As I sit to type out this year’s Thanksgiving entry it occurs to me that I would never have considered doing such in my younger years. I don’t know if this is a sign that I appreciate life more in my maturity or if my focus on what’s of value has changed. Back in my 20s and 30s I always looked forward to Thanksgiving, but as a police officer I also knew it would be unique if I had the day off. More often than not I ate Thanksgiving dinner out of a Tupperware or Styrofoam container, charitably provided by a family in my jurisdiction or sent in with me by my in-laws. It’s been about 20 years since I had to eat a Thanksgiving meal seated in a patrol car and a lot has changed in those years. One of the biggest things that has changed is one of the things I am very thankful for.
My family has grown and I am thankful for every part of it. Let me look back 20 years and explain just how much it has grown… because it’s not “normal.” For those of you who didn’t know, I was an adopted child. I grew up with two sisters and the usual variety of aunts, uncles and cousins. In 2003 I found my biological family and was reunited with all of them in 2004. All of a sudden I had two more sisters and six brothers. I had more aunts, uncles and cousins – so many more that I still can’t tell you who all of them are. That was a major change in “family” for me. In 2006 my two oldest children graduated high school and both went into the military. Both got married while serving and now have two children each of their own. My son-in-law, my daughter-in-law and all four grandchildren are all part of the family growth and I certainly am thankful for them all. My younger daughter graduated two years later and has married and has two children now as well; another son-in-law and two more grandchildren for me to be thankful for.
Of course, every day I am thankful for my wife and her tolerance. She is a hard working woman and a shining example of what a strong work ethic looks like. For all that, she’s a great grandma, a wonderful mother and a good friend to many. As we have spent the past couple years learning what it’s like to be married without any children (because we never were until our youngest went off to college), she’s embraced being a “newlywed” wife and seems to appreciate the fact that I do my best to spoil her on a regular basis.
Out of all of that, I am also reminded that my children are all intelligent, healthy and have warm hearts. I am thankful that my relationship with them is such that we can hold disagreeing opinions about a variety of things but we never get angry with each other and are never insulting. I have learned as much from them as I believe I ever taught them and I am thankful for the fact that they are capable of holding intelligent and respectful conversations, allowing room for differing points of view but still holding their own values and beliefs with conviction.
Past my family, I am thankful for having lived the life I have so far and the opportunity to do even more with whatever life I have left. Having talked to so many people during the course of my police, instructor, coaching and counseling careers I am all too aware of the regrets people have. I think having regrets is unavoidable in life, but I also believe that dwelling on them is a waste of time and emotional energy. Are there things in my life I would change if I could? No. I know that comes as a surprise to many, but I am quite delighted with where I am in life right now. Every decision I made… every action I took… every good choice, bad choice, whatever… it all put me right where I am now and if I went back to change any of it, it would inevitably change where I am. I am not willing to give up any of what I have now to go back and change something I THINK would have made my life better. I’m not that much of a gambler and I am quite honestly not willing to risk sacrificing anything I currently enjoy in my days.
Plus, I have much to look back on and be thankful for. I had the blessing of a quite disparate childhood. I went from being a toddler in the Appalachian Mountains who reportedly enjoyed camping and fishing to being raised by a “city” boy and his southern wife in the suburbs of Washington DC. I don’t think either of them really knew what to do with the headstrong and hyper-active child that I was but they did the best they could within their own beliefs and values. None of us is perfect, but if we’re really cognizant of what’s learned from our individual imperfections, even challenges become learning points. I was blessed to attend private schools and get a great educational foundation. I was blessed to be able to serve in our nation’s Army as a Military Policeman and it’s a fraternity (both veteran and MP) that I’m proud to belong to. I am blessed to have been a police officer in Maryland for better than three decades now. I am blessed to have been a police instructor in Maryland for three decades this year. I am blessed to have become a published author two decades ago and to have continued that career path as well, now making my living as an editorial director for a company that focuses on law enforcement topics.
As a teenager I knew that I wanted to do three things in my life: I wanted to be a police officer; I wanted to be a police trainer; and I wanted to be a writer. By the time I had reached the age of 35 I had accomplished all three. How many people can say that? I am thankful to be able to say I did. On the professional side of my life, while it’s not been pristine, it’s been accomplished and recognized. My personnel folder holds 19 commendations and now, semi-retired, I’m thankful I can continue to serve my brothers and sisters in the Thin Blue Line family by sharing contemporary information that I hope helps them do their job in a professional and safe fashion.
When I was waiting to meet my birth mother in 2004 I had prepared a document that detailed what I had done with the life she gave me. Part of that document included things like rappelling out of helicopters, scuba diving on ship wrecks, delivering babies (twice on the street), raising babies (three of my own) and more. It occurred to me as I was preparing that document that so many accomplishments people succeed in are completely taken for granted simply because so many people have done them. Take raising babies. Sure, it’s something people have done for tens of thousands of years… but do you raise (did you raise) your babies the same as the couple next door? Or down the street? Where I sit as I type this I can see two different homes wherein live relatively young couples with pre-adolescent children. Both have different approaches to how they raise their children and both are different than how I raised mine. “Raising babies” doesn’t just mean getting them alive to adulthood but involves how you interact with them, discipline them, teach them values and basic belief structure; how you teach them courtesy and respect as well as giving them a sense of self-value and the skill of demanding self-respect within reason. My four children are all good people with good moral and ethical values that go hand in hand with their compassionate hearts. They are all good parents and successful, productive members of society. I’m not bragging because a lot of people can say the same thing, but that’s a far cry from the absentee parents who are delighted their kids aren’t in jail or on drugs… as far as they know.
So, in addition to my family and the blessings of my children, there are plenty of other things I’m thankful for each day – or at least I try to be thankful for them each day. In today’s too-often over-stressed world, it’s easy to be grumpy about a few specific things and forget about the greater blessings.
I am thankful for each day I wake up. It’s funny to me that we all go to bed each night and set an alarm for the next morning – that’s faith that we’ll wake up and hope for another day bundled in one. Then in the morning we grumble about the alarm clock going off. It’s a new day; a day no one is guaranteed. I try to wake up and make my first thoughts that I’m happy to have woken up at all; that I am conscious and coherent (that gets more rare as people age); that nothing hurts (unless I’ve been in bed so long that my muscles are stiff). Another new day is another new opportunity – for what and with how much motivation, I get to decide.
As I move through each day, like everyone else, I face challenges. Rather than complaining about them, I try to see the blessing in them. A challenge is an opportunity to learn and grow; to develop strength and find a new approach to whatever problem has presented itself. Instead of complaining about the things that happen to inhibit my plans for each day, I try to focus on the chance to grow and improve myself. (I often fail, but I keep trying.)
I am thankful that as I have matured a little bit, I’ve learned to embrace parts of my personality that used to worry, bother or scare me. In my late teenage years and early twenties, I was concerned about some of the outlooks I had, my levels of compassion, the cause of my outlooks, etc. I was worried that I wasn’t a good enough person. As I’ve gained education, life’s experience and the wisdom that comes with the combination thereof, I’ve realized that the part of me I used to worry about is perfectly okay. It’s nothing to be worried about. In fact, it’s a necessary and integral part of my personality makeup; it’s a valuable part of my character. It’s a GOOD thing. I’m thankful to have it and to have integrated it, without issue(s), into who I am day to day for my own betterment.
I am thankful each day for the people in my life… even if I don’t really like some of them very much. I wake up each day next to my wife who has (mostly) pleasantly tolerated me for well over 25 years now. This year we celebrated our 25th anniversary and while it wasn’t the event I had hoped to make it, it was still a special event that put a big smile on her face and gave us more memories that will cheer us into our older years. I am thankful for my children, even they all live far away and I rarely get to see them. They are good people; they have families and friends of their own; they love each other and have caring hearts. They are people of good morals and positive intentions in all they do. I am thankful for the friends I have both near and far. Near is in my same neighborhood. Far is on the other side of the world. Yet thanks to the wonders of the Internet and Social Media, my friends around the world can still impact my life day to day with a positive word, a humorous outlook or an uplifting thought. I am thankful for competent workmates. Too many people work with lazy people and it makes their jobs miserable. I am blessed to work from home (my workmates are probably thankful they don’t have to share an office with me each day) and while I may not LIKE some of my workmates very much, I cannot deny that they are competent and motivated. They do their jobs as best they can.
I am thankful that my life’s circumstance allows me to be optimistic and positive each day. Yes, it’s possible to be that way even if your life is miserable, but it’s far easier if life isn’t terrible to wake up to each day. My outlook is such that I believe it’s far better to be optimistic and positive, and to focus on the good in each day or the good I can at least try to accomplish, rather than focusing on the negative. Time and again, health studies have shown the positive impact having a cheerful outlook can have as compared to having a negative one. I value my health too much to let it be negatively impacted by being grumpy or unhappy all the time. I’m thankful that I’ve found a way to see the good in each day, in each situation, in each moment (as much as I can) rather than constantly finding something to complain about. I know people who just don’t seem able to do anything but see the challenges and negatives in life. I know a woman who seems bound and determined never to be healthy. Every time her doctor guides her to fixing one ailment she finds another one to embrace. She seems to have conditioned herself to face each day as a challenge to simply live with a health challenge. I can’t help but wonder if some of those health challenges wouldn’t go away, or not even show up, if she woke up and decided to embrace the day for whatever it brought her way; to have fun; to enjoy her husband’s company and to live life to the fullest she could. I’m sure she shakes her head at me sometimes and wonders what’s wrong with me that I simply don’t understand how difficult her life is. Perspective matters. I’m thankful I don’t have her outlook or face her challenges.
I am thankful that I can go to bed each night with my soul at peace. I am far from perfect (all my family and friends will attest to that with a huge smile on their face) but I try to be a better me each day. I try to improve myself and more importantly, to me, I try to do something each day that improves someone else’s life. I try to help people be healthier, both in mind and body. I try to share valuable and educational material. I try to offer a kind word and cheerful smile to most folks I run into each day. I try to live showing common courtesy to many and it still surprises me when others are surprised to be shown that common courtesy. We need more of it in the world. I’m not as charitable as I could be, but I do try to “pay it forward” and I keep my karmetic balance in mind (how much positive vs negative energy I’ve got in my karma bank). Going to bed each night with your soul at peace is a huge blessing, but it takes work. I’m thankful to be able to do the work; to have the outlook to do the work; to have the energy to invest in the work; and to get a word of appreciation back every now and then.
Enjoy your Thanksgiving and please give some thought to what you are thankful for; especially those parts of your lives… the “things” that can’t be bought. Happiness doesn’t come off a store shelf; it comes from inside a soul. Sometimes that soul is yours and sometimes it’s someone else’s. If YOUR soul generates enough positive energy, you’re helping increase happiness inside others. THAT is a worthy goal in life and a fantastic way to live.