This is the time of year when we give thanks -- for family and friends and a wonderful holiday meal.
But, whatever our circumstances, there is so much else that can inspire gratitude.
What makes you grateful? What makes you feel blessed?
I am grateful for advancing age, even as I complain about everyday creaks and pains, even though my gait is slower and a bit unsteady, I am grateful for having lived longer already than my parents, who both died in their mid-sixties. I am glad to be old rather than young in an era that seems less kind, less socially mobile, than when I was growing up.
While the 1950's and 1960's were far from perfect, especially for people of color and women, there seemed to be more hope. We were convinced that if we worked hard, got an education and skills, we could get a good job with benefits and maybe a pension. Companies tended to keep their promises back then. We didn't hear much if anything about extended unpaid internships and legions of contract employees with no benefits and no job security. We could put ourselves through college, even a private college, with a good financial aid package and a willingness to work campus and summer jobs.
That is impossible for young people today who are emerging from college with crippling student loans and, in too many cases, lean prospects for steady work. My heart goes out to them as I think with gratitude of my own college and work experiences. Getting through school with parents unable to help me financially wasn't easy, but it was possible.
I am grateful for friends of all types and descriptions -- for those of many years like Mary Breiner, Tim Schellhardt, Jeanne Yagi and Pat Hill who feel like family to me and newer ones I'm just getting to know, for friends nearby and those at a distance, including some wonderful blogging friends I've never met face-to-face but treasure nonetheless. I feel blessed by all the friends in my life, rejoicing in the warm connection.
I am grateful for family: for my loving husband Bob Stover, by my side for 40 years now, in good times and bad, in closeness and in distance, in challenge and in growth; for my two beloved, inimitable siblings Mike and Tai and their families, my wonderful cousins. How blessed we are to have shared memories, quiet understanding and enduring love.
I am grateful for the pain and challenges of the past. I've learned so much from the love relationships that didn't work out, from some jobs that were so trying, I fought tears to and from work, from the disappointments that were inevitable -- the articles or books that didn't sell, the friendships that didn't last, the dreams that never came true. I'm convinced that I learned more, grew more, from these disappointments and setbacks than I ever did from success. I tended to accept successes -- especially early in my life -- as simply my due. The times of pain and disappointment caused me to look within, to rally resources I didn't realize I had, to find new paths and new ways of being.
I am grateful for daily companionship of pets -- from Hughey, a big white, gentle duck and my most dearly loved childhood pet, to little Ollie, my three-legged black kitten. I feel blessed by the memories of animal companions no longer with me -- cats who made such a difference in my life with Bob: our first cat Freddie, the miraculous duo Gus and Timmy, the latter of whom, with a later cat Marina, became a therapy cat and the subject of my book "Purr Therapy: What Timmy and Marina Taught Me About Life, Love and Loss." Those cats are all gone now -- Gus left us just a year ago. Each loss is unique, each cat irreplaceable. And our current four -- Maggie, Sweet Pea, Hamish and Ollie -- brighten our days with purring, cuddling, kisses and eccentricities that make us smile.
I am grateful for the blessings of my life -- a great education, having several professions I love, and a reasonable level of success. I'm not exactly famous and definitely not rich. But I feel very fortunate to have worked and still work doing what I truly enjoy. I don't take that for granted for one minute. I've had enough day jobs to know the difference between a job and a calling.
I am grateful for the culture in which I came of age: middle class, then with our family struggling financially after my father lost his job and could never get another, in an affluent community and learning to live with being different; Catholic schools in elementary and high school, complete with stodgy uniforms and strict nuns. In elementary school, our class size hovered around 60, always presided over by a nun just off the boat from Ireland, with a stout ruler and a talent for sarcasm that made any physical punishment pale in comparison. No one seemed to worry about tarnishing our self-esteem. But there were some nuns -- like Sister Rita and Sister Ramona -- who cared deeply and who made a tremendous difference in my life -- and the lives of many others. They were strict. They expected a lot. They let us know that the world didn't revolve around us. But they gave so much love and encouragement as well. They taught us to work hard, to show up, to honor our promises. And I have been grateful at many points in my life for such early expectations.
I am grateful to have lived long enough to see the technological revolution and to enjoy everything from personal computers to virtual reality, tablets and smart phones, blogging and podcasting. I think sadly how much fun and how much opportunity my parents missed by dying in 1980 or even that Aunt Molly, who died in 2004, never lived to see and experience.
I am grateful just to be...grateful for each dawning day. I've always greeted a new day with gratitude -- probably since being terrorized by the childhood prayer "Now I lay me down to sleep" with its provision for "if I should die before I wake.." But this gratitude has a keener edge, a greater depth of knowing these days.
Only a few weeks ago, my husband Bob and I were talking with our friends Joe Shea and Marsha Morello in the supermarket parking lot, laughing, teasing, making plans to get together. Now sadly, so suddenly, Joe is gone and Marsha overwhelmed, devastated, by his unexpected death. It all started with a fall in his home, a broken hip, then a stroke as he lay in the hospital. And we are left longing to help her to heal and missing him so much.
I recently spoke on the phone with Ruth Woodling, my only surviving college roommate who is an attorney in Atlanta and just had a festive birthday. The other three -- Cheryl Rennix, Lorraine Scace and Lorie Caldwell -- died many years ago in youthful midlife. Speaking with Ruth and sharing our experiences reminded me how just much the other three, all wonderful, amazing women, have missed.
And there are other friends whose health is failing, who are nearing the end of life...and, even as we watch and hope for better days and more time for them, we're increasingly aware of the fragility of all our lives.
So each day that I wake up healthy, with energy and with hope, or, someday, a day when I simply wake up, is a day to give thanks.