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To Give Thanks–It’s A Verb, Not Just A Day

Thanks

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.

Health

I give thanks that my husband and I are in good health. We do exercise and we try to eat healthily, but some things are out of our control.

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.

Home

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.

Family

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!

Fresh Air

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.

Luck

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.

If this post reminded you of something that made you smile, please share it in the comments below. 

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Comments 10

  1. This hit home with me today! Although this didn’t make me smile – we did attend the funeral of a 22 year old this week who was in a car accident and was killed when the car ran into a snowplow. He was the son of my husband’s partner (he was a cop) and was named after my husband. He came around a curve, the car slid and that was the end. It can happen so fast. I feel incredibly lucky and blessed for what we have – and agree giving thanks should be what we practice, not just celebrate! Have a wonderful holiday!!

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  2. I agree, we should give thanks throughout the year. It’s easy to take all the good in our lives for granted. Whenever I feel stressed or frustrated with my day, I try to stop and look around – I don’t have to look far to find so much to be grateful for!

    Something incredible happened yesterday (Christmas Eve). My husband ran to the grocery store to pick up some last minute food I forgot to buy – and a stranger paid for his groceries. I find it ironic that we’ve been trying to give more random kindness and, this time, we were on the receiving end! I’m grateful for the kindness that was extended and intend to pay it forward! 🙂

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  3. I just posted about this the other day…gratitude all year long. I couldn’t agree more that we need to give thanks and not just one day a year. We all have something to be thankful for, and most of us have quite a lot, so we should remember that and give to others when we can.

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      I saw your post too. Great minds think alike, eh? For our family, Christmas is like a giant remake of Thanksgiving with a house full of friends and family, so it’s still a good reminder of all that we have. Even when it’s chaos, it’s chaos made by the ones I love. We always invite everyone we know who doesn’t have family in town. Sometimes they come, sometimes they don’t, but they like knowing that they have options.

  4. I love this concept of thanks being a verb and not just a day. Sort of like love – it’s not just a state of being, it’s shown by actions. We have much to give thanks for.

    Here’s one that made us smile and laugh. We do a family grab bag with rules that allow each person to steal a gift from another rather than choose a fresh one to unwrap from the pile. And the gift that was stolen most this year is something called the Squatty Potty. Maybe you’ve heard of it?

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      Hah! I didn’t know the name but I love the concept. We replaced one of our thrones with a ‘comfort height’ version last year at my mother’s request. It’s taller so it’s easier for people with tricky hips and knees to stand back up, but the rest of us hate it. We need the squatty potty double stack!

  5. I’m never disappointed when I come to your site, Julie. So thank you for helping me to be more grounded, more thoughtful. One death that really hit home this year was a very good friend’s older brother. As a young man, he was an Adonis. Sculpted body, good looking, great athlete, kind heart–the whole package. But something happened in his 30s. He became estranged from his family and started putting on weight. When I saw him at his dad’s funeral about 10 years ago, he was easily over 400 lbs. His heart finally gave out earlier this year. It was very sobering. He wasn’t an addict or alcoholic. He didn’t get up-ended by a severe injury. And no one in his family has a weight issue. But he obviously had some demons.

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      And don’t we all have our demons. I’m sorry your friend’s brother didn’t have more time to fight his.
      It’s hard to put a silver lining on these stories, but it might be that they help us take a more objective look at our own lives and how we can make positive changes.
      I had a friend/coworker, also an “Adonis,” who had type I diabetes. He had an x-ray for joint pain and noticed that he could see the blood vessels on his x-ray. These aren’t normally visible and the only reason he could see his was because he had so much vascular disease due to his diabetes. It was a huge wakeup call for him to take better care of his health and provide as well as he could for his family because his condition has a much shorter than average life expectancy. It’s so sad that he had to face his mortality head-on, but good that he got some warning while he was young enough to make a difference.

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