We’re told the appeal of a fireplace is primal.
Now that the trees are bare and I’ve “lost” the forest outside our windows, I write beside the fireplace, thankful for its heat and calm.
I’m grateful for good people doing good for others.
I have always been grateful for their inspiration and compassion.
Their goodness gives me hope.
After a week with only good people — people so good it makes my heart ache — I am so grateful I cannot write this without crying.
Thanks, all, for your goodness to me.
Thanks for sharing so much.
Thanks for your goodness to others.
Thanks for doing good in the world, wherever you go.
Thanks for YOUR goodness.
You know who you are.
The notion of covering Muslim women outrages some in the West, who see only repression and abuse.
Witness the outcry for years about blue burqas in Afghanistan.
The Middle East looks at women and girls uncovered in the West, and shudders for their safety. They look at Western women, and see only oppression and abuse.
(BTW: Some silly Western women donned burqas to write about them; I still can’t fathom why anyone in Canada or the U.S. believed that was a story.)
The black niqab, that head-to-toe covering in Egypt that reveals only eyes, is especially offensive to many outsiders.
It’s a symbol of all that’s wrong with Muslim countries, and their seemingly medieval notions of womanhood.
Today, those niqabs send chills rippling along my spine.
I am overjoyed to see women in the streets, women openly participating in civil society, women voting — can it be true? VOTING.
from the morning wires: “I am voting for freedom. We lived in slavery. Now we want justice in freedom,” said 50-year-old Iris Nawar at a polling station in Maadi, a Cairo suburb.
“We are afraid of the Muslim Brotherhood. But we lived for 30 years under Mubarak, we will live with them, too,” said Nawar, a first-time voter.
A first-time voter. At 50.
We are in the same age group, Iris and I.
I have lived in freedom and full, (some would say full-throated), open political debate.
I have gone to university in jeans since I was 17. I have studied politics and international affairs, and argued with men about politics since my teens (not always a happy event in our family).
I went back to school later, graduating at the age of 55. I am so grateful for this opportunity, I can get teary sometimes, just sharing the thrill of it.
And I have always voted.
I voted at 18, when the age of eligibility had just been lowered in Canada. I proudly cast my ballot for Pierre Trudeau, the controversial intellectual who would lead our country through some of the angriest and most fearful times in our history.
Certainly in my time. I have not forgotten that, in my first year away from home, there were tanks and heavily armed soldiers in Ottawa, near the Parliament buildings — Canada’s seat of democratic power.
In Canada. Tanks and guns and men in battle gear in the streets.
I was at Carleton University, the first child in our extended family to go to post-secondary school.
In our farming community, public education was a privilege and a right.
I am always grateful for the freedom to study, to argue politics, to get involved in campaigns, and to vote — in jeans or long dresses.
Voting is a freedom for which my forebears fought, in Finland; and sacrificed, in Scotland and Canada.
This is a right for which women in Canada and the U.S. marched and shouted and faced the threat of jail and violence, 100 years ago.
Then, women in both countries could not vote; they were considered a man’s property, as much as his horse (the man being a father, a husband, or a son).
Women wore long skirts and shirtsleeves covering most of their bodies, and were attacked as immoral for being out on their own (i.e. man-less), protesting in the streets.
Consider this: The first Canadian women won the right to vote, in Manitoba, in 1917.
The last province to permit its women to vote was Quebec. In 1940.
Women only won the right to vote in the U.S. in 1920, and still lacked full rights. (Alas, because the ERA or Equal Rights Amendment, is always fought by conservatives and business leaders — women and men — it is unlikely American women will see equality protected in the U.S. constitution soon.)
So when I see Egyptian women doing something many never thought possible in our lifetime, I smile and think of suffragettes here, and there. I am always thankful for their long-skirted protests in the streets, more than a century ago.
The veils will lift in Egypt; make no mistake about it.
Writers wrestle with the word, ‘sublime.’
It’s too rare in our lives, and evades simple definition.
I am grateful for discovering it in goosebumps last night at an extraordinary concert.
To hear the Elektra Women’s Choir of Canada is to feel your spirit soar.
I’m humbled to learn that Morna Edmundson and Diane Loomer founded this all-woman choir 25 years ago in Vancouver, and I had not heard them before, despite living in this city twice in the past few decades.
Yet Elektra reaches around the world for Christmas carols from different centuries, cultures, and countries, from Trinidad to Britain and France.
Concerts are sold out year after year.
Swiss composer Ivo Antognini sent a tape of O Magnum Mysterium to Elektra in the hope that its 52 sopranos and altos would sing his Bach-inspired work.
He was rewarded last night with a world premiere.
We were rewarded with the sublime.
When I first moved to Washington in 1996, Canadians warned me about the place.
They recounted all the old stereotypes about the United States:
It’s a nation of war.
It’s the self-appointed, arrogant “world’s policeman.”
It’s a nation of great disparity, not just between “have nots” and “haves”, but between cultures.
As a Canadian journalist, I wanted to keep an open mind.
Knowing I was likely to work here for four years, I wanted to learn everything I could about American culture — all its disparate cultures — so traveled to all but 10 states. (Some travel was for work; some for play.)
Sadly, I met few Americans who have traveled much of their own country, no matter what their income or life circumstances.
Sadly, I’ve met few critics of America who have traveled here either.
Americans are also not known for traveling much outside their country, hence some of those easy stereotypes.
After returning to the U.S. from Asia via Canada in 2004, and living here since then, I have not changed my first impressions of Americans.
There are many good people here.
They are unfailingly friendly.
Travel anywhere in the States, and you’ll find someone wanting to share their life story.
Whether you want to hear it or not. (I’m thinking of a looooong trip on a Greyhound bus, west from Miami, to go scuba diving in the Florida Keys.)
Americans are (usually) kind.
No matter where I’ve been in America, whether working or traveling on my own, most Americans have extended hospitality in such an open and big-hearted way, I am often astonished.
Even the KKK. (I’m thinking of the time I asked the white-hooded, white-robed men marching in the streets in Texas what type of guns they were carrying — legally — and they happily told me, AK-47s. As my friend Jack would say, “You can’t make this stuff up.”)
The white supremacists in Idaho, however, asked me to leave — politely.
No matter how ugly the story — Columbine, Death Row, prison overcrowding, gun laws and gun shows, death penalty cases … Americans are happy to help. This is genuine hospitality, not contrived.
This confounds critics.
Outsiders make money writing books about why Americans aren’t liked outside their own country.
Americans make money writing books about why they’re hated around the world (hate is in their titles; it’s not my word choice.)
It’s the subject of documentaries.
I wonder if the political blogosphere would even exist if not for the animosity toward America, and by consequence, Americans.
Or if mass media — “old” or “new”, privately owned or publicly shared — could survive without the animosity some Americans show other Americans.
I am thankful to have had the good fortune to live in a number of countries, to have traveled to many countries, and to observe, experience, and be part of different cultures.
I am grateful for the opportunity to travel around America.
And I’m grateful to Americans for taking me in.
Some of my very best friends in the world are American, and it hurts me when I hear hurtful assumptions about my adopted country.
I married an American, whose family has only been kind and unbelievably generous and sweet to me.
I didn’t marry his government.
(Written in gratitude, last of a seven-part series.)
I don’t support war, so let’s be clear about that from the start.
I was raised in the Mennonite Church, which is pacifist.
There is no contradiction in these two sentences.
Mennonites have been tarred and feathered, assaulted, ostracized and imprisoned in war time in the United States and Canada for refusing to bear arms.
But they carried a far heavier burden very, very few of us are willing to lift: their brothers.
Mennonites in the U.S. and Canada served as ambulance drivers and stretcher bearers during wars past, to show that while they would not support war — nor the taxes that helped fuel it — they would go right to the battlefront for their beliefs.
And they did not do this to save souls, or preach.
They volunteered to clean up blood in hospitals, nurse the wounded, and soothe the dying, because it was the morally right thing to do.
Mennonites show me that service to one’s neighbor can always be in peace, so I am grateful for their example.
It’s an example I learned early in childhood. Although I’m not a member of the Mennonite church — because, frankly, I knew I could not live up to its standards — my entire life has been guided by its values.
Then I was sent to cover the Afghanistan war as a journalist (not embedded, BTW), and was almost killed in an alleged al Qaeda attack.
I was saved by the U.S. Special Forces; underwent surgery by military surgeons in four countries; and enjoyed some of the best medical care from some of America’s best surgeons, nurses, medics and more. (Sorry, I was unconscious for most of it, so if I’ve missed anyone, you know who you are; please accept my gratitude-for-life.)
Now, I can honestly say some of my best friends are men whose lives have been devoted to war. And the families who love them; waited and worried for them; and know their post-war trauma.
There is no contradiction between my gratitude for peace and my gratitude for the men and women who go to war.
Like my Mennonite friends, I am grateful that if the nation calls us to war, someone goes, on my behalf.
I am grateful for the pacifists who oppose war, and remind us of its costs.
I know its costs only too well, so I am grateful, every second of every day, for those in uniform with weapons we all paid for. (With our taxes, we are complicit in war, no matter how much we whine about Washington.)
So thank you to the veterans from WWII and Korea I met while volunteering in the VA Nursing Home in San Francisco, while studying to be a rehabilitation counselor.
Thank you to the veterans from Vietnam, the “first” Gulf War (remember that?), Iraq and Afghanistan I met while interning at Swords to Plowshares in San Francisco, and later working as a rehabilitation counselor at the Department of Rehabilitation in that city.
Thanks, especially, to the unknown men and women in uniform, who climbed out of their cold bunks in the dark, to stand outdoors in the wintry desert, when a helicopter landed at Bagram air base, Afghanistan, with my near-dead body.
You answered the call for blood to save me.
You stood for hours in the dark and cold, waiting to save the life of a Canadian civilian you had not met.
This, I still find astonishing.
It has upended all my notions of war and peace, and for this, I am always, always grateful.
If you were involved in the saving of my life in any way, in any one of those four countries, please contact me at: email@example.com. I want to thank you personally, and I would like to know your name. “Thanks” is such a small word.
With gratitude, Kathleen
On Thanksgiving Day, I am most thankful for Hadi.
I am thankful for his example of courage.
Courage is a man who changes careers and changes countries for love.
Courage is a man who risks his life to be a photojournalist, from refugee camps to war zones, as an honest witness, not for personal glory.
Courage is a man who risks his life to save his partner — in journalism and in life — after an alleged al Qaeda attack.
Courage is a man who slogs through knee-deep sand in the dark, carrying a stretcher bearing his near-dead wife.
Courage, with humor, is a man who relinquished the stretcher to a woman military medic because she was stronger.
Courage is a man who didn’t sleep or eat for days, who moved through shock and horror, wearing desert gear in the cold of winter, following his wife from one trauma surgery ward to another, in five countries, across three continents.
Courage is a man who sat at her hospital bedside in Vancouver for months.
Courage is a man who pushed his wife in a wheelchair around Stanley Park every day, for months, until she learned to walk again.
Courage, with incredible patience, is a man who became an unpaid caregiver for a spouse with debilitating disabilities for two years.
Courage is a man who finds organic, fresh food; prepares and serves it with love, eager to help his partner get healthy again, doing every single thing for two, by himself, in a new city, in a new country.
Courage is truly a man who always vacuums with cheer.
Courage is a man who changed careers and countries again to support his wife.
Courage is a man who took a low-wage job — and stayed at it for four years — just to ensure her health care.
Courage is a man who did not complain about any of this.
And courage is the man who, years later, is asked about a photo showing him carrying his severely wounded wife after that Afghanistan attack.
What’s that on your head? I asked, seeing the photo for the first time.
That’s you, he replied. That’s the rest of you.
At Thanksgiving and always, Hadi, I am grateful for your love.
I’ve been a reporter since I was 15, covering high school news.
I had my first full-time job in journalism at 17, at a local weekly.
I was a political journalist at Canada’s largest daily paper for more than 20 years, ending as a foreign correspondent in South Asia.
And in all those years, kindness would not be the first word I would use to describe what motivated me or my peers.
More like: Competition. Social Justice. Competition.
When I got a part-time job as a rehabilitation counselor during grad school in San Francisco, I was amazed by the difference in work cultures.
At this office, California’s Department of Rehabilitation, almost everyone was kind.
Compassion seemed to be the main motivation.
And competition? Not an issue.
My first lesson from Bob, a seasoned rehabilitation counselor:
I was on the phone berating a job developer for not following through on a commitment to one of my clients, a young woman whose energy belied her severe physical disability.
When I hung up, fuming, Bob stopped by to caution, “We don’t do that.”
He explained that everyone in the field was working hard to find training and jobs for people with disabilities, and that this overworked job developer wasn’t shirking.
It wasn’t a criticism, just sound advice at the start of a new career.
“I don’t know how they do it in Canada, but you’re probably used to being aggressive, working in journalism,” he said. “You’ll find you don’t need to be like that here.”
Bob was fascinated by international reporting.
I was fascinated by Bob, whose long hair and Lebowski wardrobe and attitude seemed right out of the ‘60s. He wore a different Hawaiian shirt every day.
He was a big man with a huge heart, with the toughest caseload. Bob counseled people who had spent more time in prison, parole and probation than at any job.
No education? No skills? No problem.
Bob treated each with as much respect as he would show any professional in the field, and he got results.
He found jobs for the Americans that critics say don’t want to work, can’t work, will never work.
Former crack addicts, former hookers, former criminals … Bob had one of the best success rates of any rehabilitation counselor in the city. (But he didn’t care about those numbers — at all.)
His clients were so grateful to find work with a living wage, they would visit, call or send letters, for years later to update him on their progress.
I was impressed by Bob’s no-B.S. approach, yet extraordinary ability to connect with people working at staying clean and sober, and staying focused on productive work.
When I got my first case of a lifelong meth addict, someone who had never worked for money in her adult life, and was fresh out of prison, I despaired.
I took my journalism-hardened stereotypes to Bob.
We had long talks about why alcohol and drug addictions are disabilities, about society’s failure at mental health treatment.
I watched and learned, in awe.
My client got little except empathy from me, finding a job by herself at a non-profit.
She worked so hard, and was such a light to other ex-addicts and ex-offenders, that she was soon promoted and recognized as Employee of the Month.
We met on the bus, and she had changed, in a short time.
She was as happy and outgoing as before, but well-dressed, more confident, and far, far healthier.
I was so shocked by the transformation that I finally realized what I had missed at our early counseling sessions, loaded with her medical history, her prison record, and her lack of a resume — and my journalism-weary stereotypes.
She was beautiful.
A year after I began working full-time at the Department of Rehabilitation (after two years of part-time), I left San Francisco, unable to afford the city on a salary sliced by one furlough after another.
At my farewell party, I told fellow counselors I had never met a group of co-workers so kind and compassionate.
I said their empathy for others was so remarkable that I had never worked in a place that was so welcoming.
Our boss told everyone that after my first week, I had come to her office to express gratitude for my first pay cheque at a full-time job.
It was the first money I had earned as a full-time worker in America, and I was overjoyed by my new career.
I thanked them all for taking me in.
I was seeking volunteer work while going to San Francisco State University full-time and working part-time at counseling internships.
I had left a high-income job to change careers.
My husband was working long hours, and my feminist self bristled at that: “No man is going to look after me!”
(This has been a theme in my life. Just ask Lisa Priest about the time we capsized in Aruba and men came from nowhere to charge into the ocean to save us.
Didn’t realize my bikini top had disappeared while we were flailing over the sailboat.
It’s such a good story, Lisa sent all the details in a telegram to our wedding. The MCs, my brothers, just shared and shared …)
I’m grateful, Lisa, truly I am.
Back to SFSU.
I went to disabled student services, and volunteered to tutor peers with disabilities.
You can’t volunteer, an adviser said.
I’ve always volunteered, I replied. Want to see my volunteer work resume?
She was patient.
You don’t get it, she said. We pay.
And that’s how I met Sara, the grad student who was blind and deaf and needed a tutor and tech aide — and got me.
To put my name in the same sentence as the word “tech” is to invite hilarity among my friends and family.
Almost everything I’ve learned about computers I learned from Sara.
Enter any joke here starting with the words, “A blind woman …”
Sara and I have heard ‘em all.
We invented a few ourselves.
We worked together almost every day for two years, and almost every day, she would chide: “How could you be a foreign correspondent and not know how to do that?”
Because all I had to do was type, I replied, grumbling about gear that never worked anyway, thousands of miles from head office.
I grumbled more. Sara grumbled less.
Again, another teacher in patience.
Thank you, Sara. And thank you, SFSU.
Sara taught me how to format time-killing “progress notes” — the bane of counseling students — how to do bold and italics, and much, much more.
I just typed.
For $10 an hour.
I earned more as a tech aide (and still marvel at this), setting up microphones and other equipment to help Sara hear other students and profs. I took notes in her classes too.
I got everyone’s attention in class when Sara wanted to speak.
This, I did well.
While this income paid bills, it was never about the money.
Sara was in her final years of the Masters counseling program, so I accompanied her to lectures and seminars as a freshman. For free.
She taught me about her dogs; I learned to search for the right patch of grass for their privacy — not as easy as it sounds — and Sara did the scoop thing. Also free.
Sara’s dogs taught me how to be more gentle. (I’m not a mom; ‘gentle’ doesn’t come naturally.)
She taught me about the As of disability: adjustment and acceptance. She lost her vision and hearing about 20 years before we met.
We learned a lot together about the stigma of disability, and society’s prejudices and stereotypes.
Sara taught me how to be a better advocate, key to being an effective rehabilitation counselor.
I defended her dog one day when a brute attacked us on campus with his pit bull.
The three of us became better friends. (I’m not a pet owner; and had to learn German Shepherd.)
I’m always grateful for meeting Sara, and for my first pay cheques in the United States.
Just knowing Sara always made me feel as if I could be better, do better, aim higher.
When Sara and her dog crossed the stage at graduation, with her daughter, I was the one in the back, weeping when the place exploded with a thunderous, standing ovation.
I was volunteering as a “grad guide”.
The real guide? Sara, of course.
(One name has been changed in this post.)
I will always be thankful to California for offering a lifeline when the future seemed darkest.
During my two years of hospitals and rehab in Vancouver, B.C., Hadi was not allowed to work for income. (Trust me, he was the best, unpaid caregiver!) He waited two years to get the permanent residency status that permitted him to work legally in Canada.
The same week his residency card appeared in the mail, I was offered a fellowship at the University of Berkeley.
It was no contest: My desire to return to full-time journalism had been stalled by more reconstructive surgery, more recovery, more physical therapy, and many more doctors.
We were both tired of it — deeply grateful, but exhausted.
Berkeley was truly a godsend: One year at the Graduate School of Journalism as an “international visiting scholar” and all the courses, lectures, and campus activity I could manage. (The title was so lofty, I always joked the grad school had made a mistake.)
We lived in bliss, in a sun-filled apartment near campus. We fell in love with Berkeley’s eucalyptus trees.
Rehab became a joyous, daily routine of walking Berkeley hills for international relations, Middle East-Asia history, women’s issues in developing nations, American foreign policy, and Canadian studies.
God bless the Canadian Studies Department at Berkeley. They offered a second fellowship, with cash. It helped pay the rent on our tiny apartment.
We met the best people at Canadian studies lectures, and we’re forever indebted to Tom Barnes, then-department chair, for adopting us. He and his French-born wife, Jeanne-Marie, always invited us for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners at their book-filled home in the Berkeley hills. Their home was so welcoming, their friends became our friends.
I met Tom while working in Washington, D.C., interviewing him several times because he led U.S. scholars studying Canada. Tom claimed he was the only Republican in Berkeley. Everyone loved him. He always called Hadi “the world’s best husband.”
My year of journalism school helped convince me to leave the business.
I’m especially thankful for meeting so many smart, accomplished students. Their curiosity and energy was infectious.
I was humbled by their writing.
As “valedictorian” for the international scholars (I was the only one from Canada; all were from China), I told graduates that journalism would thrive with such dedicated witnesses, regardless of technological or corporate changes facing them.
I was still mourning the loss of working in India, and decided to become a rehabilitation counselor, to help others through trauma, as I had been helped by so many medical professionals.
I wanted to specialize in helping veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. I wanted to give back to the men and women who had saved my life in Afghanistan.
It was vital to find a way to repay the kindness of those who stood for hours in the dark in the desert cold, lining up at the Bagram base in Afghanistan, to donate blood so I would make it through trauma surgery.
Studying at the graduate program in rehabilitation counseling at San Francisco State University was transformative.
Coping with pain and disability, I learned about other disabilities, and learned how to be a counselor for individuals, groups, and — for a remarkable year interning at Berkeley’s Center for Independent Living — couples. My “clients” taught me more than professors, and I am quietly grateful for that.
I am humbled by their teachings.
I am always grateful to Dr. Patricia Becker, the psychotherapist who was my oh-so-patient supervisor. (“Kathleen, where did you get that idea?” she would ask, always astonished, it seemed, to find a former journalist among her PsyD grad interns.)
I studied Freud and Jung, feminist and multicultural theorists, the brutal history of pathology-based psychology, and the emergence of social justice counseling. Carl Rogers became my guide to a new way of listening, and accepting others.
I learned, especially through my internships, what Rogers meant when he emphasized the word “unconditional.”
To embrace an old veteran, broken by war, and scarred by life — especially Vietnam vets — is to gain an even deeper definition of that word, and feel it in your heart. (My second internship, at Swords to Plowshares, is part of another love letter, later this week.)
In class, I learned about disorders and diseases I still can’t pronounce. The DSM-IV-TR (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) and Steadman’s Medical Dictionary were not only daily companions, but saved me from buying weights. (No kidding: Total weight, 10.8 lbs.)
I said prayers of gratitude every day, walking across our usually fog-soaked campus, because I was so fulfilled and content to be at school in San Francisco. (It was so foggy I didn’t realize for months that our campus was actually close to the ocean.)
Delighted by the opportunity to return to school in my 50s, I studied and read and wrote papers and earned As in almost every subject. All, except stats.
For two years, I struggled with statistics. We could barely afford the tutor who helped me pass two stats courses, but I couldn’t have graduated without him and his cartoon-like “stats for dummies” book.
I was only half-joking when I told friends I was destined to be the oldest student on campus. (I envisioned young students whispering as they passed a white-haired woman in the halls, “Who’s that?” … “Oh, she’s the elder counseling student who can’t graduate because she can’t pass stats.”)
Thanks to my long-suffering stats profs. Thanks for your endurance. Thanks for the Cs.
Not only am I thankful for the patience and kindness of SFSU’s counseling profs, I am grateful to the university for introducing me to some of the finest people I know. I made lifelong friends there — Frances, Patricia, Vanna, Lauren, Melissa, Tina, Sandra, Angel, Dan … there weren’t many men in counseling classes.
Some were “mature” students, like me (OK, I admit, I’m never growing up), returning to school after children and/or other careers.
And others, bless them, were 20-year-olds who are among my best friends still.
I cried when I graduated in 2008, the joy was that intense.
(My mom came from Canada, and my sister and nephew from Georgia, so I cried because they were there too.
“Look at me, Mom, wearing gold and purple tassels!”)
With campuses in the news because peaceful protesters are hurt by police, I am comforted by the memory of four great years at two universities, in better times, in the eucalyptus groves of California.