Thanksgiving might be my favorite holiday, for a variety of reasons. One, when I was in college, it was the first time in several months that I got to go home and see my family and friends. Two, in addition to the traditional Turkey Day fare, birthday cake was always on the menu. Three, my favorite day of the year is Black Friday. Nothing makes me happier than walking through the Hudson Valley Mall, seeing all the holiday sales and listening to the Christmas music (Yes, I like Christmas music. I actually like everything about Christmas except for the day itself. Mostly because all my friends celebrate the holiday and I have nobody to play with.). Even after working two holiday seasons at Kingston’s Target, I find something about Black Friday to be absolutely magical. But maybe that’s just because I shop too often.

Thanksgiving outside of America? Totally different story. In Prague, my program had a dinner for us at a swanky hotel. After dinner, some friends and I went to see Borat on its opening night in the Czech Republic (fitting, no?). Aside from that, it was a normal day, classes and all. Oh, except for a drunk girl who threw up all over my bedroom floor and then kept me up until 3 a.m., four hours before I was supposed to meet my visiting family at the airport.

This year has been even more untraditional. After work, some of us went out for dinner. Since turkey is not native to Asia, we decided to forgo the traditional meal in favor of something a little more, eh, spicy. Yep, we had Thanksgiving dinner at On the Border. This should not surprise anyone who knows Erin’s love of Mexican food and her powers of persuasion.

While our dinner venue might not have been the most traditional, you can bet we went around the table and said what we’re thankful for. It’s that tradition that everyone loves and hates and loves to hate. I love it all the time, and posed the question to my dinner companions.

A week ago, I would have answered with the basics. I’m thankful for my friends, my family, for the opportunities I’ve had this year and for an easy transition into this post-graduate phase. I’m thankful for Kraft mac and cheese, the World Press Photo exhibit and the ability to watch shows illegally online while out of the country. I’m thankful for the travels I’ve been fortunate enough to have this year, for the weeks I studied in yeshiva in Israel last winter, for not dying in a plane crash and for having a great summer job. That would have been my answer last week.

But this week at work, we got about 150 students from the orphanage who sent us kids last month. The kids we have this week are a few years younger, but no less angry, loud, destructive or violent. At the end of one of my classes Tuesday, some of the kids I had just taught knocked down a classroom white board and a large wooden divider that took two teachers to be put back up. This was after 40 minutes of them running around screaming, kicking and throwing plastic food around the classroom. After another teacher and I got the big wooden thing back up, I walked into the office, sat down and the tears flowed. I cried. I actually cried. I don’t cry very often, and when I do, it’s usually about more important things (such as people dying or sad movies or the Sarah McLachlan/ASPCA commercial).

After lunch that day, when I went to get my kids, I went on a hate-filled diatribe about the orphans to one of the other teachers. I was so full of anger and rage that I don’t even remember what I said, but trust me, it wasn’t nice. He stared at me after I finished my rant, in shock that I had it in me to say those things about these poor kids. He said a few things in response, but this is what I can’t get out of my head: “Could you even imagine what one day is like for these kids? They don’t have anyone.”

I replayed his words over and over for the rest of the day. Lying in bed that night, I realized that when I said those things about the kids, I was so angry and frustrated and upset and I didn’t really know why. Was I mad at the kids, who can’t help the way that they are because they’ve truly been victimized by the system? Was I mad at my school, for letting these kids come here without giving us any training for dealing with them? Was I mad at myself, for the way I treated the kids when they didn’t act like all of the other kids we have here? I couldn’t answer those questions, and then I realized that the way I felt in that moment, that state of utter frustration and helplessness, that is what those kids feel every single day of their lives. My anger and unhappiness would pass when the bell rings and the kids are gone, but their anger stays with them all the time, wherever they are.

Paul’s words are echoing in my head as I type this. “They don’t have anyone.” They don’t have anyone. And so that is what I’m thankful for. Having someone. Well, having lots of someones. I’m not just thankful for my family and friends this year, I am thankful that they’re there when I need them and even when I don’t need them. I am thankful that, despite how it may feel otherwise at times, I am never actually alone in this massive, massive world. Even though I’m thousands of miles away from most of the people I truly love, they are with me and a part of me and everything I do.

On a timely note, I am also thankful that my friend Ariel, who is currently living in Mumbai and who I will hopefully be visiting this spring, is safe and unharmed after today’s events.

I hope you all have a good, meaningful Thanksgiving, wherever you are and whatever your plans may be. And to my dearest and only sister, you’re not an only child (no matter how much you wish) and should be thankful to have me (and my fantastic wardrobe), so unblock me from Facebook and AIM already! Oh right, hey world–my sister won second place in Marist College’s talent show…check it out:

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