One of the beauties of the Thanksgiving holiday is its non-denominational universality. Pausing for a moment to give thanks transcends cultures, religions and socioeconomics. For those in a hospital over this time, simply being alive may be a reason to give thanks.

On Nov. 17, a living Norfolk pine was placed in the chapel of John Sealy Hospital at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. A basket of blank paper leaves was provided and visitors to the chapel were invited to decorate the tree with their “thanksgivings.” About three dozen “thanksgivings” have been hung on the tree, which will remain in the chapel through Friday, Dec. 3.

The first leaves on the tree came from chaplains Cathy Ozenberger and John Riley.

“I’m thankful for the early detection and treatment of my cancer,” wrote Ozenberger, who will soon go through her last cycle of treatment.

“I’m grateful the chapel is open again,” wrote Riley. Located on the first floor of the hospital, the chapel suffered extraordinary damage from Hurricane Ike and only reopened in May this year.

“We did something like this in 2007, I believe,” said Riley. “But we haven’t had a chapel for two years; so, we can’t really say it is a tradition.  We already have a book in the chapel where folks can leave prayer requests and petitions.  This idea is just a more visible extension of that practice.”

A common theme runs through many of the leaves; thanks for family and friends, for health and employment. But others give more specific thanks.

There is the leaf that gives thanks for our soldiers serving in Afghanistan and Iraq.  And there is the leaf that gives thanks that “my brother is in a better place,” with a prayer he rest in peace and the date of his death; 10-10-10.  

And finally there is a simple note of gratitude: “I’m thankful for my girlfriend.”