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My little list of gratitude

About thirty-five years ago just before Thanksgiving, I was overcome with gratitude.

In fifth grade at the time, it occurred to me, as I reluctantly cleaned my basement bedroom before company came, how utterly lucky I was.

I mean, what were the chances of being born into the right religion, in the right country, in the best state, in the right town, into the proper political party and at the right time?

Even if the littlest thing had changed, my life would have been a disaster.

I could have ended up born in Bangladesh. Or Blackduck. What would have come of me then?

Born one year earlier or later and I would have been in the wrong class at school, stuck with friends who were obnoxious and uncool.

Born twenty years earlier, I would have been condemned to grease my hair and wear stupid glasses. I would have had to wear boring white shirts, not the sexy silky plastic shirts with farm scenes painted on that were just coming out in 1975.

What if I had been born Catholic? Or Lutheran? Or Hindu? How long would it have taken me to discover the truth?

What if I had been born into poverty in Mexico City? What if I had to go to bed in a shack every night like those poor kids in National Geographic?

What if my parents had been mean? What if they had given me up for adoption and I ended up in a commune in California?

What if I had been born in Russia and was forced to be a communist?

Mom came downstairs to see how I was progressing on my room, so I bounced the questions off her. "I suppose that's something to think about," she said, before she asked whether the mounds of clothing on the floor were clean or dirty.

Mom knew that, like most fifth graders, when it came time for me to clean my room or mow the lawn or burn the garbage, my mind drifted off into great philosophical questions.

"Okay now, get busy," she said, hinting that if my room didn't get cleaned up soon, she might send me off to a commune in California.

My list of things for which to be thankful has matured over the decades, but not much. If you dig down a little my gratitude list would still be a version of, "Boy, am I ever glad I am me and not you!"

We get more diplomatic over the years, but our basic conviction that we're the brightest and the best doesn't change.

That's why we like when our teams win the state title: Finally, the rest of the world must acknowledge our superiority -- at least over the twenty-three other schools in Class AAAAA.

We've know we were the best for decades, but that peeling billboard north of town celebrating the 1979 State Girls Basketball Championship provides eternal proof.

One thing has changed with age: I am ever more grateful for things I don't have.

For instance, right now as I am typing this column, I do not have an abscess tooth.

Before I ever had an abscess tooth, I didn't know how miserable an abscess tooth could be. Oh, man. Before that thing got pulled, every little bump in the road made it howl.

What I would have paid at that time just to not have an abscess tooth.

Well, today I do not have an abscess tooth. And that is worth something.

Every morning when I wake up, I am grateful that the dreams I was just having were just dreams.

No, I am not clinging to a window sill on the top floor of a skyscraper. No, I am not back in high school and flunking. No, I am not clothed only with a little blanket in a gym full of people.

Given all the things that could go wrong, just waking up to a normal, boring, fully-clothed day is something for which to be thankful.

So, gratitude becomes easier with age. The young are grateful for being so great. Those a little older and wiser are just glad they aren't in the news for doing something stupid.

Eventually, you're just happy not to be in Area Deaths.