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On Giving Thanks

posted: 11.24.14 by Andrea Lunsford

When I was a kid, Halloween was my favorite holiday of the year. My family was living in Tennessee, and our neighborhood was a real neighborly place. No store-bought costumes in those days: we dressed up in our parents’ clothes (many of us girls teetering around in our mother’s wedgie shoes) and went from house to house, where we were usually invited in for cookies or homemade fudge—or to bob for apples. My favorite night of the year.

But when I grew up and leaned into teaching, I began to look forward to Thanksgiving as my favorite holiday, the time of the year for giving—and sometimes receiving—thanks. So I like to pause each year to think about what and whom I am most thankful for. I have a long list, beginning perhaps most obviously with the fact that I’m still here to enjoy another year, that I am in good health, and that I have an amazing group of friends and a small but endlessly loving family. Grandnieces Audrey and Lila, now 10 and 7, continue to fill me with joy and laughter, and this season means I will be visiting them in Chapel Hill, where we will be celebrating Thanksgiving and taking in Audrey’s ninth and Lila’s fifth Nutcracker, one of our special traditions.

I am thankful as well for having a job in a field I have loved for forty-five years and the best colleagues imaginable: rhetoric and writing studies is a special community, in my experience, welcoming and supportive and full of possibilities for creative intellectual work. I’ll attend my 44th CCCC meeting in March, and I know I’ll come away inspired by the research of a whole new generation of colleagues.

So I have a world of people and places and events to be thankful for, and the slings and arrows I’ve suffered (and who hasn’t?!) make the thankfulness all the sweeter. But I think writing teachers are also on the receiving end of a lot of thanks. In fact, it’s the gratefulness of students that sticks with me as a great gift. Just this week, I received a (handwritten!) letter from a first-year college student who received a small scholarship I funded when he was a senior attending the rural Florida school where my sister teaches (brilliantly). He wrote, “Without your scholarship, I wouldn’t have been able to go to the U of Florida without working and saving up for years. Now I see how amazing college really is: the people here are a lot more diverse and accepting and there’s a world of opportunities. I’m taking Japanese, a language I’ve always wanted to learn. I’m also taking an acting class. I’m majoring in computer science and might try for a dual degree with theater/performance as well. I suppose metaphorically that I opened this door, but you and the scholarship definitely unlocked it for me. Thank you!”

This letter (and notes like it from others over the years) makes my day, my month, my year and reminds me that I need to take time to thank those who have helped and supported me. I’ll start with thanking you for reading this posting and hope to make my giving of thanks this year worthy of the many gifts I’ve been given.

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