It happened less than 30 minutes into a recent flight. Our plane hit some big-time turbulence, there was a loud bang, luggage compartments flew open and items fell out and we plummeted downward. More bumps rocked the plane side-to-side, each more violent than the one preceding it. Then, as suddenly as it started, the violent decline gave way to the climb back up and the ordeal quickly ended.
I looked at my watch. It was 6:57 a.m.
Regardless of the thousands of flights I’ve taken over the year, in the midst of the shaking, I was terrified. I was scared of the plane crashing. Scared of leaving my wife and kids too soon. Scared of leaving this earth with things undone, mission not yet accomplished.
But oddly, the most intense fear I had was the painful reality of how much I’d taken for granted.
As we returned to smoother air, I thought through all the little things I’d already experienced that morning that were worthy of being counted as gifts. From my alarm going off on time, turning on the shower faucet and having hot water come out, seeing my wife and children sleeping soundly, the car starting, getting through security quickly, the plane taking off on time and seeing a magnificent multi-colored sunrise…this all happened before the turbulence hit.
It dawned on me that I hadn’t noticed any of it, much less taken pause to be thankful for any of it. I didn’t contemplate that throughout the night my heart had beaten thousands of times. I hadn’t pondered the gift of a warm bed, my wife’s presence or my children’s health. I hadn’t paused to be in awe of the marvel of technology – or the grandeur of nature. And I hadn’t slowed down to be roused by the promise of the morning, the hope within a new day, the chance to do better, the opportunity to make a difference, to savor, to celebrate, to create, to experience. To live.
This momentary lapse of gratitude surprised me because I, of all people, should be grateful for every single minute of every day. You see, at age 9, I was burned on 100 percent of my body and expected to die. It was only through the overwhelming support of my family, the diligence of my medical team, love from the community and grace from God that I am still here today.
Yet, it is all too easy, even for me, to recognize what we have only after it has been taken away. Too frequently we finally realize how fortunate we once were only after our business enters a downturn, the relationship falls apart, the car won’t start, our child becomes ill, our world catches on fire, or the plane almost crashes.
This Thanksgiving, we should make it a point to slow down, take a deep breath and open our eyes, our ears and our hearts to the magnificence that is our lives.
We should allow the momentary turbulence we experience to awaken within us a profound sense of gratitude for all we have, all we’ve experienced, and all that remains possible going forward.
Things aren’t perfect. But our lives are precious gifts. Let’s be thankful for it.