MY MOTHER who’s Adventist since birth had only a few religious holidays in her calendar but acknowledged the ones declared by the Catholic faith because of Papa. But she also celebrated another: Thanksgiving.

When I was young, I thought Thanksgiving was a Catholic holiday and eventually realized that it was not only 'not Catholic' but also 'not Filipino' and very American. Why she celebrated it I presumed was because she was educated by American missionaries or maybe because she experienced World War II where Americans were considered our ‘liberators’ or maybe because she stayed in New York for quite some time and enjoyed the parties immensely. I never really figured it out. Growing up it was one of those peculiar celebrations that I eventually got embarrassed about as it was ‘too colonial’. We didn’t have a big party but food was extra special and she’d always ask us to be grateful and thankful for the harvest of blessings that we had for the year. Even when I left home for work and studies, the last Thursday in November, had always been "Thanksgiving" in my mind and kept a celebration all to myself. Later, in life, I appreciated the wisdom in having a day of thanking, or thanksgiving, other than during one’s birthday or on Christmas.

But what is Thanksgiving? In the USA, it is said to be a celebration when the Pilgrims, a group of people from England boarded a small ship called the Mayflower and set sail to escape persecution for their religious practices. Those who survived the harsh journey landed on the shores of Plymouth Rock, Massachusetts. Thanksgiving is also celebrated in other countries (like Canada, Netherlands, and Japan) but the most popular is, of course, America’s.

What am I to be thankful for this year? Let me stay away from the issue of virulent political clashes frequently discussed in social media but let me share some of my recent big little blessings:

Lingap Para sa Mahirap: Late this year, a former colleague (retired at that) was diagnosed with Stage 2 colon cancer. She was referred to a young oncologist who suggested 12 cycles of chemotherapy, a treatment that always needs loads of money. We sought the help of Lingap located at a small building across SPMC. Not only was the assistance quick, it was also friendly. The peach-colored Lingap office is small and always busy but it boasts of a staff that is efficient. My friend is on her fifth cycle of chemo treatment and along with Philhealth and her Senior Citizen’s benefit, the free medical assistance from Lingap has given her family a hopeful next year.

Young, compassionate doctors: I have always looked up to health workers as 'heroes and heroines without capes'. In the course of seeking treatment for my friend’s cancer, I was introduced to a young oncologist who trained and worked abroad before going home to Davao City. Though it’s a doctor’s job to explain the Big C to a patient, this one even taught us where to buy the medicines for the chemotherapy. At one point, I learned that he also helped another patient in getting assistance from PCSO by writing the letter himself.

Marine sanctuaries: I visited three sanctuaries this year, the latest was in Cortes, Surigao Sur. Obscure and distant (as it should be), these places ensure that the fish supply of the region remain abundant and safe. I’ve always been in awe by the simple yet difficult lives of the fisher folks. Keeping the sea constantly teeming with life so that others will benefit is the ultimate test of patience, faith, and physical endurance.

Then of course I am thankful for friends -- the ones who have stayed and the ones who have left. Those who were at the outskirts have taken seat at the table of my life. Those who were once seated have left because when they thought there’s nothing much to take from that table. I am thankful to the universe that they have kicked their toxic, bitter selves out.