November 21, 1981
“We gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing; He chastens and hastens His will to make known; The wicked oppressing now cease from distressing; Sing praises to His Name; He forgets not His own…..” Once again, it was time for my family’s Thanksgiving feast. Only, on this occasion our family friends, the Shapiros, with whom we ordinarily spend our holiday dinner were back home in Illinois. We had just moved to Cairo, Egypt a few months before and so it was just my brothers and parents sitting at our dining room table. My parents did their best at belting out the same traditional tune they did every year to kick-off the start of our Thanksgiving meal. “C’mon Meg, sing!” My dad tried his best to have me join in song, but I was in no singing mood. There was no turkey, none of my mom’s homemade cranberries.
I picked at my piece of roasted chicken, potatoes and vegetables, bored and missing our traditional holiday meal. My mind wandered. The following night the parents organization at my school, Cairo American College, was sponsoring another 7th-8th grade “Booster Club Barbecue Dance.” I was only twelve years old and absolutely obsessed with boys. But already, there was one in particular. His name was Sterling and he had come to Egypt from the D.C. area. My older brother Peter and I had both known Sterling from playing all together in the Jazz Rock band at CAC. Like Peter, Sterling was a year older than I, and with his golden blond hair and light blue eyes, to me he was the cutest boy I had ever seen. Fortunately, I never had to attend a dance alone, since Peter always went with me—mom and dad’s orders. But once we arrived, Peter would typically dash off to find his friends while I would pretend to try and find mine. My true goal? To dance with Sterling….more than once if possible. If I planned it right, I could get in a dance at the beginning and then have enough of a lag that I could ask him again for the last dance of the night. I loved Sterling as much as a twelve-year-old possibly could. I especially loved that whenever I asked him to dance to slow songs – usually by Journey or The Eagles – Sterling was always willing. No one actually ever asked me to dance, not even Sterling. But it mattered more that I could be in control of the question and even achieve a positive result. I didn’t even care if he kissed me or anything like that. I just wanted to feel like someone that I found cute would be willing to be seen with me, even if fleeting on the dance floor. In hindsight, it is quite probable that Sterling agreed to dance with me based solely on his friendship with Peter.
“What are you all thankful for? Let’s go around the table?” It was my Mom, pulling my mind right back where I didn’t want it. Thanksgiving was about being grateful. Already girls my age were obsessed with how they looked, what they wore, who was the prettiest etc… I hated the fact that my body looked so different and abnormal. I reflected back to the days when I was a small child, maybe five or six. Back then I would sit around the Thanksgiving table, eating a delicious holiday meal, and just pray that my eighteen other fingers and toes would grow in by junior high…..at the latest. “I feel thankful we are having a dance tomorrow at school!” In that moment, I simply couldn’t think of anything else.
I recently posted a YouTube video on the DHIFI Facebook page. It was of a beautiful teenage girl from the UK named Grace Mandeville. In it, Grace treated us with her personal story titled, “I Have One Hand. True Story.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g4RiPGtAtSY. In it, she described with humor and grace (pun intended) why she was born differently and how she feels about it. “I am really used to people staring, all the time…. I am actually quite lucky. Because I wasn’t born like everyone else, I have tried more than most because I was born with one hand. Having one hand is what makes me, me!” Then, once again, as she waved her shorter arm around for all to see, again Grace mentioned she was simply, lucky. Watching the video, I was completely taken with her positive, flaunting attitude, even at such a young age. Reflecting on myself as a teen at her age, never in a million years would I have described myself as ‘fortunate’ as a result my difference. On the contrary, despite my outgoing disposition, I believed my deformed hands and feet were what was wrong with me.
I even showed the video later that night to both of our sons, Ethan and Charlie. The sight of their delighted reaction to Grace’s video was so contagious my husband John walked over to see what we were watching. After I put the kids to bed that night, I pulled out the recipe for my Mom’s amazing cranberries, (already thankful that I could enjoy it with my family for the holiday). Once again, as I lay in my own bed trying to sleep, my mind began to race. Grace’s message was not only entertaining, there was something far more significant: It represented gratitude at a level I hadn’t considered. Her expression of fortune wasn’t focused on something she had. Rather, her feelings of being lucky were actually drawn from something others would argue as missing! I slept quite soundly that night.
Today is the Thanksgiving holiday in the U.S. Married to my husband John for fourteen years with three terrific kids, I typically give thanks for what I have. However, watching Grace’s video and her repeated declarations of how lucky she is had a lasting effect on me. Our being born looking so differently has brought immeasurable strength, insight, depth and even happiness. I am thankful for not only what I have, but also for what others view as what my sons and I are lacking.
I just looked up the word grace. One of its meanings is: “virtue from G-d.” Thanks Grace—message received. And I am hopeful that it won’t take our boys as long as it did for me to learn this valuable lesson.