Thanksgiving. It has such a different meaning to me now than it did in years past. Change breeds complacency, or it breeds opportunity. Change is dependent on how we see and interpret things differently; do we welcome or resist the innovation of a new perspective? I have always been accepting of change, but it’s often life altering events that lead to seeing life through a new and different set of lenses. We can often take this new perspective and learn from it, or we can avoid altering our openness to change and maintain habits that become archaic and antiquated. I changed my understanding of “Thanks” in Thanksgiving about 6 years ago.
2013 Thanksgiving became instantly different to me than it had prior. I had 2 options; embrace the change, or resist it. I embraced, and never looked back. Growing up I loved Thanksgiving. My family would go to my cousins home in West Nyack, NY and the whole family would be there. It was an annual event that we always looked forward to. It was tons of family, food, and football; it was really like a family dinner that Thanksgiving gave us the reason for having. We would all say what we were thankful about, but to me it wasn’t really about the holiday; it was about family.
I always correlated the holiday to the Pilgrims and turkey. As I started to get older, had a family, I started to see why others looked at Thanksgiving differently. It became more about appreciation and thankfulness on a personal level than the actual holiday. It may have been based on a historic event, but I started to make it more about what I was thankful for, as opposed to thankful for what happened in the past. I was appreciative of all that happened, but it was a way to share thanks and love with what was present at that moment.
As I often say, we learn some of the greatest lessons in life at the deepest and darkest of times. We find strength, we see realness, and we have a better understanding of how precious our limited time is when we are faced with battles and take on scars. In 2013 my view of Thanksgiving changed. Earlier that year I had been diagnosed with brain cancer, Grade 3 Astrocytoma. That summer I went through chemotherapy, radiation, and life changed drastically. I lost weight, I lost my hair, I lost the ability to taste any food. I wasn’t upset, I wasn’t scared, I was THANKFUL. Thankful to see my family, thankful to hug my kids, thankful to appreciate life and live in the moment. I was thankful for the lessons cancer gave me. I didn’t take the fragility of life for granted any longer. This was my journey, my time, my holiday. I owned it, and I would never give it back.
In 2019, my understanding and acceptance of thanks continued to get deeper. This year, I am thankful for life; thankful for my family; thankful for my friends and loved ones; I am thankful for the gifts that I TOOK from cancer; I am not thankful I went through this, but it’s the hand of cards I was dealt. I will never fold, I have the HEART OF A LION and THE FIGHT OF A WARRIOR; I am thankful for being present in my children’s lives, for trying to always appreciate our moments together that don’t come often enough; I am thankful to have the greatest, strongest wife in the world; I love you Rebecca and all you do and have done for our family. You are the stronger one of the two of us; I am thankful “Starting at the Finish Line” and my speeches connect so deeply with so many people; I am thankful my catharsis for dealing with all I have been through helps, supports, and inspires others; I am thankful to all who have read and shared my book, my speeches and interviews; I am thankful to let others know they are not alone on their journey, and we are all a family of Warriors.
I can’t wait until Thursday; Turkey, Football, and Family. Embrace change; look at life differently, appreciate these moments as they are few and far between. Share stories of inspiration and change with others and see how it feels when others are thankful towards you. I get it every day, and I am thankful it has changed my life and made me a better person.