This past Sunday, I sat around a dining room table in a large West Knoxville home with three Chinese women and three Chinese children. The girl to my left is studying at the University of Tennessee. Her plate was full of every type of Thanksgiving cuisine you could imagine, and she tried each one.
The two women that sat on my right are visiting scholars at UT. Their plates were full of fruit, and they meticulously peeled grapes, placing the skins on a napkin. As they talked to me, courageously using their broken English, they had the brightest smiles on their faces.
After we finished eating, we went in to the den to join the other international students there, their spouses and children, and the handful of Americans. Lee, the facilitator of the gathering explained the first Thanksgiving and then asked if anyone wanted to share something for which they were thankful. One after one, people from across the world stood up and gave thanks for their families and for Americans who have shown them hospitality.
I'm thankful for my mother who has instilled in me the beauty and wonder of volunteering.
Monday evening, I went on a walk with my best friend, up Glenwood, down Scott Avenue and back down Oklahoma. It was dark and chilly and we marveled at the homes all ready adorned in Christmas lights.
I'm thankful for Amelia, for being the most patient listener and the most gracious friend.
It took me four hours to reach Nashville from Knoxville on Wednesday because of traffic and rain. When I pulled off the interstate, I called Amanda. She stayed on the phone with me, giving me step by step directions to her house.
"Are all of my friends there waiting for me?" I asked.
"Mark is here. Everyone else must be on their way," she replied.
I arrived to see ALL of their cars parked along the street. Hmmmm, I thought to myself.
The front door opened and out came Amanda. No one else was in the front room, but I heard whispering and then...
I was showered with Craisins-turned-confetti and a room full of dear friends.
In the midst of the solitude I've felt in Knoxville for quite some time, I'm thankful to have experienced a moment of sheer warmth, fuzziness, and laughter.
Last night, my sisters and I baked in our parents' kitchen. My dad came home from work, delighted to see us all there together. It was dinnertime and instead of sitting, we opened a bottle of wine and stood and grazed and baked together while Christmas music played in the background.
I'm thankful that love can grow between messed up, crazy people.