Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thankful

At the risk of sounding too cliché, in these times, it seems only appropriate that so many Americans get together and give thanks for all that they have in their lives. Indeed, tomorrow, I will be among that number, because it has not escaped my attention that I have a lot for which to be thankful. Some events over the course of my day reminded me of this fact. So I wanted to take this opportunity to share just a few of the things that I will be thanking God for, as my own enormous family sits down for an equally enormous meal.

I am thankful for my health.

On November 29, 2007, I experienced something that I thought was improbable for me, as a 32-year-old man. The day began as an ordinary one, though I did feel as if I was coming down with a bug, but by the last hours of that day, I was contending with throbbing pains in my chest and neck, as well as a blood pressure spike of 182/104. It was not until weeks later, after a series of misdiagnoses, that I learned that I had had a heart attack.

Today, three years after that incident, I am doing much better. To be sure, I am hypertensive, and during each routine visit, my doctor is threatening to put my on additional medication to control one thing or another. But I feel fine, really. I do a lot more exercising than I did at that time, and I pay greater attention to the foods that I am consuming. I would be well-served to do more bike riding, get into a gym on a regular basis (but who has time?), and to reduce my sodium intake, but it has been some time—a few months, to be exact—since I’ve experienced the type of episodic spikes in my blood pressure that are known to literally bring me to my knees. For this, I am very grateful.

I am thankful for my family.

This year, it has come to my attention just how many of my friends and business associates will not be spending this important holiday with their families. In fact, for a few, professional obligations will keep them preoccupied, and for another group, financial constraints are the reason they will not be seeing their own families. And even beyond these people, for eight of my friends and their families, Thanksgiving Day will be just another day. (One has even used it as any excuse for traveling to Colorado every year, just to ski and party it up with friends.)

This made me think hard about my own extended family and the times that we get to visit with one another. As I have gotten older, those occasion have become increasingly rare, but Thanksgiving has been one of those times when the Carter family (my mother’s clan) makes a point of getting together. And it is an awesome occasion. Nearly all eleven children of J.J. Carter and Willie Mae Carter, as well as nearly all of the grandchildren and great-grandchildren, gather together at the family’s farm and at the neighboring homes along the country road for a feast that is nearly biblical in size and deep in tradition. I took this occasion for granted for so many years, thinking of my presence there more as a chore for my mother’s benefit. Today, though, as I think about all of my friends who will not be with their own families, I have to reconsider that.

I am blessed to have a family that is close-knit and caring, and while I might take issue with some of things that go on in my family, I must concede that none of those things amount to anything of real significance. In truth, the Carters are a proud family of education African-American men and women who were raised to defy the statistics. And that we can all get together on this occasion to celebrate the values bestowed on us all (either directly or indirectly) by J.J. and Willie Mae is something to be truly thankful for.

I suspect that from here on, my mom will never again have to say, “Please come [to Mississippi] to see the family.” If I can help it, God willing, I will be there.

I am thankful for my friends.

Because I was raised in South Louisiana, I did not grow up with many extended family members in my community. My friends became my family, and as I have gotten older, through the years, I have come to place great value on the relationships that I have with them. Indeed, from some of these people, I have learned so much about character, strength, patience, compassion, hard work, and even spiritual faith. For the marks that so many of them made on my life, I am sincerely thankful.

(That’s it, guys. If I am not saying anything else for fear heads all over the world will start exploding due to sudden increases in self-confidence.)

I am thankful for my financial stability.

Yesterday I got a text from a friend of mine, which read: “Anymore ideas on employment??? LOL. I hate to keep bugging you.” The friend in question has been for almost a month among the millions of Americans who are looking of gainful work in a tough economy. Of course, he was not bugging me, but even as I reach out to my own contacts on his behalf, I have felt a bit helpless. Here is a good young man, educated and ambitious, someone whose management acumen is only outdone by his own willingness to do even the most menial of tasks; however, this same person is unable to find a place that can use his talents. As I thought about his situation this morning, I became very discouraged.

Later in the day, that discouragement only grew. I found myself running errands at a local he grocery store (while my sister Bridget prepared her first Thanksgiving dinner), and while in the checkout line, I overheard the conversation of three shoppers nearby. The first shopper, a middle-aged mother, explained that it was a blessing that she’d be able to prepare a Thanksgiving meal, particularly given that money was so tight in her home. Then another shopper, also a middle-aged woman, chimed in, saying, “I know what you mean. We were lucky enough to get a turkey from the church.” And to that, her male companion added, while leaning over the shopping cart, “We could not have afforded it if not for the church. We just wouldn’t have had it.”

Such stories have given me a reason to pause today and to realize just how blessed I really am. There are so many people in need in this nation right now that it is difficult to ignore. And the troubling part about it all, unfortunately, is that things are unlikely to get better for some time—years, in fact. Meanwhile, I have not had one sleepless night or missed one meal. I have not worried about my bills or my home or the prospect of losing a job. Instead, I have had the luxury of crawling out of bed in the morning with a smile on my face, feeling quite secure about the work that I do and about where it is taking me. To be sure, I have complained that big opportunities and big changes have not happened quickly enough, but in all fairness, I must concede that I have been quite lucky to even make it to where I am right now. While so many are struggling, while so many are consumed with worry, I have not had to.

There can only be one reason for this stability in the face of greater adversity—and that’s The Man up above. For his grace, I am utterly thankful…But I know that this favor must come with a responsibility. God, please know that I am listening, and that I will live up to your expectations here.

***

Given that the better part of this week is a vacation, for the first morning in ages, I had hoped to just sleep in, but that did not happen. Promptly at 6AM, I received a telephone call from a client in trouble. From that moment on, over the rest of this day, I have encountered events—from the professional concerns of men to a family faced with an untimely death, from the economic hardships of strangers to the social uncertainties of a friend—that have left me realizing that I have so much to be thankful for.

My life might not be perfect. I might not have everything that I could want in this world, and I might not be running a global powerhouse (yet) or building my own city (yet). Nonetheless, what I do have, right now, is just as important, and I cannot take any of those things—my health, my family and friends, my station in life—for granted, not anymore.

God, thank you.

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