Two gifts I'm thankful for: Freedom and health

Story highlights

  • Twenty years ago, I moved to the U.S. from the Soviet Union with my family, says Igor Krotov
  • I have worked for CNN since 1992, and my son is now a young man, he says
  • Last year I was diagnosed with a brain tumor, and I had to undergo surgery, Krotov says
  • Krotov: My illness taught me to appreciate life; I feel grateful every day for what I have
In October 1991, I came to America with my wife, my 6-year-old son and my mother-in-law. Last month, we celebrated the 20th anniversary of our life in this country.
I remember the journey from what was then the Soviet Union vividly. Being driven to Sheremetyevo airport in Moscow, the long goodbyes with my family and friends. I remember the faces of my crying mother, my puzzled father. They were afraid of what would happen to their son and their grandson in a strange land.
As we were leaving, I had to brace myself for the possibility that I would not see my family again. After all, the Iron Curtain, although rusty and crumbling, was still around. The unknown lay ahead, and it was scary. Thirty-three years in the Soviet Union were over. I felt like our lives were about to start anew.
For us, life in Moscow was actually not bad at all. Family and numerous friends always compensated for living behind the Iron Curtain and numerous day-to-day shortcomings.
My generation grew up in a culture of near-deprivation, constant shortages of everything imaginable. But that was nothing compared with the lives of my parents and especially my grandparents'. I recall how people used to stock up on everything. Everyone's refrigerators were actually packed with food. And, as I said, we made it through with the support of friends and family.
Igor Krotov
But since my early childhood, I had heard about the "Zapad" -- the West, in Russian. And the older I grew, the more attractive Zapad seemed. I can still visualize my grandfather opening a package from his brother, who lived in New York. Unheard-of luxuries: Parker pens and Gillette razors wrapped in glitzy plastic.
We were asked to get off the plane for the layover at Gander airport. Sunny skies, fall colors, very warm compared with slushy Moscow. That's how I remember our arrival in North America.
At JFK International airport, we were told to follow the line for new immigrants. We then stayed with my friend's parents in New Jersey. We experienced hospitality and goodwill like we never had before. My friend's parents gave our family of four shelter and fed us for nearly two months. Once, they had been new immigrants, too.
When we came to Atlanta, we were surprised. Everyone was driving cars, and there were no sidewalks to walk on. Once, when we walked on a street looking for an apartment to rent, a friend from CNN pulled up and offered us a ride. He ended up driving us around for the rest of the day.
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A lot has changed since then. I have been working for CNN since 1992. My son is a young man who lives in New York City, where he works in book publishing. My wife is an IT specialist whose long working hours are hard to be envious of.
Last year, I was diagnosed with a brain tumor. I had to undergo surgery and have been monitored and given treatment since. But, for now at least, I like to consider myself healthy.
I am in good physical shape, and I continue to work full time at CNN. I see friends and enjoy a bottle of fine wine. I rejoice when I listen to music in my car.
My illness taught me to appreciate life. I feel grateful every day: for a beautiful day, for what I have.
That's why Thanksgiving is so meaningful to me. In a way, I feel like every day is Thanksgiving. But on Thanksgiving Day, the last Thursday in November, everyone in America feels the same way -- I hope.