In this month Americans dedicate to giving thanks, we'd all do well to feel (if not express) some gratitude for what we see in the mirror. This has nothing to do with how blue your eyes might be, or that rich chestnut color of your hair, but with the very fact you have someone looking back at you. Pardon the existential leap, but the odds were astronomical against you — or me, or any of your closest loved ones and friends — being here at all. Had merely a single ancestor of yours met a demise before procreating (or had he merely been too unattractive to find a partner in the first place), you are not before your mirror today. You won an evolutionary lottery, dear reader, the day you were born. (For a more expansive look at this neglected reality of the human condition, read Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything .)
Carnegie Mellon professor Randy Pausch gained international fame for his "Last Lecture," an appeal for his family, friends, and students to embrace the little things in life and, importantly, not to feel sorry for Pausch in his fight against terminal cancer. Pausch was genuinely thankful for the years (not quite 48) he was given and came to measure his impact not by the number of years, but by the fullness of each.
Pausch would surely join me in wondering why we must wait for mortality — standing before us all, however far away — to grip us in its unwieldy claws before we properly appreciate the days we have, before we say thanks for the only once-in-a-lifetime chance that really matters. Next time your day seems mundane, take a breath and be thankful for having that day. For the time will come when you'd love to have it back.
No less of a thinker than Albert Einstein had a firm grip on the simple, invaluable quality of living a day, year, and life well. "We act as though comfort and luxury were the chief requirements of life," he once said, "when all that we need to make us happy is something to be enthusiastic about." Whether your legacy is the theory of relativity, or a relatively thankless ripple in your own lake of existence, the impact is real. The world is a different place — let's hope, better — because you're here. Be thankful for that. Today.
And we can all use the reminder. Times are tough in America these days, even when hurricanes aren't bashing our shores or U.S. soldiers aren't dying overseas. It's easy to get caught up in what John McCain would call "whining": your investments are a fraction of what they were, your house is diminishing in value, your job is on the ropes, gas prices won't allow the annual vacation anymore. Whether it's McCain or Barack Obama who gets the nod this month to be our 44th president, Americans should be especially thankful simply for a new beginning next January 20th and the hope every beginning brings. But however bleak your current condition may seem — or perhaps the condition of a friend – the chance to be part of the solution, a variable in the equation for healing . . . this is a blessing. Be thankful for that. Today.
I recently had lunch with a friend who has been a lifelong Memphian, one who has gained a considerable measure of success in his field. But he helped redefine thanks for me when he summarized the gratitude he feels for his career to this point: "Every one of my clients," he told me, "would be welcome in my home for dinner." Consider that as your next deadline approaches, or your next sales call is made. It's one thing to build a client list and boost your profit margin. It's an entirely different success to call each of those clients your friends. Worth being enthusiastic about, I'd say, and considerable salve to the current woes with which so many American men and women seem consumed. Be thankful for the relationships that enrich your life. Each one is a blessing.
An inflated ego is ugly. Self-importance can clear a room real fast. But that's not to say we shouldn't be thankful for being in that room in the first place, thankful to be participants on this mortal coil, thankful to each and every one of our ancestors for staying just healthy enough (and with proper hygiene, to boot).
Life amid challenges can seem daunting. But it sure beats the alternative..