Thursday, November 28, 2013

Thanksgiving 2013 - A Rough Beginning, A Better Ending

As I sit here preparing to share Thanksgiving with my family, I have time alone and was reflecting on the year so far.  2013 began with such promise (don't they all?) as we watched the Swarovski crystal ball drop in Times Square on New Years' Eve.  I was home in Alabama and in only a few days would be leaving for Florida to watch my beloved Crimson Tide compete for another BCS National Championship.  I'd be going there with my daughter - one of the two important ladies in my life that shared my passion for Alabama football.  My wife was unable to travel and sit that long as she was disabled, her body attacked by severe fibromyalgia.  While nothing would have made her happier than to be in the stands, she was disappointed but still wanted me to go.  Brittany and I went to the game and, as we all know (because I make no secret of sharing it constantly), Alabama spanked Notre Dame 42-14 to win consecutive crystal trophies.  It was amazing....and something I wouldn't trade as an experience.  It was only two short months later, though, that 2013 began to turn for the worse.  In early March of this year, my wife passed away at home.  It was sudden and unexpected.  It was a time that, through the coming weeks and months, was the starting point for the year that seemed would never end.  In the following weeks and months, it seemed the only news I got was of another friend or family member of friends passing away unexpectedly.  Suffice it to say, I started to believe 13 is, in fact, a very unlucky number.

Over the past few weeks, I have seen many people on social media sites posting the reasons they are thankful.  Some are doing it on a daily basis and numbering them - "Day One - I am thankful for my kids.  Day Two - I am thankful for my job. Day Three - I am thankful for my friends," and so on and so on until they are finally reaching for things to be thankful for. "Day 26 - I am thankful for the wind and the grass and the....."  You get the idea.  Others are writing a long post about the reasons they are thankful.  Some (SO annoying) are even writing a blog post.  Wait...what?  Yeah, yeah....please keep reading?  So here I am reflecting on the reasons I am thankful and came to the amazing realization that my reasons are all....people.  I mean, I'm thankful for many reasons but, ultimately, it all comes down to people.  I know all of us have, at some point in time, been touched by the loss of a loved one.  When it happens unexpectedly, we tend to look inward and reevaluate our lives, what we've done, are doing, and can do.  We question how we want to be remembered and how we want to touch the lives of others.  Been there, done that - believe me.  One of the things I also came to terms with was how I treat people and how little, truly, the everyday things don't matter in the big scheme of things.  If you think it really matters that your child broke your grandmother's vase, try to remember that, in about 60 or 70 years, it won't be such a big deal.  It may be difficult at first, but trust me, you'll get over it.  So, as is typical of my posts, you're starting to wonder where this is going.  Well, I'm trying to say, "Thank you...and I am thankful for you."  Never at a loss for words, I'm about to become more specific.  In light of all that has transpired, it's important to me to say these things, you know...'just in case' I don't have the chance in the future.  If I do, great.  If not, they'll have been said...and THAT will make me feel better.  So why am I thankful and who are these people?

First, to my family - my mother, grandmother, sisters, brother-in-law, step-mother and daughter - I am thankful for all of you first and foremost.  There are also many cousins, aunts and uncles - I am thankful for you as well.  My grandmother, who has battled breast cancer not once but twice, is the rock of our family.  She did the 'single parent' thing long before it was as common as it is today.  She helped raise us while mom was in college and then, after her graduation, my grandmother was always there for us.  My mother, whom I have said repeatedly was a 'one woman show', was the lady that gave us our values and taught us about life.  She worked hard to provide for us so that we had what we needed...and more.  She is a brilliant woman with a sense of humor that showed us what it meant to be a friend and care for family.  My sisters are both hard-working women that I love dearly, and I wouldn't trade the time I get to spend with either of them or their families.  My brother-in-law is someone I rarely get to spend time with, as is my step-mother, yet they are both invaluable to me.  They are both only ever a phone call away should I need anything.  My daughter is the girl I am watching become a lady.  She has a deep compassion for others and a sense of humor that is quick and unparalleled.  I am amazed at her daily....and so incredibly grateful I get to share any and every part of her life.  She is my lasting legacy and of that, I am proudest.  I could not and would not be who I am today were it not for all of you.  I love you, appreciate you, and I am proud of each of you.

Next, I am appreciative and thankful for my friends I have known for years.  Those from 'the old days' that I grew up with, went to school with, shared families with.  It's rare, I think, to have reached the age of (almost) 52 and to have friends that I can say I've been close to for 47 of those years.  These are people that, to this day, will welcome me home when coming back to the town where I grew up, and sit for hours sharing meals and adult beverages talking about everything and nothing.  We spent many hours together as kids and, though there are some that were only acquaintances during those years, I have gotten to know them 'again' and appreciate the people they've become and their lives. We are in the process of planning our 35th Class Reunion and the one recurring theme as we've planned has been, "We never really knew each other in high school, but now...".  It's been fun getting to know and appreciate these people.  They are all good people that have grown into their own lives, and sharing our collective stories has been amazing, interesting, and fun.  How much better would it have been if we hadn't had the 'cliques' that are inevitable when you're a teenager?  I am thankful for all of you...and want to know and hear more.  We need to get together more often.

I am also thankful for, and appreciative of, the people I have gotten to know through my job and profession.  I've worked for only a few companies in my 28 years in the industry.  10 years with the first company, 8 with the second, now 10 with my currrent employer.  I remain friends with a select few that I met with the first company as we've watched our familes grow, watched as kids have gone off to college and gotten married and, sadly, have watched some die.  I am thankful for these people because, though the years have passed, they have remained a constant and I know they will always be woven into the fabric of my life.  They are part of me and whom I have become.  Over these past 10 years I have met even more people, some who are now competitors, of whom I am thankful.  When my wife passed away, I expected (as is standard) a flower arrangement or sympathy card from the company and my 'work family'.  What I got instead was nothing short of absolutely amazing.  To see people coming to support me from all corners of the country, literally, moved me in ways you can only imagine.  These are the people with whom I spend more than 1/3 of my life now, and to know I can pick up the phone at any time and count them as friends, too, makes me incredibly thankful.  They have been there in my darkest hours, as well as my best days...and without them, life would be much less enjoyable, fun, and amazing.  To name all of the people that I am truly thankful for would entail listing names that would exceed what I've written so far.  I thank you all and hope nothing but the best for you and your families always.

Lastly, I am thankful for the 'family' I have come to know in Alabama.  My neighbors and close friends that were there, and remain so now, when things changed so very drastically.  The people that supported me with their kind words and gestures, that take care of pets when I travel, that never hesitate to stop what they are doing to come say hello when we see each other.  The people that are with us, too, in Tuscaloosa when we tailgate.  It restores my faith in people to know there is still much good in the world, and to know these people is to love them.  We read stories and see it on the news daily about the downward turn of society and how people care less than they did in years gone by.  If these people are any indication, I can honestly say that 'southern hospitality' is alive and well, as is love kindness, caring, and compassion.  They are truly amazing and I feel blessed, and am a better person, for knowing them.  You are there for me daily and I am so very thankful for you all.   

Shortly before finishing this, I got a note from my daughter.  One of her high school classmates was killed in a car accident last evening.  That news reiterates what I was saying - I cannot wait for this year to end.  It brings echo to the sentiment we should all remember - "Tomorrow is promised to no one."  If I have been remiss and not specifically named any group of friends, please know it is not intentional.  It's because it is Thanksgiving morning, I'm getting old and the memory is shot, and there is cooking to be done.  I'm supposed to be showering so I can help, as well as the fact that there is a parade on television.  I've got to go and, if you're reading this, well.....I am thankful for that, too.  Please know that, while I am still hoping this years ends quickly and on a better note, I am thankful for everyone in my life.  While we are pulling for the beloved Crimson Tide to win an unprecedented third straight National Championship, people ROCK...and I am a better person, truly blessed, because of you.  May you and your families have nothing but the best and, as you sit around the table this Thanksgiving day, take the time, if even only quietly and to yourself, to appreciate each and every person there with you.  God Bless all of you...thank you again.

Until next time..........................