering to serve in the military, knowing that there are terrorists who want to harm them, is extremely brave. “I am so thankful for these young people being willing to serve in our military. Even in the depths of the conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan, recruiting has been successful.”
Joe, who has traveled at least 11 times to the countries where American soldiers are currently serving, says he is so proud to be able to interact with them and encourage them. To walk into a dining facility and see a small South Carolina flag on one of the tables is a special moment.
He says all Americans should be “extremely” thankful and proud of the work the military is doing on behalf of their country.