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"Can We Still Be Thankful at Thanksgiving?"

Every Thanksgiving, I try to set aside time to reflect upon what it means for us to be thankful. Is being thankful creating a list of things or is more than that? Is it just at this time that we should be thankful, or should we live in a continual state of gratitude? For some reason, it's so easy for all of us to focus on what we don't have versus what we do. And for those of you who share the unfortunate reality of spending Thanksgiving without your loved one(s), it's certainly a challenge to be thankful. How can you? In fact, is it really possible?

In spite of my father no longer being with us, I am finding that it is very possible to be grateful not only during the holiday season, but everyday. Perhaps the best way to share this with you is not through certain things I've learned from my clinical background, but through a recent experience. This is just one of many experiences I'm learning from, but I believe this one captures what I mean.

As many of you know, I love spending time with Kole, our family dog. He demonstrates a love that is so profound. I look forward to our daily walks, one in the morning and one in the evening. His excitement is the same as it was when we first rescued him from the mountains of VA - endless joy and boundless energy. Well, just a a little over a month ago, I had an experience which reminded me of why any of us are still left on earth.

It was a beautiful, Saturday morning. The sun was just rising. When I got to the park, there were several other dog owners with their pets. It's a wonderful time of fellowship as we walk together and share. On this occasion, I met a young man and his wife (Matthew & Christine). I asked Matthew if he was were from Long Island. He shared that he was but now lives in Maryland. I quickly found out his reason for visiting the island. He told me his father was fighting a terminal illness and that he was traveling each weekend just to be with him. I wasn't aware that I already knew his dad. His father walks his dogs each day and I run into him at the parks once in a while. Sadly, I never realized he was battling cancer. As I made the connections, I could see the pain in Matthew's face. We walked side-by-side and he shared his heart. I listened to him speak and I only responded when I felt it was most appropriate. But it was Matthew's spirit which caught my attention.

I could see that his love for his father was heartfelt and genuine. It was obvious that this was a very difficult period for him. I finally opened-up and shared that I knew exactly what he was going through, something I couldn't claim before my father passed away. There was an immediate connection. As he expressed more of his concerns and questions, I only wanted to encourage him and commend him on his faithfulness to his father.

When it was time to part ways, I told Matthew how much I appreciated him sharing his heart with me and that I hoped we might reconnect again some weekend. I also encouraged him with one parting thought. One of the things I found so meaningful during my father's illness was sharing with him how much he meant to me. As my father laid in his hospital bed, I had this innate desire to encourage him. It really wasn't so much an encouragement as one cheering someone on to victory. Mine came from my desire to honor my father. I wanted him to know how significant his role was in my life, and that my life would be entirely different if he wasn't in mine all those years. I can't say that I had large sums of time to share my heart. His illness was so critical that there weren't many opportune moments; however, I did get to express my feelings when the opportunity was most appropriate. What struck me as I composed the eulogy for my dad was that everything I wrote, he knew already. I never had to say, "I just wish he knew these things." And I wanted Mathew to have that same opportunity also. How many eulogies have you and I heard where the speaker shared, "I only wish I told him/her this."

A few weeks after our initial encounter, I ran into Matthew at the park again. We walked our dogs and shared our common journey. I told Matthew I had been praying for him and his father (which I was). His story meant too much to me and still does. But what touched me was what Matthew shared at the end of our walk. He stopped me and just said, "Thanks for all you've shared with. It has meant so much." I felt so overwhelmed and undeserved of his comments. Here was this young man, close to my age, who dearly loved his father. His trips to Long Island bring honor to his dad. His moments spent with him shower blessings upon him as every son should. Just as his father should be honored, I also commend Matthew for being a faithful son. Little did Matthew know that he was teaching me what it means to honor our fathers.

Everyday, I am reminded that I am a son who deserves nothing (and the operative word here is truly nothing). I wasn't born into this world because I deserved such a father; He was a gift. I still shake my head in disbelief. Nothing I could ever do would be enough to repay my father. But what I can do is honor my father with my life. I believe my father is enjoying his treasures in heaven now. When he was with us on earth, He didn't spend his time filling his pockets with earthy things; instead, he spent his time emptying his life and filling the hearts of others. James Bryan Smith says it so well: "the treasures we store up in heaven are the lives we helped change, the moments we gave of ourselves for the good of others, and the things we gave away in order to help someone who was in need." This statement really is the essence of my father's life.

So, it is my encounters with men such as Matthew who give of their time to me and teach me what it means to be grateful and find hope in our losses. I pray on this Thanksgiving you may also find time to be thankful for what you've been given, even those who have gone on before us. Thank you Matthew.

- Justin Agoglia (eldest son of Joseph Agoglia)