The first time I was grateful involved a mouth and a couple of nipples. The last time was this morning, when I got out of bed and realized that nothing new today is sore or broken.

Outside the sky is a husky blue, like the mirror of a perfect sea. The sound of waves fills the air with the chanting of a lost choir. How far have they come? Perhaps once upon a time they lived thousands of miles away, in the fountains of youth, far away in some exotic land. And what about the sand, before it broke down into grits and grains that tickle me between the toes. Certainly not a noble end for titans of granite and stone that once adorned a king’s tomb. Maybe the seabirds sang for some royal court, the dune grasses danced in a giant’s beard. They must have lived in far grander times than these, before they fell down and died for our pleasure, for the call of the earth, for the shaping of the shore. (I should remind myself to be grateful for what they have become.)

This night is bitterly cold. Darkness has a hard edge, like the blade of a knife that goes on and on. The winds howl at the shadows, trees tremble in fear. We have huddled together, curtains pulled tightly against the glass. The night wails like the cursing of the devil, lights of the houses flicker. Something faceless and nameless sweeps through the empty shell of this black land, crushing virtue in its wake. A man can be dangerously tested if he pushes too far, his step becomes less secure. There is not enough courage in times like this for him to look straight ahead.

So now I sit in my chair and reach for the picture book, my constant source of quiet relief. I see pictures of my parents. I see my brothers and my long dead sister. How lucky I am to witness these memories. I’m so grateful they were in my life, even if now I’m nearly the last one. From within the circle of my mind I’m riding a bicycle for the first time, I’m driving a car. I found a pretty girl who gives me kisses. I found a dog that does the same thing. I see broken branches of trees we used to build our childhood forts; sand dollars and shells we glued in our books. I found that baseball card I was looking for. I got my first pocketknife for my birthday.

I nervously walked into my first classroom in September (when I was 6), I held my head high in June on the last one (and I was 18). I see my mother with flour up to her elbows, showing me how she makes bread. My camera points at rows of trees through the car window as my father drove us on vacation. My brother is laughing (he’s counted more out of state license plates than I have).

What a wonderful time it was to be alive! How fresh everything was, how deep the colors, how pure the sounds of birds. Everything changes, every day, whether they look the same or not. A woman’s face was a sonata, men are the brass band. How sweet are the memories of my life.

Everything is life, back then was life, now is life, my memories are being carved like notches on a tree. Who is to say my childhood memories are more dear to me than the memories of my wife touching my arm as we lie in bed. There’s no difference. All good things have value, and I’m grateful for every one.

Don’t be embarrassed about anything. Don’t hide your happiness. Lay down among the clover, walk along the shore; let the soft breeze of the sea whisper trinkets of love in your ear. Listen to the sound of the motor, the hum of the tune, to the upturned faces of every living thing. We’re all talking to one another (in our own way), we’re all waiting to see what each of us will do.

So now is the time of Thanksgiving, the season of blessing. We are surrounded by beauty. Every kiss, every hug, every long embrace, they’re each a Thanksgiving moment of quiet happiness. Every step outside, every glance at the earth and smile at the sky: they’re each a Christmas gift.

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