It’s Thanksgiving Day tomorrow in the United States. Unsurprisingly, the evolution of its celebration has been shaped by our nation’s cultural dynamism.
Rooted in religious ritual imported by the initial European settlers, it was institutionalized by the constitutional congress, with specific declarations left to the individual states. During the Civil War, a national day of Thanksgiving was mandated. The holiday was annually proclaimed by every president thereafter until in 1941, the date was fixed as the fourth Thursday in November. What began as a day dedicated to pious reflection was leveraged to keep a nation upbeat during dire times, and is now marked by conspicuous consumption of food, beverages, football, and shopping.
My personal observation of Thanksgiving has likewise undergone worldview-driven change over the years.
As a child, given the “I, me, mine” world that I inhabited, when prompted by a parent as to what I was grateful for, the answer was superficially egocentric. My response might have been the reappearance of a feared-lost, favored Matchbox toy car or my recent prowess at playground kickball.
Once adulthood recalibrated my perspective, while still favoring a parochially inward focus, the objects of my gratitude became less immediate and more multilayered. I began to count blessings such as family, circle of friends, freedom, health, job, and income.
Then ALS commenced its unrelenting siege, disabling my gauges for appreciative joy and delight. In the face of such personal devastation, in what does one find gratification?
In my case, initially, nothing. My family and friends came to my rescue, demonstrating unflagging support — a reminder that even in the face of catastrophic loss, one still has gifts that merit thanks. From that nadir, the number of items for me to be thankful for slowly grew. Then, on the occasion of my stepdaughter’s graduation from high school, my list was subject to quantum expansion.
As I settled in to await the ceremony’s proceedings, I expected to be emotional, as I am at anything resembling or conjuring up images of a milestone event. Thanks to ALS, I experienced such events in classic bittersweet fashion — equal parts thankful to have survived long enough to witness them, but also mournful that my untimely death will deprive me of untold others. I braced myself for a series of speeches serving up wisdom that, given my circumstance, would be irrelevant to me. But one wasn’t.
The valedictorian had chosen “You only live once” (YOLO) as her theme. While that phrase had obvious cachet with the millennial subset of the audience, it resonated with me for two, likely different, reasons.
One, it ushered in the realization that I was no different than anyone else in attendance. We were all there to celebrate the occasion, yet none of us had any guarantee we’d be around for the next one. Suddenly I became aware that my sadness about my possible absence at future festivities was camouflaged self-pity over my mortality. With that, bitterness left the party, its void making way for total, savory sweetness.
Two, YOLO implies a call to live life to its fullest. Since my diagnosis, I had thought that was no longer possible. But at that moment, I had an epiphany. Sure, my ability to physically interact with the world had declined — and would continue to — precipitously. However, within the context of an eroding baseline, a “full” life is not only attainable, it’s the best medicine. What that meant for me was, on a go-forward basis, experiencing and enjoying every moment like never before, and offering the best version of myself in return.
From then on, I would be thankful for nearly everything.
I am thankful for the subtle and nuanced. A favorite metaphor of mine equates life to a tapestry. The back side appears to be nothing more than a jumble of thread — tangled, frayed, occasionally knotted, and seemingly random. Nothing really makes sense. But when turned over, the art is apparent — the rich colors, texture, and connectivity — all making a thing of astonishing beauty. I rejoice whenever my senses allow a glimpse of the proper side.
I am thankful for the many organizations that have aided and abetted my attempts to evade ALS’s custody. Here is a non-exhaustive list:
- Muscular Dystrophy Association
- ALS Association
- ALS Therapy Development Institute
- Northeast Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis Consortium
- Les Turner ALS Foundation
- ALS Untangled
- Patients Like Me
- Team Gleason
- ALS Worldwide
- Compassionate Care ALS
- ALS Foundation for Life
- Brigance Brigade Foundation
- ALS Guardian Angels
- Voice For Joanie
- A.L.S. Family Charitable Foundation
Most importantly, I am thankful for the people who make life a treat. From devoted family to foundational friends to cameo acquaintances — whether by grand gesture, prayer, affectionate touch, warm thought, or a simple smile — you enable and enrich my existence. The African philosophy of “umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu” or “I am, because we are,” completely applies to me.
Thanks to all, and thank God for you!
Note: ALS News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of ALS News Today or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to ALS.