Thought Leadership

Giving thanks

By Colin Walls

I have always found the American Thanksgiving holiday rather annoying. I can never remember when it is and nobody gives me any warning. Then, all of a sudden, the world stops for about a week. Having said that, I am totally in favor of having a holiday in the middle of Fall [we have nothing between the end of August and Christmas]. I also admire much of the sentiment around Thanksgiving, as I perceive it. The focus on getting family together and lack of obsession with giving gifts is excellent. Last week, another aspect caught my attention …

Last Friday [yes, a day late], I went to my first Thanksgiving dinner. I was not in the US [obviously!]. We have some friends who lived in California for 20 years and returned here a little while back, but like importing some US culture. Apart from frequenting CostCo etc., they enjoy hosting a Thanksgiving celebration. With us, they are part of a small group who take turns hosting relaxed dinner/supper parties. We had an excellent meal with very convivial company. Then, our host made a small demand of us …

He asked us to take turns in telling what we would like to give thanks for in our lives. This caught most people by surprise, as they did not know it was coming. I was somewhat aware that this might be asked, but was not particularly prepared. Most people talked about the good things in their lives: family, friends, their health etc. This was good stuff, but I talked about death.

I hear the question already: How can you give thanks for a death? I considered the topic from two perspectives:

First, 2016 seems to have had more than a year’s fair share of celebrity deaths. Almost everyone has heard of the death of someone who was influential to them at some point in their lives. Examples in the music world include Prince, David Bowie and [most significant around here] Leonard Cohen. I would not give thanks for these guys’ deaths, but for their lives. The world is a considerably richer place as a result of their sharing their wonderful talent. I do not wish to contemplate a world without Major Tom or Marianne.

The other view is from my personal life, where an amazing number of people, that I knew well, have died. Here my giving of thanks is different. A couple of examples:

A very good friend died suddenly a couple of months ago. I certainly give thanks for having known him for the last 16 years of his life. He was a larger than life character and he enriched my life in numerous ways. I also give thanks for the manner of his death. He was 87 and was watching the early evening news on TV. His wife came in to tell him that dinner was ready, but he was asleep. And he was not going to wake up. No long protracted illness; no pain.

DSC00295I wrote before about my own father’s death early in the year. I give thanks for knowing him all my life. So much of the person that I am today was down to his teaching and his example. For the last 18 months of his life, I wrote him a letter every week. I just told him what was going on in my world, hoping that he would see that the seed he planted had germinated. His death was peaceful. The quality of life, that he experienced for the last few months, was appalling. I give thanks for that coming to an end.

I am beginning to think that I would like to have a Thanksgiving holiday in the UK. Instead of complaining about the enormous effect of American culture on our lives, I think that this is something we can embrace …


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This article first appeared on the Siemens Digital Industries Software blog at