Contemplations from Kim: A Moment for Thanksgiving

A monthly column from the Head of School 

Scroll down to listen to an audio recording of this month's column.

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday.  Maybe it’s because for someone from New Orleans there’s nothing quite like a holiday centered on food.  

But I don’t think that’s it.  I think it has to do with the fact that Thanksgiving is a low-pressure event – at least for me.  Even when I’ve hosted Thanksgiving for my family and done the lion’s share of the cooking, I still find it to be a low-pressure occasion.  And that’s because the main event isn’t the food – it’s the thanksgiving. 

I’ll never forget the first Thanksgiving my family shared after Hurricane Katrina.  We’d only been back in New Orleans for six weeks after two months exiled from our home.  We’d returned in mid-October to find the National Guard patrolling the streets, the Red Cross giving out hot meals, and people everywhere picking up the pieces of their lives.    But on the fourth Thursday in November, there we were gathered around our table in our basically undamaged home.  Looking around at everyone sitting there, I understood – perhaps for the very first time – what it meant to be thankful.

My family has a Thanksgiving tradition.  Each person around the table tells the group what he or she is thankful for.  That year our list was a little different than in other years.  Every family around the table had an intact home; every adult around the table had a stable job; and every child had a safe, happy place to go to school.  Such basic things, and yet really they were all that mattered.

I promised myself in that moment that I would never forget what it felt like to be thankful for the necessities of life.  

After that Thanksgiving, we started a new nightly ritual with our daughter (she was 7 at the time).  Each night, before we started eating our dinner together, we named one “gratitude” from the day.  

After doing this for awhile, we each observed that we were going through our day differently - noting little things that before we might have missed because each of us was thinking “THIS could be the gratitude I share tonight!”

There is a lot of research about the positive psychological effects of gratitude. Even a short-term practice of gratitude – writing a weekly letter of gratitude for three weeks – has been shown to have positive outcomes for mental health.  (See “How Gratitude Changes Your Brain”)

My family’s gratitude practice has been a constant in our lives every night since that Thanksgiving meal when our daughter was 7.  Even when she left for college in 2016, my husband and I have kept up the ritual of sharing a gratitude each and every evening.  When our daughter is home, she joins us in this nightly exercise.

Last Thanksgiving, the three of us traveled to a Maine AirBnB because it was the only place we could all meet without having to quarantine upon our return to our homes.  Our daughter, now a teacher in Massachusetts, brought her new cat, Molly.  It was the first meeting of Molly and our cat, Alvin. We shared a collective gratitude on night #1 that we all survived the encounter!  

As the next few days progressed, we also found ourselves expressing gratitude that we were all healthy and whole and together – not things to be taken for granted in November 2020.  At the time, we couldn’t imagine a more challenging year than the one just coming to a close.  Little did we know that 2021 wouldn’t reveal itself to be any less complex and difficult.

And, yet, I have a feeling as we gather next Thursday around our small kitchen island in downtown DC with our daughter (and yes, Molly and Alvin) we will find many things – both small and mundane, and large and profound –  for which we are grateful.  

Here are just a few of my gratitudes this year:

I am grateful to work with dedicated, passionate, and caring teachers and staff.
I am grateful for our thoughtful, amazing parent and family community.
I am grateful for our creative, funny, insightful, and curious students.
I am grateful for long city hikes in this beautiful place.
I am grateful to be a mom, wife, daughter, sister, aunt, and friend to people I love and who love me.
I am grateful to all of you for the community that we share.

Happy Thanksgiving!