Thanksgiving is one day away and there is much for which to be thankful this year. Mostly I am thankful that, through my life and the choices I have made to listen to and share stories, my journey brought me to know the truth of Thanksgiving.

I am not an American but after more than 24 years here, the 25th of November looms, if not as heavily or intensely for me as the average American, at least with resonance. There is an associated series of images, emotions, intentions and finally an agreement for/with myself regarding the meaning of ‘Thanksgiving’ to me.

When I first arrived here and experienced Thanksgiving with my new American husband, the confusion in my mind was with the way I had grown up celebrating Christmas in Australia. Much was the same in the way of extreme efforts made to travel great distances to be with family (whether one wanted to or not); similar food (turkeys, special stuffing and veggie dishes, Grandma pies) and way too much of everything.

The only piece missing, it seemed, were the presents. (Although the next days’ rush to Shop for Christmas at least put that piece in the minds of many.)

Oh and there was the football! It was cricket at Christmas as I recall, although it has to be noted not to the extent that the game here dominated on the TV.

Over the years as a member of an American family, I experienced the joy and the challenge of organizing and participating in the Thanksgiving ritual. My daughter came home from preschool and then school offering cardboard turkeys bristling with crinkly paper tails, colored corn seeds glued onto paper plates, and confused contradictory stories of Indians, food shared and odd looking hats.

The thankful bit seemed to be more unspoken than verbally articulated. And at least the pressure was off to be with family at Christmas time.

Later after I was divorced and not tied into a particular family, I wandered the prairies of Thanksgiving, a guest in various households. Some were definitely based in the Family of Origin and some were the people who got together because they didn’t have family right here, couldn’t afford to travel or simply didn’t want to be with that family.

There were a few years when I (thankfully!) eschewed the entire thing and spent the whole day in Powells off Burnside in downtown Portland, Oregon. Disappeared into several floors over almost a city block at about 10 am. Wandered about stacks of books, latte in hand, sometimes sitting at the window tables, heedless of the world outside.

There were always people there – the same as me perhaps. We exchanged nods but no conversation, and continued our solitary ways through the worlds around us – in books. At the end of the timeless, silently filled day I emerged into the cold, late afternoon dark of the NW fall, relaxed and rested, surprised to find the world still there – and hungry.

It wasn’t until 2005 that I discovered the real meaning of Thanksgiving and the family with whom my heart still spends it, even though I am in a different state now and cannot be there in person

I had been fortunate enough to create stories and put them on stage, with a group of veterans of war. These courageous, wise men and women shared their very personal stories with me, then with actors and finally before the public. The four months these writers and I all spent together were intense, challenging for all of us in different ways, and ultimately the making of some very deep friendships.

I was invited to the Thanksgiving meal they shared each year and arrived on a misty, cold Oregon afternoon to a wooden house tucked into a quiet, tree lined street. The dining room table had been extended longer than I had ever seen it, water glasses and cutlery, butter dishes, salt and pepper shakers, and other assorted gifts of food and comfort spread their way over the tablecloths. Somehow enough chairs were crowded around the entire table surface.

Filling the kitchen were people with knives, aprons and cloths, pots and covered pans whisked to the back room, turkey smells, voices and bodies moving in and out. Hands passed things to and fro. More people arrived, more dishes and smells vied for space and comment. Men and women and at least one small child found places in the living room to sit, jobs to do and stories to share while the thanksgiving meal was assembled and the final guests arrived.

I found myself sitting at the table, surrounded by this unique group of people. Each of them had truly traveled through a journey enough to bring Thankfulness and Gratitude to a simmering point of real meaning. I was washed in their deeply felt appreciation for all they had.

When we are all seated, our plates filled before us, this first time and the years since that I have been able to sit at the table, each of us takes a moment to articulate our thankfulness. Nothing is taken for granted. It is spoken out loud. Each offering is honored from the youngest to the oldest person, the plain to the emotional, the practical to the philosophical.

At this table, from the bottom of their hearts and the depths of their souls, each adult knows what a precious gift life is, feels it in their bones, its fragility and wonder, breathes deeply into loss and love, unrealized dreams and future hopes. They hold the hands of those they love, meet the eyes of those who, through their own experience, know the inner story; and freely give thanks for this family they have chosen, for this present, this now.

On Thursday 25th, 2010 I will be hiking on a red rock trail in the Sedona, Arizona, area with a few more recently found friends. We will pack turkey and cranberry sandwiches and I am insisting on carrying a pumpkin pie in my backpack. We will sit out there in what is promised be sunshine, and each give thanks in our own way.

I will be thankful for my daughter and for the future that is unrolling with such joy before me. I will, as I have ever since the first time with that family, remember the veterans with whom I created live theatre 6 years ago. I will sit in gratitude for their love and kindness to me and acknowledge their generosity and courage in including me in their lives. I will thank them for the privilege of carrying their stories. I know that the meal and family experience I have had with them is truly what Thanksgiving is meant to be.

May you be as blessed in your Thanksgiving this year, and always.