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Don’t forget tough times when giving thanks

Every year, toward the end of November, families all across the United States will gather around the dinner table and, if they’re doing their holiday due diligence, they’ll offer thanks for the various things that make a life worth living – family and friends, good health and food to eat, a home with a roof and a car that gets you to and from the job each day.

When I was a kid, we offered up our thanks from the inside of my mom’s mini van as it careened down the road toward Andalusia, where the majority of our family’s elders still live.

We were kids, so we offered up thanks for a multitude of insignificant and, well, childish things – our X-Men toys or a few days off from school, video games and chocolate bars – and though we’re no longer kids and we no longer make the trip to Andalusia, we strive to adhere to this one little tradition still.

We gather around the dinner table – my brother and sister, nieces and nephew, mother and any assortment of friends we’ve dragged along for the occasion – and one by one talk about the things in our lives that we’re thankful for.

And while those things worthy of thanks in our minds have matured – the health of our children, the safety of our families, the security of our careers – we’ve never offered thanks for the bad times, the times when we struggled to pay rent or put gas in the car, the times when we or our children were hospitalized, the times we were evicted or fired or heartbroken.

While the reasons for such an oversight are obvious, as there is hardly one among us who considers bad experiences something worthy of thanks, those tough times are when we become the people we’re meant to be and how we are capable of appreciating the good things that come our way.

Just as one could not enjoy the day if there was never a night, or enjoy the sunshine if there was never rain, tough times are a part of life and, without them, we would hardly be aware of all of the good in our lives.

If I had never been fired, I wouldn’t be as thankful for a good job; if I had never been evicted, I wouldn’t be as thankful for a safe home; if my son had never had to have open heart surgery, or I had never had to have a liver transplant, I wouldn’t be as thankful for his good health or my own; if I had never struggled to put food on the table, I wouldn’t be as thankful for a full refrigerator.

And while the contrast between light and dark, good and bad, is in itself an experiment in humanity, it is also a fact that we become stronger and wiser with each adversity we are able to conquer – should we not be thankful for that, thankful just as much for the hill as our eventual resting place atop it?

This holiday season, let us all have the fortitude of personality to look back at our lives and be thankful for the times when things didn’t go as planned – for burnt dinners and bad job interviews, for failed relationships and speeding tickets, for missed opportunities and bad decisions, for upset stomachs and headaches, for stress and anxiety and depression and the existential weight of the world bearing down upon already-weakened shoulders – not simply because they didn’t go as planned, but because they didn’t and we survived all the same to become better, fuller human beings.

I’m thankful for all of these hardships and the ones that have become so common to my experience that I hardly even notice them anymore – so, here’s to the bad times overcome and the worse times still to come.