Twenty-eight years ago---ye gods, has it been almost three decades?---I had just started a tour of duty as the executive officer for a large training command in St. Paul, Minneapolis.  I was single then, with no prospects for changing that status in the foreseeable future, and my nearest family was a thousand miles away.  So I figured I’d be spending Thanksgiving dining on frozen pizza and looking for something on television that wasn’t a football game or a parade.

 

Instead, my boss, the commanding officer of the station and a wise and perceptive leader, invited me to spend the holiday with him and his family.  And I, being a wise and perceptive second-in-command, accepted.

 

As we sat down to Thanksgiving dinner, the C.O. informed me that it was his family’s tradition to go around the table having each person present stating the thing for which he was most thankful that year.  Usually I’m better prepared, but I had never heard of such a thing, so by the time it came around to me, I could only mumble something generic, without any personal meaning.  I wasn’t much into retrospection, then.  I just took life as it came.

 

It’s funny how the passage of time puts things in perspective.  We tend to lead our lives one day at a time, grappling with the things that demand our attention here and now.  It’s when we get to the autumn of our existence that we look back and see the trails we’ve forged.  That’s where I am now, and it’s easy to see the things for which I am thankful.

 

 

I'M THANKFUL . . . for a professional life of two careers that were not only interesting and, most certainly, exciting, but which contributed to both the welfare of our nation and to the lives of individual persons, as well.  There was occasional danger to go along with the excitement.  I’ve been thrust into brawls, gunfights, shipboard fires, plane crashes on deck.  I’ve experienced up close and personal at least three deliberate efforts to kill me.  And through all of that, I’ve never gotten anything worse than a scratch.  You better believe I’m thankful for that.

 

I'M THANKFUL . . . for the financial security that such a life brought me.  I knew I’d never get rich working in the public sector, but the benefits, which seemed so intangible forty years ago, have come to fruition.  I’ll never be in the Forbes 400, but the Good Mrs. Benson and I are able to live out the rest of our lives in comfort and ease.

  

I'M THANKFUL . . . to be in excellent health, with no complaints other than a pair of arthritic knees and a bald spot on the back of my head.  (It’s a toss-up which one bothers me more.)  I’ve never seen the inside of a hospital, except to visit someone who was a patient.

 

A pretty good list, but none of those, not even my health, is the thing for which I am most thankful.

 

I'M THANKFUL . . . that, twenty-five years ago, I met the love of my life, and twenty-four years ago, I married her.  I was not a man designed for love, and certainly not for marriage.  But, somehow, I found the most remarkable woman, who not only tolerated my flaws, which were considerable, but saw my finer qualities, which means they must be in there somewhere.  There isn’t enough time in life to show her how much she means to me.

 

But even that is not the thing for which I am most thankful.

 

 

 

I had to wait five years to write this.

 

Many of you will remember that, in my Christmas 2012 Deck Log entry, I told you that the Good Mrs. Benson had been diagnosed with cancer.  Until you, or your loved one, has been handed that sentence, you have no idea how horrifying it is.  Mainly because, even with early detection, the finest of doctors, cutting-edge medical technology, and the most dedicated care---all of which Cheryl had---there are no guarantees.  During the GMB’s chemo-therapy sessions, I would talk with the family members of other patients and learn that this was their second---third---fourth battle with cancers that only seemed to go away, but then returned, bitterly, mockingly.

 

Even when the treatment is effective, there are side-effects caused by chemo and the radiation.  The ones everybody knows about, such as hair loss and nausea; and the ones you never hear about until it happens to you, such as how the chemo distorts your taste buds so that everything you put in your mouth tastes like it was dipped in motor oil, then rinsed off with ammonia.

 

The side-effects endure for months, sometimes never going away completely.  It’s the holidays so I won’t dwell on it.  I’ll simply say it’s Hell.

 

But sometimes it’s worth going through Hell.

 

A little over two months ago, Cheryl saw her oncologist for the last time.  Since the end of her treatments, it’s been five years of constant examinations, blood tests, and PET-scans---and the result? 

No trace of cancer has been found anywhere in her body!  Five years is a significant medical benchmark.  That far-off noise you might have heard one evening back in September was my whoop of joy.

 

Now, nothing is certain---particularly in medicine.  Though, statistically, it’s rare, Cheryl’s cancer still might return.  We know that.  But her oncologist is satisfied enough to say, “You don’t have to see me, anymore.”   And that’s a major confidence booster.

 

I'M MOST THANKFUL . . . for my wife---healthy and whole and rid of cancer!  You can forget all that other stuff I mentioned.  For that one thing, I’m a blessed man.

 

To-day, the Good Mrs. Benson and I are spending Thanksgiving at the home of her son---my step-son---and his wife and children, their friends and relatives.  I don’t know if they have that tradition of everybody at the dinner table saying what he’s most thankful for.  But if they do, this time, I’m ready.

* * * * *

From Cheryl and myself, to all of you, our fondest wishes for a Happy Thanksgiving, and many more of them!

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Good to read of your wife's recovery. I have to think your holidays will be extra special this year.

Adam and Cheryl, I couldn't be happier for your tremendous good news! I hope you both continue to enjoy your life together with good health.

My father had cancer and I vividly remember the horror, from the diagnosis to the end. He did not survive his five years but he was thankful for every day and every blessing. I know you and Cheryl did the same.

I am shedding tears of joy for Cheryl. This is an incredible milestone and you should continue to celebrate. Give her our love. May you both, and your family, have a wonderful holiday season.

Tracy Plackemeier

Commander, I'm a cancer survivor as well, and I can think of little to be as grateful for as the fact that you and Cheryl are in good health, with good family and friends. I made a post on Facebook that I appreciate all my family and friends, and the very basics in life that everyone overlooks. I'll wager that you and GMB don't overlook them.

And I'm thankful to have your encyclopaedic comic book knowledge against which I can compare and hone my own. May continued health, happiness, and love come to you and your family.

Yes, considering how much of my life I spent with zero comics nerds to talk to, it's nice that's no longer the case.

Eric L. Sofer said:

Commander, I'm a cancer survivor as well, and I can think of little to be as grateful for as the fact that you and Cheryl are in good health, with good family and friends. I made a post on Facebook that I appreciate all my family and friends, and the very basics in life that everyone overlooks. I'll wager that you and GMB don't overlook them.

And I'm thankful to have your encyclopaedic comic book knowledge against which I can compare and hone my own. May continued health, happiness, and love come to you and your family.

Tracy, Eric,

As yourselves having dealt with cancer up close and personal---as either the victim or the loved one of a victim---what I wrote in my article is less information and more of a reminder.

Yes, scarcely a day goes by when Cheryl and I don't reflect on the good fortune of our lives.  I've always resisted using the term fortunate, because of its (politically) liberal connotation.  There was nothing "fortunate" about our economic status or the benefits we enjoy from my military service.  We earned those by hard work and, both before and after we met, by living sensible, intelligent lives.

But in the things that man has no control over---the cold touch of disease, the sudden strike of disaster, the capricious hand of fate that puts one in the wrong place at the wrong time---Cheryl and I, indeed, have been fortunate.  Not that life hasn't threatened a calamity or two---an inch to the left or a fraction of a second slower---but we've enjoyed almost preternatural good fortune.

I'm not the smartest guy in the world, or the hardest working, or the most adept, but it's worked out to a degree which I could never have imagined when I started out.  I take a daily inventory of our blessings, and so does Cheryl.

Thank you, and all of you, for your heartfelt wishes.  To touch on what Eric and Fraser both mentioned, I came here for the comic-book discussion---and stayed for the fellowship.

Commander,

I wish that you and the Good Mrs. Benson have many more Thanksgivings to share in the future.

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