Although we don’t tend to think about it much, our lives are full of traditions. We inherit them from our families without thinking about it. We learn them as young children and then either look forward to them as we get older or dread them; one or the other. How we celebrate holidays is usually traditional, although the “traditional” may vary from one family to the next.

In my family, when I was growing up, the traditional Thanksgiving meant every family member within driving distance traveling to a relative’s house for a day of talking, eating, drinking, football watching and… lethargy.  If you were under (roughly) fifteen years old, you sat at ‘the kids’ table.’ If you were older than that, you got to sit at the adult table. At the kids’ table you could get away with more because the adults were busy chattering away and passing the bottle of Chianti one of my uncle’s made. He even grew his own grapes.

As I grew older – as all of us do – my traditions changed due to circumstance. When I was in the Army, going home for holidays wasn’t always a possibility. When I was working the street as a police officer, being home for a holiday ALL day was rarely a possibility.  As a result of circumstance, new traditions were created. On Halloween, for instance, it became traditional for me to take my kids out trick-or-treating in full uniform (me) and then going to work the street.

In today’s world of so many ‘broken’ families, how parents get time with shared children also mandates new traditions.  The kids end up with a traditional Christmas Eve at one parent’s house, and then an early transportation and Christmas morning at the other parent’s house (sometimes).  Each family works out for itself how the holidays will happen and what is acceptable. The ‘acceptable’ often becomes the new tradition.

So, why am I babbling about tradition this Thanksgiving morning? Because I’m being slapped in the face with the creation of a new one.  You see, today – for the first time in nineteen years – my wife and I are celebrating Thanksgiving with none of our children at home. With our youngest now in college – and closer to one of his sibling’s house than ours – he’s there for the long holiday weekend. My wife works in retail management and, also for the first time for as far back as I can remember, she’s off today. For whatever unknown reason I was wide awake well before dawn this morning and found myself contemplating the holiday and traditions.

Each Thanksgiving I tend to reflect on what I have to be thankful for. That’s what the holiday is all about, right? Focusing on our blessings and offering up thanks (to whatever higher power you believe in) for the ones we have? I recently had a friend comment on how difficult the holiday would be for my wife and I because we’d ‘have an empty nest’ for Thanksgiving.  I’ve been thinking about that and although I miss all my children, I’ve decided things could be far worse.

No, I won’t have my children here for Thanksgiving this year. Being completely selfish, one upside to that is that I don’t have to spend the day cooking mounds of food to feed what would amount to thirteen people if everyone was here. Instead, my wife and I only need to cook enough dinner for she and I, and knowing what we have planned, we’ll still have plenty of leftovers. I only have to bake one pie – and it’ll last us three days as dessert. Beyond the impact on food, what other blessings do I count this Thanksgiving?

Still thinking about my children, I count all four of them as a great blessing.  I often joke that they are my only hope of getting into heaven because sometimes I feel like they’re the only thing I did right (and not that 100%). So many parents have adult aged children with challenges and problems today. I don’t mean ‘money is tight’ kind of problems. I mean heroin addiction, criminal conviction, unemployment, can’t pay their bills kind of problems. I know a family that is challenged this Thanksgiving with having multiple family members in the hospital as the result of a car accident, and they are challenged to see the blessing in the fact that their family members are alive at all and fighting to heal. I remind myself that there are circumstances far worse than not being able to see my children in person on Thanksgiving. I know they are all healthy. I know they are all financially stable. I know they are all growing and raising families of their own. Just last month my family grew by the addition of another granddaughter and it will grow again in February with the addition of another grandchild.

Health; happiness; financial stability; emotional support – some of the greatest blessings anyone can ask for or enjoy. I have it in droves.  Sure, winning a billion dollar lottery would be nice, but I wouldn’t trade any of my family or health for it.  God only knows what I’d do with that much money but I’d surely have a harder time staying out of trouble.

Too often I think we get bogged down thinking about the challenges of the modern world. I think we let day to day challenges overshadow the true value of the blessings we have in our lives; and sometimes those blessings are actually blessings for our children or grandchildren.

No, I won’t get to hug any of my children today.  Each of them will hug someone else that they love.  Three of the four will enjoy being called “mommy” or “daddy,” and the fourth will certainly enjoy being called “uncle” until it starts to tug on his last nerve. None of them will be alone at the dinner table and neither will I or my wife. None of my children or grandchildren is fighting to stay alive. They are all healthy (although several could use a better exercise program).

Thanksgiving isn’t all that complicated. Sure, we can get bogged down in logistics and planning and we can allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by crowds of family.  I encourage you to take a minute to yourself. Go hide in the bathroom if you must. Think about the blessings you have in your life. If your life is full of challenges, find ONE thing that you are thankful for, even if it’s this: You’re alive. You woke up above dirt today. You have another opportunity to overcome anything you face and to make the day a good day. Find a way to have a positive outlook and appreciate everything you can. When you get to the dinner table tonight, pray your thanks honestly.

If your family has a tradition of going around the table and everyone saying at least one thing they are thankful for, remember that you can always be thankful to take your next breath. But look around you if you’re not alone.  Every person around you is someone you can be thankful for. I will miss having those family members around my table today – but I’m thankful life is moving forward as it should and each of them is surrounded by people who love them.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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