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An American holiday

DALLAS – I had an interesting conversation with a close friend of mine the other day. She's an Iraqi who's been living (legally) in the United States for the past three years. We were on the phone, talking about Thanksgiving.

"My lawyer is so nice," Rafraf said. "She invited me to Thanksgiving with her family, but I told her I'm going home."

By "home" she meant my house. 

Rafraf's parents, and ten brothers and sisters still live in Iraq. She's one of thousands of Iraqis who have risked their lives to work with Americans – in her case working as a translator for NBC News in our Baghdad Bureau.

Here in the U.S., my wife and I are Rafraf's family. We helped bring her here to attend college in Florida. My daughters think of her as a big sister. We always encourage her to come home for Thanksgiving.

"It's funny," she told me, "because I don't think my lawyer is a Christian. Isn't Thanksgiving a Christian holiday?"

"It's an American holiday," I answered. "And it's one of the few 'true' holidays we have left."

By "American" I don't mean citizens versus non-citizens, immigrants versus non-immigrants, blacks versus whites, vegetarians versus meat-eaters, doves versus hawks, Republicans versus Democrats, Native-Americans versus Non-Native Americans, or rich versus poor. 

I'm not talking about any of the myriad things that divide us as a nation. I'm talking about all of us – the 300 million of us that make up the American Family.

For 364 days each year we may focus on other priorities in our lives. But on the fourth Thursday each November, we're asked to reflect on the things that we're grateful for. We don't have to drink green beer, send gifts, carve pumpkins, or shoot off fireworks. We are asked, simply, to be thankful.

Not always easy

For many, I realize, it's a difficult time.

There was a traffic accident near my house last week. I knew it was bad when I saw two medical helicopters land in the field behind my back yard. A fifteen-year-old girl died in the accident, two others are fighting for their lives. All are from my daughter's high school. How can their families be thankful?

My wife's cousin lost a child this year. A close friend of ours lost her husband. Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have taken a terrible toll on American service members and their families. Some are broken, poor, homeless or hungry. 

Along with many other Iraqis, Rafraf's family lives in fear of bombing, kidnapping and murder.

How can any of them be thankful? To be honest, I don't know. But I know many of them will give thanks on Thursday, nonetheless. 

I, personally, will thank God for things big and small: For the health of my family (a big thing in my book); for the freedoms I enjoy as an American; and for the men and women who fight to protect those freedoms.

Our Thanksgiving gathering will include Christians, agnostics, a Muslim, a part-time Buddhist, a struggling single mom, a war veteran, a refugee, liberals and conservatives. We'll eat some turkey, watch some football and give thanks.

An American family, celebrating an American holiday.