- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 2, 2001

Two months ago, the idea of Thanksgiving being just around the corner would have seemed somehow perverse. As a nation, we stumbled through our post-September 11 horrors, wishing desperately it was all a bad dream and we would wake up like the people on TV always do, looking frantically around the darkened bedroom and then lying back down with a relieved sigh.

But it didn't and wouldn't go away. Thousands of families here, in New York and around the country went into the Thanksgiving holiday with an empty chair at the dinner table and an even bigger emptiness in their hearts. Their holiday landscape has been altered forever.

The past few weeks have brought flashes of positive news, though. The "quagmire" in Afghanistan became a smashing success almost overnight. The Taliban forces seem to be broken. Americans began to show the backbone and resolve we always have exhibited in times of crisis, and the beginning steps of recovery have begun.

I thought about all of this the past few weeks as our family headed into the Thanksgiving holiday. We try to incorporate a spirit of thankfulness into our daily lives, particularly with regard to Sean and Jeremy, which isn't easy, considering the lives of relative luxury and pampering they live.

The aftermath of September 11 made that task both easier and harder for us. Fortunately, we didn't know and weren't related to anyone killed in the attacks, so from that standpoint, we easily were able to be thankful. At the same time, it seemed almost awkward to feel that way with so many people around us suffering horribly.

On a deeper level, we wrestled with the concept of being thankful for everything always, which our religious faith teaches us. How could we be thankful for anything in the days and weeks immediately following September 11? How was anyone supposed to go into the holidays celebrating being alive and well when so many people around us couldn't?

And how could we teach any of this to two little boys, when Sean thinks Thanksgiving is all about Pilgrims, Indians and food? At least I thought he did, anyway, judging by the artwork and stories he brought home from preschool the last week or so before the holiday. Then, a few days before Thanksgiving, I asked him what his favorite part of Thanksgiving was.

"Playing basketball," he said.

"At Thanksgiving?" I asked.

"With Aunt Alison," he said.

Then I remembered. When Lisa's sister visited in the spring, she and Sean played a raucous game of imaginary basketball in Lisa's parents' living room. It wasn't at Thanksgiving, but it was the last time Sean had seen her. I knew what he was getting at. To him, Thanksgiving meant family, particularly a chance to see his fun-loving aunt from out of town and to play games of invisible basketball in the living room.

I asked him if he liked all the good food we have at Thanksgiving.

"Oh yeah, that too," he said, as if it was an afterthought. In a way, I'm glad it was.

I do mourn for all the families who were missing members at Thanksgiving. I know we counted our blessings over and over that day, for ourselves as a family and for the nation in which we're privileged to live. I pray for many more happy Thanksgivings and many more games of invisible basketball.

Mark Stewart is a free-lance writer and the stay-at-home dad of his two sons, Sean and Jeremy.

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