If there's one thing for which triathlons and running have taught me to be thankful, it's the sheer resilience of our human body, fueled largely by our spirit. Each time I finish a triathlon or running race safely, particularly where someone else may not have been as fortunate, I give thanks. As I've mentioned, some triathletes drown during the swim; some are struck by cars while on riding their bike; and others, suffer from heart failure (due to pre-existing heart conditions) during the run. So yes, finishing an endurance event is something for which I am always thankful. What's interesting is that you can't be thankful for something unless you recognize that the subject of your gratitude could easily cease to exist. In other words, implicit in your gratitude is the recognition that others do not have the benefit of that for which you are thankful, or that someday, you may not have that benefit either.
We all know the story of the Pilgrims and the first Thanksgiving. But did you know that it wasn't until 1863, at the height of the civil war, that President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed Thanksgiving a national holiday? According to History.com, President Lincoln issued a proclamation challenging all Americans to ask God "to commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife," and to "heal the wounds of the nation." With that backdrop in mind, I also want to challenge you to try to extend your blessings this year to someone or something else. So here are some statistics worth thinking about to see how you can extend the blessings in your life...
- Veterans: Thankful for your American freedoms? Think about these statistics:
- 107,000: the number of homeless veterans on any given night, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. The National Coalition for Homeless Veterans ("NCHV") states that about 1/3 of the adult homeless population in the United States is veterans, with roughly 5% of those being female. In addition, about 1.5 million other veterans are at risk of becoming homeless because of poverty, lack of support networks, or poor living conditions. The NCHV also has a website for finding resources in your area to help the homeless veteran population, or you can call 1-800-VET-HELP.
- 6,319 and 47,061: according to the Department of Defense, the number of soldiers killed or wounded, respectively, in the three recent wars: Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation New Dawn, and Operation Enduring Freedom. In the wake of soldiers' deaths, spouses and children are left behind, and when wounded soldiers return home, they and their families (if they're lucky enough to have families) have a whole new world to which they must adjust. Organizations such as The Wounded Warrior Project and Children of Fallen Soldiers Relief Fund provide services for fallen and wounded veterans and their families.
- Homelessness: Thankful for a roof over your head? According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, approximately 1.6 million people in American from October 2009 to September 2010 were homeless. That organization also estimates that the homeless population could increase by 5% in the next three years due to the recent economy. For a directory of local homeless service organizations in your state, go to http://www.nationalhomeless.org/directories/directory_local.pdf
- Animals: Thankful for the food on your plate, or for the companion animal in your home? Think about where that food comes from or how many pets don't have a home. To quote President Lincoln again, "I am in favor of animal rights as well as human rights. That is the way of a whole human being." There is a YouTube video I recently watched that truly is worth 3 1/2 minutes of your time because it has some moving pictures, along with though-provoking quotes about our treatment of animals from famous people that span the centuries: Lincoln, Ghandi, the Dalai Lama, Albert Schweitzer, Leo Tolstoy, Leonardo da Vinci, Albert Einstein, Ziggy Marley, Ben Franklin, Pythagorus, and Thomas Edison. Here are some animal statistics to think about:
- 242 million: the number of turkeys raised to be eaten every year, according to the Animal Welfare Institute ("AWI"). Although giving up the turkey would be the best way to change that statistic, if you don't want to forego the turkey, consider one that has been humanely raised in accordance with AWI's Animal Welfare Approved Program rather than raised in the deplorable conditions of a factory farm. You can also sponsor a rescued turkey through the Farm Sanctuary's Adopt-a-Turkey program.
- 3-4 million: the number of animals euthanized at animal shelters each year according to the ASPCA. Why buy a dog or cat at a pet store, when you can adopt one at a local shelter and literally save a life. For a list of shelters in your area, see the ASPCA's shelter finder. With a little effort, you can even find a specialized breed in a shelter, or you can find a breed specific rescue organization.
What other ways can you think of to turn your gratitude outward rather than inward, and help bestow that for which you are thankful upon someone or something else? In what ways can you take President Lincoln's proclamation to heart, to heal the wounds of those around you?
Happy Thanksgiving to everyone!