Thursday is Thanksgiving Day in the United States, a day when many Americans express gratitude for good fortune in their personal lives, their communities and the larger world. But what are some of the specific things Americans are grateful for this year?
For Mariah Silver Jenkins, who parks her refreshment van along the National Mall near the U.S. Capitol in Washington DC, Thanksgiving is one more day to be grateful for America itself. "I can have freedom of speech and I can make a living," she says, adding, "We have a good government, and you don't have that everywhere." Jenkins' business includes selling hot dogs to tourists and Congressional staff members who work nearby. "And when it gets very cold, I've got coffee. I'm grateful for that too," Jenkins says.
Gratitude and food go together
Three teenage girls visiting Washington on a school trip say gratitude is as much a part of a family Thanksgiving meal, as are roast turkey and yams. "At Thanksgiving, we go around the table and say what we are grateful and thankful for, and it just feels good," one says. "I'm really grateful for how close I am to my family and friends," adds another, "and how they are always there for me and we are always here for each other.
Emily Ragsdale is a student from Indiana who lives on her own in New York City. "I always feel grateful, for no matter how far away I am from my family, my mom finds a way to make sure I got home safely at night. I always feel like someone is looking out for me," Ragsdale says.
Boston tour guide Lee Oestreicher, 65, says his parents are long gone, but others still look out for him. So he's thankful for the people on his, "3 a.m. list." The phrase is family shorthand for, "those whom one is welcome to call in the middle of the night," Oestreicher says. "If I'm in trouble, or lonesome or worried about something - or even in need of reassurance or just a friendly word, there is no more precious gift," he adds. Though he says he doesn't make a habit of calling people at 3 a.m., "the fact that I know they are there brightens many an early morning vigil."
Life's sorrows and joys
A street vendor on New York's Broadway Avenue has seen his share of sorrows, yet remains appreciative. "I'm breathing and I have two arms and two legs and I can talk and see. You wake up and you say 'Dang! Thank God! I'm alive.' And I get to work every day. I'm just grateful for what I've got," he says.
Mary Reilly Nichols, a Manhattan yoga teacher who works with people in poor health, is grateful for feeling well. "I am feeling really good that my body walks when I ask it to walk, and it sits when I ask it to sit. And I [was] especially grateful [this morning] when I [was] walking up the steps of the subway stop and could do that without faltering," she says.
Tim Dunaway of New Orleans says that physical trauma helped him appreciate what many take for granted. He was in a serious boating accident in 1998, which he says destroyed his face. Dunaway is in Washington for reconstructive surgery. "I should have been blinded. I could have bled to death, or had brain damage. And I'm still here. And I just owe it all to God and Dr. Craig Dufresne," Dunaway says.
Grateful for a second chance
When hardship and trauma follow from one's own bad choices, a second chance at happiness can be especially sweet. "I got a lot of gratitude, man, just for being alive today because of my past lifestyle. I should be dead," says Melvin, a former homeless man who owns a bookstall, has a place to live and a new wife. "I used to be a really bad guy. But now I try to live my life in another way, with honesty [and] integrity. I try to help other people," he says. Melvin adds, "I'm grateful to live in a country that gives you a second chance, and to have the wisdom to take advantage of that second chance."
As their infant daughter lies fast asleep, Angel Figueroa and his wife Jessica Torres say they're thankful for, "happiness, joy and being parents," this Thanksgiving. Torres says the couple plans to teach their daughter to express gratitude easily and often. "It's a healthy way to live. Gratitude keeps the world going in a positive way."