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The Zak Zone

November 24, 2011

Yesterday was Thanksgiving, and as I stood in the driveway in my slippers, tossing around a football with my younger cousins and wishing I hadn't eaten so much, the spirit of the holiday was on my mind.

For me, the meaning of Thanksgiving is twofold. First, it is about counting my many blessings one-by-one. But secondly, it's about being thankful for the memories I've been able to share with those who couldn't join us for this holiday celebration.

My brother, sister-in-law and beautiful niece all reside in Canada, and so Thanksgiving is a working day for them, but we were blessed by technology to see them on his lunch break via video chat.

Unfortunately, as I stood in the driveway, there was one memory that even technology couldn't resurrect for me.

This Thanksgiving was my second without my grandfather, who went home to be with his loving Savior almost a year-and-a-half ago.

We all knew it wouldn't be any easier than the first without him, but it really hit home after we finished saying the blessing and Pappy wasn't the first lined up to fill his plate.

We didn't shed quite as many tears this time around, but we certainly didn't miss him any less, either.

As we tossed the ball back and forth in our mock-Thanksgiving Day game, though, I reflected on one of the many lessons that Pappy always taught me: There is a lesson in everything.

Pappy loved sports, and my love for sports came in part from sitting beside him so many Sundays watching the NFL's weekly games or the Game of the Week for Major League Baseball.

But whether the occasion was sitting beside him in church, going hunting with him or watching sports, he was always one to use the metaphors in our everyday lives to teach us something about ourselves.

Over the past few weeks, I've been thinking a lot about how blessed I am to have the people I do in my life.

Two weeks ago, area families were handed the tragic news that they had lost their brothers, sons, cousins, grandsons and close friends in a tragic accident.

Even without knowing any of the young men who perished personally, the news hit me hard, and I was unsure how to process it all.

I was still trying to figure it out when I woke to the news of a tragic plane crash that claimed the lives of two Oklahoma State basketball coaches last Friday morning.

Again, not directly related to the tragedy, I found my- self in a state of mourning, nonetheless.

But in the aftermath of the plane crash, I learned a lesson on thankfulness by noticing how thankful I am for the memories I've made with all my family members.

The sports community at OSU responded in two manners to the news, and neither response was more or less appropriate than the other.

Some cancelled scheduled activities while other programs chose to play on in honor of the fallen mem- bers of their community.

The women's basketball team, which was the most-closely affected having lost two coaches, cancelled its games scheduled for last weekend to take time and mourn those lost, and there was no shame in that.

Sometimes we have to take time out to reflect on what we have lost and be thankful.

The women's soccer team and football team were also scheduled for Friday games and chose a different response: To play on in honor of those lost.

The soccer team held a moment of silence prior to their game to honor the university's loss, but played on despite it, earning a 1-0 victory over Illinois.

The young women playing knew the weight of the situation and showed respect during the game, as well.

"We all put 'Cowgirl Family' on our wrists," OSU goalkeeper AD Franch said in an interview after the game. "Deep down, there's that belief that they're right there with us, and that's how I felt tonight. Every save I made, it felt like I had somebody there with me."

OSU's football team, well on its way to a chance to play in the BCS national title game, chose to play on, as well, and on a very emotional night, faltered and lost to underdog Iowa State in double overtime.

But the fact that the Cowboys lost didn't mean they paid any less respect to those affected by the tragedy, because they played on.

Sports has taught me so much about how I want to live my life.

In life, and in sports, we all face opportunities, like Thanksgiving Day, to pause and reflect on how thankful we are for the memories of those who mean and have meant so much to us.

But there are other days we have no choice but to "play on" in their honor and memory.

There are plenty of times I pause to remember Pappy and how much he's meant to all of us, but those times are the driving force that push me on to "play my best" and pay him respect and honor in my daily life.

I hope that Thanksgiving was a time you were able to take that moment of silence and reflect, and now as we head back into our every- day lives, I pray that you feel refreshed to honor those who have given you those cherished memories.

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