Thanksgiving is by far my favorite holiday. No presents, no costumes, no distractions–just us. A LOT of us. Sometimes the house holds 30 friends and family members celebrating and giving thanks together with a pot-luck (Thanks for hosting, Mom!). It’s chaos, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
So while I’m aware that Thanksgiving was last month, and even Black Friday and Cyber Monday have come and gone, I want to clear out space amid the crumpled wrapping paper and glitter to make room for the Thanksgiving spirit in December’s holidays too.
Gratitude isn’t a once-a-year deal, and while we can still enjoy the shiny new toys under the tree, let’s not forget that everything we were grateful for just a month ago is still here, and still worthy of appreciation.
One of my patients began this year as a healthy woman. She was married with a child and (I presume) a typical life. Now, after meningitis, she can’t talk, has frequent seizures, and breathes through a tracheostomy with assistance from a ventilator. She could have been us.
If that doesn’t make you stop and think, have you read Me Before You? Pull up a comfy chair, grab a box or three of Kleenex, and settle in because you won’t be able to put it down. A young man falls from his social position on top of the world to the depths of depression when he becomes paralyzed and wheelchair-bound. The book is about so much more than his injuries, and it reminds us again that life can change drastically in the blink of an eye.
After five years of a home that leaked like a sieve, we’ve now surpassed 365 consecutive fabulously dry days. First it was the windows, then the walls, then the windows again, and then the plumbing, and now (knock on wood) our home is as dry as the desert that surrounds it. And that’s just how we like it.
Our friends weren’t so lucky when their NYC apartment was engulfed by a fire. They weren’t hurt, and their pets were rescued with minor injuries and have recovered, but their lives were a shambles for a while. Friends and family showered them with support and they are settling into a new home this holiday season. However, their keepsakes are gone, as is some of their sense of security. They could have been us.
In addition to our physical home, I’m grateful for being back home, where there’s no snow to shovel and more family than I know what to do with. I was gone for seven long years, and even though I’ve been back for a while now I still appreciate seeing them often and knowing they’re only a few minutes away.
We have 12 little and not-so-little nieces, nephews, and cousins who in turn inherited the ‘baby of the family’ title after my looong 23-year-reign. Thanks!!! It’s so much fun watching you grow and I love you all very much.
Not all of us had such a great year, though. A friend lost her father suddenly and tragically this summer. There are never adequate words for this, and healing takes years and will never be complete (though our hearts are with you). It can happen to any of us when we least expect it.
While families like my friend’s are shrinking, mine has grown in wonderful ways. In addition to my family by blood, I also have the world’s best family by marriage. My husband and I didn’t meet until I was 29 and ready to give up hope and start accumulating cats instead, but now I can hardly remember life without him. I realize each day how lucky I am and what an amazing guy he is, thanks largely to the good influence of the rest of my in-laws (Thanks!). Their hard work paid off and I not only get to reap the benefits in a great husband, I get to enjoy these lovely people too!
Part of the wonder of being back home is being able to enjoy hiking throughout the winter (sometimes in a t-shirt!). There are oodles of local trails to provide variety, fresh air, and exercise, and if they get old we pull out our bikes and explore new terrain.
In other cities, blizzards strand people in their homes or air pollution gets so thick it isn’t safe to go outside. Dangerous black ice and even rain can keep people with mobility challenges cooped up inside. As we pollute the planet and as we age, this could even be us here someday.
For now, though, we do our best to take advantage of every minute. If we’re not outside ourselves, our garden is soaking up that winter sunshine (and the water from our annual day of rain). Every herb we harvest brings that freshness inside.
So much of life starts with the hand we’re dealt, though we can choose how we play that hand. I’m grateful that I was born in a developed country with access to plenty of food, clean water, and the internet.
Google provides the answer to everything in just seconds, and it makes planning and booking travel a breeze. The web even offers access to friends and ideas that I would never have found otherwise. Many of these friends have found their way into priceless in-person relationships, and their ideas have truly changed our lives. (Sending thanks to our visitors, and hoping for many more.)
I also feel incredibly lucky for stability. Although this can be an illusion, it comes after many years of struggle, worry, and stress. It felt like walking a high-wire without a safety net. What if I were one of the many med students who never graduated? What if I didn’t match into a residency program? And what if I couldn’t get or keep a job? I would have had upwards of $200K in student loans, a mortgage that was underwater, and a huge uphill battle.
To Give Thanks–It’s A Verb, Not Just A Day
This holiday season, I challenge you to hold on tightly to the spirit of Thanksgiving as you give and receive tangible gifts, knowing that the most valuable ‘things’ aren’t really things and can’t be bought.
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