25 November 2010


Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. My family, we are scrappers. We work hard, as a rule, & we're ambitious. There are reasons for this.

My father was born one year before the Great Depression struck. Thirteen years later, his father left his wife & five children. And so: My grandmother, after whom I'm named was suddenly a single mother of five in the throes of the biggest financial crisis this country had ever had (& has had to date). My dad, fiscally anyway, was essentially an orphan, though obviously he had the love of his mother & his four siblings. Not long after, his estranged father died, granting Dad & his siblings access to Mooseheart. Mooseheart is a boarding school in Brookfield, Illinois, for the surviving children of men who belonged to the Loyal Order of the Moose. I'm 100% serious.

My mother was born in Dublin, Ireland. At an early age (13!), she decided she wanted to practice medicine. But there were a couple snags. She was a woman, in the fifties, in Ireland. She actually needed special dispensation from the Catholic Bishop in Ireland in order to attend the (Protestant) college that would best prepare her for medical school. And he said "no". (I guess it's only the Pope that's infallible — Bishops err.) The other good college in Ireland told her she was too young. (She had skipped a grade, so ... what, she was too smart?) And so she, her parents, & her two sisters (also medically inclined) moved to America in pursuit of better sense. Her parents didn't have anything lined up in America, by the way. It was an act of faith I can hardly fathom, but the three daughters backed it up with personal sacrifice & incredibly hard work, & all three became successful anesthesiologists. (My mom says that putting people to sleep is the easy part — the trick is waking them up.)

Those two stories pretty much sum up the American Dream.

This year, I did not spend Thanksgiving with my family. I spent Thanksgiving in Los Angeles, doing a medium-sized collection of small things, things that didn't require businesses to be open. Tragically boring things. I can't be thankful for spending time with other Thanksgiving Orphans, I can't be thankful for a huge meal, & I can't be thankful for my beloved at my side (I broke up with him four days ago because I have excellent timing). I can be thankful, however, for the following:

· My father's dedication to education, both his & ours
· My mother's obvious joy in what she does, starting with medicine & continuing now to local politics & community service
· My sister's ability to come up with groundbreaking ideas that change how people think ... & then act upon them, bettering people's lives in very real ways
· My brother's incredible focus, setting the standard for what it means to be good at something

I want to go on & on, listing every family member downward & upward & out, but as you might imagine with a name like Kathleen O'Shea, we are rather Irish & rather Catholic, & so there are an awful lot of us. This, long enough even as a piece of writing, is my very long-winded Thanksgiving Grace. There's no god in it. There's not even very much luck. There is hard work, & there are lessons, & there is the sense that "goodness" is made, not inherited or chanced-upon. My folks are good, & I am proud of them, & I am thankful that they have shown me how good "good" can be. And, lastly, I hope someday to be as good as them.