Thursday, November 26, 2015

Giving Thanks for Life Lessons

Today is Thanksgiving and, coincidentally, the last day of my German language course. For the past four weeks I’ve been learning German three hours a day, four days a week at the DeutschAkademie. Well, learning and rediscovering. Rediscovering things I knew but had forgotten, and learning new rules, new tricks, and new vocabulary.

The most educational part of the class, however, was learning with my fellow students. Four of us come from the U.S., one from France, one from Italy, one from Brazil, and one from Armenia. With each theme in our textbook our teacher surveyed us to find out how food or holidays or media or free time compared to that in Germany. It was great to hear firsthand about these different cultures and see, as we all struggled to make ourselves understood in German, how much we were progressing each week.

The Monday after the attacks in Paris the hallways of the academy were buzzing during the class break with stories about acquaintances in France and uncertainty over making weekend jaunts abroad. Inside our classroom the atmosphere was unusually somber as one of my fellow Americans asked our French compatriot about her family. 

They were safely away from the violence, and her friends in Paris were safe, but she had multiple worries, because the other half of her family was in Lebanon. With attacks in France and air strikes in nearby Syria it was as if her entire world was under siege.

She conveyed all of this to us in English, the emotion and politics being too difficult for any of us to express yet in German. But as our teacher joined us and talked about her conversations with friends over the weekend, I realized that all of our anecdotes over the past few weeks weren’t just about noting the differences in our cultures, they were about sharing and bringing an understanding to each of us.

In our American viewpoint events like Paris are truly foreign unless they impact someone we know. Until 9/11 we didn’t worry much about non-domestic violence; we were invulnerable. Even now this type of violence is mostly background buzz—something that happens primarily elsewhere.

Now that I’m living in Europe, I realize how much these acts impact the world community. Because these attacks were seemingly random, they are particularly terrifying. And France is not someplace “over there” now for me, it’s right next door.

So today, as I prepare food to bring to class to share a part of our Thanksgiving tradition, I am giving thanks for my life and every aspect of it—my family, my friends, my health, my education, my experiences, my freedom and, with that, my ability to write and share my smallest thoughts or my biggest fears with anyone willing to read them.

Be safe, and give thanks for today.