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The Art of Being Thankful

Updated: Sep 24, 2022

It has been a super busy Thanksgiving holiday week for our family starting with picking up our sons from UC Santa Cruz and UC San Diego (in opposite directions from Los Angeles) then 3 back-to-back Thanksgiving dinners: for Bruce's family on Thursday, my parents' party on Friday, and finally our own family's Thanksgiving dinner yesterday. It wasn't hectic or crazy, just constant driving and shopping, brining, marinating, soaking, chopping, cooking, and baking for days.

For those foodies among us, I brought sticky rice with shrimp and Chinese sausage, and cranberry-orange cornbread to the first party; prime rib, persimmon-guava-mountain apple fruit salad, plus a pumpkin roll dessert to the second party; then we made a maple-garlic-glazed turkey, Mediterranean salad, Vietnamese sausage with shitake mushroom stuffing, sweet potato with marshmallow casserole, and a pumpkin tiramisu for the last party. We had plenty of leftover turkeys for turkey-pho-noodle this morning and turkey pot pie for lunch today.

Of all the holidays and traditions from my Eastern and Western upbringing, Thanksgiving has to be my favorite. This holiday is about getting together with friends and family and celebrating the blessings in our lives in general, and of this year's harvest in particular. I think that family and being thankful are two of the values that help define a successful civil society. The families that we celebrate with may be the ones that we're born into or may be the ones that we've gathered and grown into. That family unit is the support structure that helps us weather life's many ups and downs.

As an Internal Medicine doctor taking care of adults and elderlies, I can't tell you how important family is when you are facing serious medical illnesses. Whether it be a simple infection when you can barely make it to the bathroom from weakness, or a longstanding chronic disease where someone has to feed and clean and manage your medications, we will all need help sometime in our lives. I can give prescriptions and instructions but how well the patient does in the long run often depends on what kind of help they have at home.

The saddest thing that I've had to do in my work is not to notify a next-of-kin of a patient's death, but having to call an estranged child about their parent's terminal disease. It often involves a final reckoning by a patient and their need to obtain closure in the last phase of their lives. If I'm lucky, I will be able to bring the children and parents together for their final goodbyes. One time, a daughter dropped everything, drove 300 miles with her own college-age daughter, to pick up her 20-year estranged mom, and brought her home to care for her.

But more often than not, I'd get some angry rant about how dare the patient can just come back into their children's life after cutting them off for decades and expect to see grandchildren who they have not seen their whole lives. Then I have to go back and tell my patients of this response so they can face the reality of dying alone.

So I am always thankful for and I try to keep the families that I have.

Being thankful is also a very important character trait that I think we should all have. Study after study, books after books have affirmed the importance of this undervalued ritual. This simple act is a lot harder than it sounds. The act requires us to step back and recognize the blessings that we have currently in our lives. It requires us to see the glass-half-full side of the world, to appreciate the good in people, places, and things. For some people who were not raised with this custom, it takes a major paradigm shift that many cannot manage.

A long time ago, one of my sisters was diagnosed with a serious medical condition, and our family decided to throw a special birthday party for her that year, almost an appreciation event, to cheer her up. In the planning stage, four of us siblings sat around the table and tried to come up with 10 reasons why we love our ill sister. Of the eight reasons that we ended up with, I was the one who listed seven. I could have listed several more and only stopped because I wanted to see if the others can come up with any reasons why they appreciate their sister. But they couldn't. It was a concept that they could not wrap their mind around because it was so foreign to the way in which they normally see the world.

If you were not raised in a culture that regularly gives thanks for the blessings in life, I challenge you to practice this simple act. Name 10 reasons why you are happy to be alive. Name 10 reasons you are thankful to have a loved one in your life. Name 5 reasons why you appreciate each person in your family, and finally, name 5 reasons why you are thankful to have known someone you actively dislike.

Once you have mastered this practice, once you have learned how to see the good things in life, the good things in people, then you can be mindful of your actions in order to keep the good things and the good people in your life. To grow the blessings and safeguard the relationships.

When my daughter was in 5th grade, she wrote a poem that was so filled with joy and gratitude that I keep a copy of it on my desk to remind me of all that we have to be thankful for, all the time. I will share it with you this Thanksgiving holiday.

I am Thankful

I am glad. Glad to be able to hear the music that circulates through the air, whenever I am.

I hear the colors that speak to the world, and to me, with all their feelings and soft yet clear words.

I see the waves that crash against the grains of sand, their seafoam dancing in the winds.

I am grateful for the trees that surround us and protect us, caring for us and providing for us.

I make the small things bigger, the big things smaller and whisper a quiet "You're welcome" to all those who noticed the change but do not notice me.

I dream of lands of magic and prophecies, places with adventures and fairy tales, the ones that come in a few pages or the tap of a button.

I am appreciative of the ones who care for me, for us, and for the world that has taken, surely, a small trip down the wrong pathway.

I understand the soft caressing of the breeze that gossips faintly about the latest news.

The trees that love us; our families. The waves that dance; our talents. The colors; our emotions. The magic; our fantasies. The pathways; our world. The big things, the small things; our changes. The music, our voices.

I hope that the people of the world will






I wish for the happiness of the ones that are lost in the thick cloud of dust that we managed to avoid.

I draw the wishes that I make, and the wishes of others.

I write the love of the world, the love of the people and animals, plants, and living things.

I am thankful for all that I have, all that I will have, and all that our world has.

Fiona Shaw

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Thank you Dr Denise Phan for sharing many wonderful stories and life experiences despite this crazy busy world. They are both entertaining, educational, and sweet soup for the soul. Your writing deserves to be at some other place/social media so that many people can read. Thanks.


Emy Reid
Emy Reid
Nov 30, 2021

What a beautiful poem from your daughter. She gets her talent perhaps from her mom

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