Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

Like most FSOs, I am a busy man. And like most of us, though I love my work, it stresses me out. And as someone who fights for justice, I am often upset by the many acts of injustice I witness. In short, I rarely take time to take stock of my blessings, being more preoccupied with stresses and frustrations and annoyances.

There are many reasons why Americans of all faiths and backgrounds celebrate Thanksgiving. An excuse to feast. An opportunity to get together with family members, some of whom might only be seen on the holidays. A day off from work. And the feeling that they are part of something that is happening on that day in nearly every house all over America.

Celebrating Thanksgiving is as much a celebration of being American as is celebrating the 4th of July.

It is the true embodiment of the first amendment to the American Constitution, which states that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." In other words, America is a secular nation that encourages the free expression of religion. And Thanksgiving is a holiday that is both completely secular, something generally celebrated at home rather than church, and yet inherently spiritual, a tangible and participatory expression of core values of every major religion.

I celebrated with my wife's family, most of whom either emigrated to America themselves, or represent the first generation of their lineage to be born here. In addition to a very traditional preparation of turkey with all the trimmings and a home-made apple pie, there was also goat stew, salted cod, rice-and-peas and a really delicious flan.

And this is American too. To be able to know where your ancestors came from and celebrate one's heritage, while at the same time being and feeling completely American.

The other day I met a man from Vietnam, who had been a translator for the U.S. Marine Corps. When Saigon fell, the Marines airlifted him out, and gave him a job as a janitor on a Marine base until his situation was legalised. Once his situation became legal, he founded a small cleaning company that grew into a larger one, that grew into a service corporation doing everything from cleaning to catering. Then he bought restaurants and office buildings, and became a very wealthy man. He is currently using part of his fortune to create and fund a program to help people affected by Agent Orange, both American war veterans and Vietnamese. He is funding therapy centers for affected veterans in several American cities, as well as in Vietnam.

Like most immigrants, he is very much aware of the tremendous debt he owes this country, and now that he is able to give back, he is doing so. His project benefits more than veterans. It is actually bringing the US and Vietnam closer together; something that advances our national interest.

Thinking about his story reinforced my frustration with a DS leadership that continues to consider members of minority religions, ethnic groups, or orientation less likely to be loyal to America than everyone else.

America gave my parents a refuge when other countries refused to let them in. And despite the controversies involved, America continues to provide a home for tens of thousands of immigrants every year. And most of them are more loyal, not less, to the country that gave them refuge from whatever they left behind.

Today I played checkers and cards with family members, caught up with their news, and relaxed in a way I rarely do. And I thanked God for my own blessings: a job I love, good and supportive friends, a beautiful and loving family, and the opportunity to serve my fellow FSOs and help them in their individual and collective battles for justice.

It was a cleansing and wonderful day.

I hope that all our readers, on both sides of CFSO's issues, had a similarly relaxing holiday, and took the time to step back from their stresses and frustrations, and just be thankful.

All of us, no matter what our problems and frustrations, have a great deal to be thankful for.