THANKSGIVING IN PERSPECTIVE
TURKEY? WHO, ME?
It's that time of the year when we stop to consider those things for which we are, or should be, thankful. For starters, I'm glad I'm not a turkey - at least, not the gobble, gobble type. I know there are some who think that word is completely appropriate when referring to me.
PAINFUL MEMORIES RECALLED
As some of you already know, four years ago I was sitting in a hospital at the bedside of my best friend since we were both five years old, overseeing his medical treatment following a horrendous motorcycle accident on a lonely desert road when he encountered a turn he didn't anticipate. So extensive were his injuries that we were not sure if he would make it to the next day. As it turned out, he spent six weeks in the Trauma Intensive Care Unit in a hospital in Las Vegas before finally succumbing to a blood clot that couldn't be dissolved due to the nature of his other injuries.
TIME FOR CONTEMPLATION
As I sat there, day after day, week after week, making decisions with the doctors who were orchestrating the delicate symphony of care necessary to try to bring my friend back to us, I had plenty of time to contemplate things that were important in my life. My friend was one of them - we had been best friends for 57 years. Each night I wrote an email message to a few friends, reporting on his condition. Eventually, those nightly messages took on a life of their own and were read by hundreds of people around the world. The response to those messages, which shared their own remembrances of our friend, only reinforced for me the value of true friendship.
Each night, as I tried to put a positive face on a terrible situation for those readers, my mind would turn to the many wonderful times I shared with my friend - the vacations with his family, the double-dates when we first got our driver's licenses, his leadership for athletic programs for the LAPD, of which he was a member for more than three decades. Even though his condition was bleak, we always hoped that he might recover from his injuries. In fact, the week before he died late in December we were making plans to move him closer to home in California for the long rehabilitation that was anticipated. Finally that darn clot got him and, standing in the doorway of his room watching a dozen skilled staff members try time after time to re-start his failed heart, I had to tell them to stop. My friend was gone.
Spending six weeks in and around an emergency room can change one's perspective on life. During that time I watched as some of the most tragic events you can imagine unfolded before me. For example, a Las Vegas firefighter who was injured in an accident as his truck responded to a call spent sixteen days in the unit as a quadriplegic until he transferred to a hospital in Houston that specializes in such injuries. Perhaps the most painful irony of his situation was that the call to which he was responding turned out to be a false alarm.
And there was the evening a young man was brought in after a bit of careless teenage driving caused him to crash his car into a wall. His best friend since kindergarten was a passenger and died after a couple hours of treatment in the room next to his. The young driver eventually recovered enough to leave the hospital, but he will live with the memory that he killed his friend for the rest of his life.
I was there the night a gang of thugs dragged the lifeless body of one of their homeboys into the unit, a victim of senseless gang violence, demanding that he be saved. They had already taken him to another hospital that had no emergency room. I watched for three days as this mob of miscreants milled around the waiting room as their friend's body was kept functioning with tubes and pumps. During that time I overheard angry conversations about "getting even" and, sure enough, a couple nights later a rival gang member was admitted near death from gunshot wounds. Eventually, the gang-banger's parents listened to the doctors and permitted him to be unplugged.
WHAT'S MY POINT?
So, what's the point of those grim stories? What kind of "Thanksgiving" message is this, anyhow? Through all that time - in the city I dislike most, where I was obliged to be a friend, a cheerleader, a gatekeeper and, eventually, god - those stories and others reminded me of just how lucky I am. I live in the best neighborhood in our city, have a wonderful wife who loves me, a family who supports me and loyal friends who tolerate me. For an old coot I'm in pretty good condition, except I'm built more for comfort than speed these days. I'm grateful every day for these treasures in my life. I'm thankful for those of you who read what I write - even those of you who don't agree with me and find creative ways to tell me so. Even when I'm dodging those slings and arrows, I'm a lucky guy.
So, as Thanksgiving Day approaches, I hope you will reflect on those things in your life that are really important. This holiday, which has become a celebration of football games and the triptophan-induced stupor from gorging ourselves on turkey, should mean more to us than a full stomach and glazed-over eyes. As you spend this holiday with family and friends - before you jam that first heaping fork full of gravy-soaked turkey and stuffing into your mouth - I hope you will quietly acknowledge your good fortune and make a special effort to tell those you love just how you feel. You just never know what kind of a curve you will find on the road ahead.