Carlyn was sitting next to me reading her American Girl magazine. The story was about a Chinese girl who had been adopted by an American family.
The girl, Xiao Fang, was 11 years old and had been living in an orphanage in China. She said, “I was really happy to be adopted. I didn’t want to live in the orphanage. They were mean to everyone.”
She didn’t want to leave China, and she didn’t want to leave her best friend. She didn’t know much about her new family, except that she would have a sister, Aimee, who was her age, and an older brother, Eric, who had been adopted from Korea.
Xiao Fang was given a new American name, Emily. The moment she met her new family she spoke through an interpreter, expressing her happiness and appreciation. She learned a new language very quickly. After just 14 months she was reading, writing and speaking English fluently. She was asked about her adjustment to America.
“I do miss my Chinese food and my Chinese friends and my Chinese everything!” She explained that everyday life in America is very different from what it was like in China. Her American sister said, “There are lots of things Americans take for granted, like swimming, for example, but Emily never got to experience them in China.”
Carlyn asked me, “What does it mean to take things for granted?” I started to explain and she said, “Does it mean to take something without permission, like stealing?”
I realized it was not an easy concept for a nine-year old. We talked about it until she was satisfied that she understood enough to get the idea in her story. It’s key to her life!
The conversation about that phrase, to take something for granted, stayed with me. The day after this incident with Carlyn, I listened to Gerda Weisman Klein at the Kristallnacht service at Temple Israel. Gerda was a Holocaust survivor—one of 120 women out of 2000 who survived the death march at the end of the war. Her husband Kurt, an American soldier, was one of the liberators of the camp.
Gerda explained that she weighed 68 pounds after five years in the camp. Then she said something that seared into my soul: “When you leave here tonight, approach your home slowly, and think about what’s waiting for you. Be mindful of the necessities as well as the luxuries you might otherwise take for granted.”
She’s right. We do take so much for granted. It’s important, then, that we approach our homes and holidays slowly, so we can see what we have, reflect and be thankful.
Now Aimee is able to see what she has when she looks through her Chinese sister’s eyes. I hope you will take a moment to realize what you have, and allow the appreciation to touch your soul. That will make a meaningful Thanksgiving out of the abundance.