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Finding gratitude, reframing stress and celebrating Thanksgiving

By Henry Howard

I was listening to a podcast the other day when one of the hosts was railing against November. He advocated, somewhat in jest, skipping the month and heading straight from Halloween into December.

What good is November, he asked, then focused on what he perceived as its negative characteristics such as being cold.

As someone with a November birthday, his shtick was unwelcome.

As a Scorpio, it pissed me off.

As someone who cherishes Thanksgiving, the tirade ran counter to why it’s my favorite holiday.

It’s not the food. I’ve adapted a plant-based lifestyle, and haven’t had turkey in several years. I’ll get my fill of sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, veggies and tofu this holiday.

For me, I look forward to the family gathering and gratitude at Thanksgiving. However, this year we’ll be breaking again from our traditional family gathering. Last year, it was due to the pandemic.

While COVID is less of a concern now, there are extenuating circumstances this year. And while those issues are stressful I’m choosing gratitude. It’s something that I’ve learned from running. When struggling during a long training run or race, it’s helpful to focus on the positive.

By changing how we perceive something like a rough patch in an ultra, we can overcome it and refreshen our overall outlook. We get the opportunity to run. We can find beauty in nature on the trails. We embrace the love of the ultra running community.

It’s not what is happening, but how we are processing what’s happening. When faced with a stressful issue, I’ve found that it’s helpful to reframe it to find gratitude. It works in running and managing life.

At Thanksgiving dinner, there will be a notable absent seat. My oldest son won’t be with us as he just started his first job post-college last month, 2,300 miles away. He’ll be missed but I am so thankful that he obtained the job he wanted and is well on his way to a successful life as an adult.

Meanwhile, my wife is handling the transition of her mother to independent living near us. It’s similar to the situation that I dealt with my dad. In both cases, they extracted themselves from family years ago, hoarded junk that filled their homes and made poor financial decisions.

The confluence of holiday celebrations, my son’s departure and the ongoing caretaking duties all represent life, in one way or another.

As we head toward the finish line of taking care of our aging parents and their dilapidated properties (and all the hoarding), it makes me think the "life is short" refrain is all wrong. Sure, it's short if someone with potential for greatness passes away early.

But as we age, it seems that we put off things, thinking there will be time for that later.

For years, my dad talked about visiting his few remaining states to hit 50. Instead of plotting travel itineraries, he created excuses. He will never finish that goal. My mother-in-law vowed to actively participate in the downsizing, including sorting through 50 boxes of books to pick out ones she truly wanted. Not one was touched. All the boxes are stacked in her new place, taking up valuable room.

Maybe life is neither short nor long, it is what we make of it, the people we inspire, the boundaries we push, the memories we make, the legacy we leave. And it is not the clutter that we collect, thinking that will bring meaning to our lives.

This Thanksgiving, I will be thankful for my family members, friends, the ultra running community and my health that allows me to pursue this passion. And while the day of giving thanks rolls around every November — which is an awesome month, by the way — I will strive to show my gratitude throughout the year.

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