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Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Cultivating a grateful spirit and attitude is a worthy pursuit

"A thankful heart is not only the greatest virtue, but the parent of all the other virtues."  - Cicero

Thanksgiving should be much more than a day when families gather together to eat and watch football. Thanksgiving is an important opportunity and a chance for all Americans to take an inventory of the things each family should be thankful for, as individuals and as a nation.

"Reflect upon your present blessings, of which every man has many-not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some."  - Charles Dickens

Here is a list of twenty important things families can contemplate and be thankful for on Thanksgiving:
1. Good health- Being in possession of good health should never be taken for granted. Good health is a blessing at any age.

2. Family members- Each family member should be appreciated for their own special gifts and unique place within the family.

3. A Home- Having a home is a basic need in every person’s life. Be it ever so humble, there truly is no place like home- whether it is a one room shack or an opulent mansion. Especially in this economy, where so many people have lost their homes, it is important to realize how much of a blessing a home is, and how easy it can be to lose one.

4. Freedom- Being born into a democracy where people have free speech, human rights and the right to vote is truly something to be thankful for every day. Living in a free country is a gift that people have given their lives for. Gratitude for freedom is something to teach young children, who don’t know any other kind of life than a free society.

5. Our Military and their families- It is very important to remember the men and women who defend our freedoms and our way of life. They are all over the world, often away from their loved ones. Their families sacrifice for our freedoms too.

6. A job- Considering the current state of the economy and unemployment all over the nation, a job is truly something to be thankful for. When a person loves their job, it is even more of a blessing.

7. A happy marriage/relationship- So many people take their spouse or significant other for granted. Thanksgiving is a time to think of how precious the gift of a loving partner can be.

8. Good friends- Truly good, loyal, and constant friends are one of the greatest treasures in life. Acquaintances, co-workers, or casual friendships are not the same as a true-blue friend. Their value is immense.

9. Enough food to eat- Thanksgiving is a holiday which for many, is filled with good food and bountiful meals. It is an important time of year to remember those who are less fortunate and to show thanks by sharing with those who have none.

10. Religious/Spiritual faith- For many people, faith is a gift which sustains and nurtures them in a way that nothing else can. If a person has faith, it is a blessing which should be acknowledged on Thanksgiving.

11. A Car- Having the ability to get from here to there is something many people take for granted. For those who do not have one, it can make life very complicated.

12. Clean Water- Anyone who has lived in most of the United States all of their lives probably can’t imagine not having clean, drinkable, water. Sadly, in a great number of people in the world do not have it. It is truly a blessing on many levels.

13. Free education for all citizens- An education is critical to attain many of the other blessings and opportunities available in our country. Many places in the world do not provide a solid, free, education to everyone.

14. Good roads and a well-functioning infrastructure- Most Americans would be shocked to know how terrible the roads and infrastructures are in other nations. We are truly blessed to live in a nation that has running water, reliable electricity and sewage systems which are cared for and maintained.

15. Tolerance- By and large, Americans are tolerant and accepting. It is the cornerstone of our democracy. Thanksgiving is a good time to contemplate and be thankful for the accepting and welcoming spirit of tolerance of others- regardless of: gender, race, culture, religion, sexual orientation or any other differences.

16. Honesty and integrity- Living in a country where most institutions and government are honest and fair is a true blessing. There are many places in the world where people are routinely cheated and abused. They have few protections from corruption and have no one to advocate for them.

17. Value of the individual- There are places in the world where the individual has no value, rights or standing. To live in a nation where we have rights as an individual, as well as part of the collective, is something to truly be thankful for.

18. Appreciation for literature, art and culture- Our society has a great love of all types of artistic, creative and beautiful expressions. Americans are blessed to have access to such enriching activities.

19. Peace of mind- A true blessing. If a person is able to find peace of mind in their life, they have discovered one of the greatest things life has to offer.

20. Abundance- Having an abundance of food, clothing, and other worldly goods is something to be very thankful for. There are many who want for the most basic needs and if a person is fortunate to have abundance, it is a duty to share with those who do not.

"As we express our gratitude, we must never forget the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them."  -  John Fitzgerald Kennedy

"Gratitude is the most exquisite form of courtesy."  - Jacques Maritain
In addition to these twenty- each family should strive to make their own list each year for the things which they feel most grateful.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Six months till half a century

One of the most used clich├ęs of all time is "Life is short". And it is true. I never realized how short until fairly recently. I have been thinking about time and age and life and death a great deal of late. Probably because in exactly six months from today, I will turn 50 years old. Half a century! How does that happen?  Where does the time go?
 We don’t think about it very much, but about 100 years ago, a large portion of people never made it to 50.  
Here is a list of 59 people who didn’t make it to age 40.

By today’s standards, 50 is considered very young to die, and is still considered “middle age”.  I have an uncle who is almost 94. He  turned 50 forty- four years ago! That really puts it in perspective. But consider that there are still many people who never make it to 50 and that in certain regions of the world, 50 is considered old because the life expectancy and quality of life is radically different from what it is in this country.
Global life expectancy tables

So, here I am, looking 50 right in the face. My last 6 months of being in my 40s. The last decade has been an amazing adventure. As an example, I will share some of the highs and lows of the last decade:
I started working for the Department of Defense, which changed my professional life
I met, fell in love, and married my husband
I became a grandmother, twice
My youngest child turned 18 and my two older children got married and “grew up”
I began to fulfill my lifelong dream of becoming a professional writer
I accomplished many personal and professional goals
I experienced the death of a grandchild
I embrace a life of sobriety
I have had my spiritual and “religious” faith tested and have maintained and grown in it
I have watched both of my parents retire
I have seen friends and co-workers die, some at a very young age
I experienced 9 months of unemployment in 2009
I have seen the world change and technology grown in ways I could never have expected
As I approach my half century, I feel intense gratitude, love, joy, optimism, strength, pride in my personal and professional accomplishments; and I look forward to many more years with my loved ones and friends. I am not afraid of getting older, looking older or even feeling a little older. I am embracing and accepting that aging is inevitable and I rejoice in it.
Getting older doesn’t have to be a negative or depressing event. Quite the contrary! Consider the alternative- death. And although that too is inevitable, I am not focusing on it. I hope to have many more years to spend with my family, husband and loved ones. I have been fortunate and blessed in my life and I accept that when the time comes, I will be ready. I am thankful for the last 50 years and hope for a future that will allow me to continue growing and learning and becoming the person I was born to be.
I am so thankful for the last 50 years- the good, the bad, the ups and the downs. I have experienced incredible joy and devastating losses. I have seen the best life has to offer, and the absolute worst. But I can't complain because I have LIVED, and loved, and fallen and risen. I have made terrible, aching mistakes and I have triumphed over incredible adversity. 
I look to May 12th, 2012 with a sense of wonder and great humility, and I hope and pray that the   future will allow me to continue growing and learning and becoming the person I was born to be.