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News > Commentary - Why we should be thankful for those around us
Why we should be thankful for those around us

Posted 11/24/2010   Updated 11/24/2010 Email story   Print story


Commentary by Master Sgt. Scott T. Sturkol
Air Mobility Command Public Affairs

11/24/2010 - SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill. -- Around every Thanksgiving, we look to find the reasons we are thankful. It may be about what we have in life -- or for someone like me -- we are thankful for the family who surrounds us.

As a near 19-year veteran of the Air Force, my family has always been a military family since it began in the same year I joined the service -- 1992. Through all those years, we've been through all kinds of ups and downs to include deployments, making the family funds stretch so far you could hear them scream, and dealing with ever-changing circumstances.

Recently, I had an example of how important my family is to me and realized that despite all of our zig-zag movements of military life we've had quite a bit of success. This example came through the actions of my son Jackson who demonstrated that as a parent and a family we are doing something right.

In early November, I had to tell my 14-year-old son some really bad news. But before I tell you the news, let me tell you a little about Jackson.

Since he was 18 months old, Jackson has battled autism every day. Over his life he has grown to progress every year to the point now I think he has mostly conquered the condition. He's incredibly smart, is an honors student in school, and is a social butterfly as much as any other teenager I've ever known.

As part of his on-going education in coping with autism, Jackson has gone through more education than the average student and in that process has developed a near "prejudice free" attitude to all people. He sees people for who they are inside, and not for what they look like on the outside. I believe it's a gift few people have and Jackson's gift is really remarkable.

Now to the bad news. I had to tell Jackson that a very good 15-year-old friend of his had died. This friend had a disability and was someone he visited every day "to read him his favorite books."

Jackson's friend looked forward to him visiting and his sudden death was surely going to be hard on him so I had no idea how he would take it. But, as his dad, these unfortunate things come to pass from time to time and I told him.

His first gut reaction was very strong. He cried. I cried. He asked questions about how it happened. I provided the best answers I could.

After a few hugs and a talk, he asked that I leave him alone and I did. After about an hour, he came downstairs from the upstairs bedroom where I broke the news to him and he told me he was taking a bike ride. I told him it was no problem, and here's where the story takes an interesting turn.

On his bike ride, he went to his friend's house and asked if he could read a book to his friend even though he was no longer there. His friend's family obliged and Jackson went into his friend's room and read one of his friend's favorite books. Then he left.

Upon his return home, Jackson came into the house and hurried upstairs. He wasn't crying nor was he angry. Instead, I found him upstairs with a look of determination...and a pencil and a notepad.

"What are you writing?" I asked Jackson.

"I can't tell you," he said.

"Can I read it when you are done?" I asked further.

"It's only for my friend," he said, "and I am going to go back and read it to him."

I could only back off at that point. I knew he was up to something, but nothing bad. I saw it as his way of dealing with the loss of his friend. It would be days before I could read what he read.

Several days later at his friend's funeral, my wife Bobbi and I went with Jackson. When we got there, it seemed like everyone knew Jackson and knew him well. These were people my wife and I knew well too, but Jackson was on a first-name basis with everyone.

When I signed into the guest register at the funeral home, I finally saw what Jackson had written. It was a prayer he had written for his friend and his family. The prayer had been typeset, but from what I was told it was not changed from the original.

The prayer, which Jackson said he "preached like he never preached before," called for God to give strength to his friend's family in their time of loss and also said his friend "was in a happier place." To say the least, it made me so happy and proud of how he thought of others and of their loss. For something he had written in a mere 10 minutes, it was the most thought-out and beautiful thing I had ever read. At the moment I read the prayer, I was so thankful Jackson is my son.

In the days that have followed his friend's death, Jackson continues to be very supportive of his friend's family, and he continues to make our family proud every day. He has overcome so many battles in his own life yet he has found solace in ensuring others who also battle tough times have a little bit of happiness and hope.

For me, Jackson is just one example of why we have to be thankful for our family and friends and all the people we surround ourselves with. There is no greater thing in life, in my opinion, to have people around you who love and care for you.

As you sit down at the table this Thanksgiving, take a look at those sitting with you and thank each one of them because it is because of them why we should always be thankful every day.

11/24/2010 8:23:02 PM ET
What a lovely heartwarming family you must have and to be the Father of such a loving young man At this time...Thank you for making my Thanksgiving a little more meaningful at this time.
Elaine Krupp, Maryland
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