This Thanksgiving my sister-in-law attempted to nudge a couple of the children into reflection and gratitude as we sat around the supper table.
"What are you thankful for this Thanksgiving?" - sister-in-law
"My tractor trophy." - nephew
And of course my other four-year-old nephew echoed this sentiment despite that fact he had no such trophy and was too interested in rides during the local fair to even compete in the pedal tractor race. It was cute.
The day was by no means perfect--work that morning had sadly prevented me from doing my turkey trot tradition, and I started the binge early in the day with a face-sized jelly donut-- I was repeatedly reminded we were so blessed to have everyone there for supper, even as the young children on either side of me used my cream-colored sweater as a napkin.
The next day I met a friend from out of town for lunch, a continuation of the Thanksgiving week eating marathon. We got on the topic of how she was feeling lately and her mindset toward a chronic health condition that causes pain and progressively affects her lifestyle. With much more sagacity than I can portray she said she is realistic about the chances for a cure in her lifetime, has prepared for what happens if she has to stop working earlier than expected, and has planned for her long-term care as she ages.
I wasn't sure how to respond right away. I was overwhelmed by admiration for the courage of her honesty and the pragmatism of her approach. At that moment and for many afterwards I considered sharing my struggle with diabetes, but as usual something held me back. Instead, as a true Midwesterner, I looked for something comforting to say and came up with the one of the blessings I've found in living with a chronic health condition: that unlike most other people you are given a real reason to take better care of yourself and pay attention to your health; and although it comes with a host of challenges you learn to take it one day at a time and to appreciate everything you have. Only when something is threatened do we ever seem to really appreciate it, and in some ways people living with chronic disease are more aware and able to experience deeper gratitude for life because they are confronted with challenges to it. "Yes", my friend replied, "my husband and I talk about how lucky we are all the time."
I'm not saying it's easy, or even possible, to stay in a positive mindset all the time. With chronic conditions like diabetes there's always new challenges and the build-up of frustrations over a complicated disease that feels more high maintenance and fickle than a needy boy/girlfriend. But reflecting on our blessings is a good exercise to bring us out of the depths we can find ourselves in.
It can't be Thanksgiving every day. (Which is a good thing, because pants with zippers would soon be out of the question). But the essence of it--spending time with people we love and reflecting on what we're grateful for--need not be confined to the holidays.