Carnett: A journey to thankfulness

Thanksgiving is a time for introspection.

I wrote the following essay in November 1993. It was a momentous period in my life and the essay was intended to be reflective and cathartic. It went unpublished.

The piece remained as a "Memo to Self" on my computer hard-drive for two decades. I re-read it several days ago for the first time in 19 years and found it germane to my life today — though, obviously, much has transpired since its writing.

Much also remains the same.

Since '93, my wife, Hedy, and I have been blessed with eight grandchildren. Our lives have been enormously enriched. The family also remembers a tragic loss. All things considered, we remain deeply grateful.

Here goes:

I'm selfish, and it's a trait I deplore. I'm too self-absorbed — too "busy" — to notice the needs of others.

This statement is not an insincere mea culpa — it's fact.

Fortunately, I've been treading a road in recent years that has led me to the brink of acquiring a fragile appreciation for the needs of others. I am thankful for this journey.

A decade-and-a-half ago two colleagues, quite independently, commenced a campaign to win me to their particular faith.

Though wary of "street-corner evangelists," I was, surprisingly, not offended by their actions. They were my close friends, though operating in different spheres of my life, and appeared motivated by the best of intentions. The fact that they led commendable lives, animated by their faith, impressed me.

Working unintentionally in concert with each other, they recounted the sublime story of one who put aside his divinity to become a human sacrifice.

"Your life can be changed," my friends assured.

I wasn't certain I wanted that.

"You can be confident of your eternal salvation," they urged.

At 30, eternity seemed very far off.

"You can discover a peace that surpasses all understanding," they pledged.


Peace. That's what I needed! I was a self-absorbed young fellow riding the pitching deck of a career that filled me with both excitement and trepidation. "Inadequate" was my middle name.

We talked for months. Finally, after more than a year of self-examination, I accepted my creator's invitation. With halting steps, I've walked by his side ever since — rather, he's walked by my side. Slowly — imperceptibly — the rough edges of my selfishness and conceit have been wearing away.

This year tragedy struck our family, calling into question my spiritual certitude. In the cruelest of blows, my 25-year-old son was killed, the victim of a drunk driver. My boy preceded me into death. That's not supposed to happen. Suddenly, eternity looms near.

A ringing telephone jarred me awake that night. With it, came the horrible news. Shock and disbelief set in. Reflexively, I dropped my head in prayer.

Tears flowed in the days ahead. Self-control, long my strong suit, became a memory. The routine and order of our lives was rent asunder.

Arrangements had to be made. The family grieved.

The flood of condolences that came from hundreds who elected to stand beside us and share our pain overwhelmed me. Their heartfelt expressions humbled and amazed me.

Seven months later, I continue to deal with feelings of loss and guilt. Grieving, for us, is not over. (2012 update: And it won't be this side of eternity.)

But — and I'm incapable of fully understanding this — I feel a thankfulness today that is greater than what I've ever experienced before. A thankfulness directed toward God and my community.

I'm grateful to my Heavenly Father for his love and enduring presence. I thank him for my son, who taught me lessons about tolerance and compassion.

I am thankful for my three daughters, who love me unconditionally. I'm thankful for my wife, who's been with me every step of the way. I'm thankful for my parents, who in many respects have suffered the most.

And, I'm thankful for the friends who showered us with compassion and love.

Cultivate thankfulness in your life this holiday season.

JIM CARNETT lives in Costa Mesa. His column runs Wednesdays.

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