In a country as young as ours, few uniquely American holidays and traditions are as old and cemented in American culture as Thanksgiving.
First experienced over 100 years before we even became a country, it’s also fitting that this day to give thanks for our blessings was first acknowledged by President George Washington and made a federal holiday by President Abraham Lincoln.
These two most important leaders of our country understood the fundamental need to set aside aspirations, frustrations, dreams and ill-will to celebrate one another. Perhaps Washington and Lincoln themselves saw how fragile a free country can be, especially in time of war.
Having deployed to Iraq and again to Afghanistan as a Marine, I’ve seen what sacrifice means in the cause of preserving our freedom.
I’ve lost dozens of friends and I’ve lost much of my own body – giving up my legs above the knee and severely injuring my right forearm and both wrists when I was wounded in Afghanistan by an improvised explosive device in 2010.
Yet I have so much to be thankful for. Pain and adversity are constants in our lives. Diseases, bankruptcy, death, missed opportunities and broken hearts are some of the hardships we share by simply being human and alive.
As much as life throws at us there are a few things that remain true.
First, life is for the living. We owe it to those we’ve lost and those who will survive us to live and live well. To make a positive impact on those around us, and to carry the burdens we have with dignity and grace.
Second, perspective is key. It wasn’t my choice to have prosthetic legs to stand on, but the choice to stand again was 100 percent my choice.
We can’t control the cards we’re dealt or even the situations we find ourselves in, but we can control how we respond. We have the ability to focus on what we can control to overcome the things we can’t.
Third, we have a superpower. We have the power to change lives by simply telling others what they need to hear, when they need to hear it. Sometimes the person you need to talk to is the person facing you in the mirror. If you let them, people will help you. Don’t miss an opportunity to help them.
People will look at me and ask: “How do you stay so positive after you lost your legs?” And I’ll stare them back in the eyes and say “Well, I don’t know how you stay negative. You have yours.”
I’m thankful for so much in my life, perhaps first and foremost the fact I was born in a free and compassionate society. A country so brave it will stand up to the world’s villains, and so benevolent that the ruling power belongs to its citizens. Government serves the people in America – not the other way around.
This Thanksgiving I hope each of you reading this has many things to celebrate and be thankful for. But don’t forget to celebrate all of us – the American people.
If Memorial Day reminds us the cost of freedom, and Independence Day reminds us the struggle to obtain it, let Thanksgiving remind us why. Live your life and live it well. Happy Thanksgiving America. I’m thankful for you.