I looked up from the book I was reading Tuesday and saw the reflection in the television screen. I snapped the picture you see -- the sad looking birch tree in our front yard on a sunny, late November afternoon -- and read another chapter before I had to pick up Nolan from school.
There are a lot of similar photos in my phone that I've taken this year and am reluctant to delete. Sunset in our neighborhood Labor Day weekend and late October. Sheets of rain pouring down during an early-August thunderstorm (Took those while standing on my front steps trying to get a lightning shot). Sunbeams breaking through the clouds (Got that one while at a stoplight). Sunset while driving west on the highway (Not the safest thing to do while driving 60 miles an hour, but hey, it was worth capturing).
I'm no different than a lot of people who are celebrating Thanksgiving today. No one has a perfect life, but I think most of us are grateful for our families, homes, food (lots of that today), clothes, jobs, vehicles, countless material possessions, and anything else you can think of.
Of course I appreciate all those things, too. But I've also come to appreciate the way the sunlight hits the leaves that are in their full autumn radiance. The way the crisp air feels on my face the first moments of my morning run. The smell of freshly cut grass or a wood-burning stove. The snow as it glistens when the sun or the moon hits it just right. Well, talk to me in February about the last one, but I do appreciate the fact I'll have less to shovel this winter than I used to.
Man, I've just come to appreciate everything a little bit more. Part of it likely is due to maturity. Part of it is because I've realized I'm past the halfway point of my life expectancy and want to enjoy what time I left here, which I hope is about three or four more decades. I just know I like this feeling. I like it a lot.
If there was one goal Cindy and I had when we started this blog, it was to share almost every aspect of our lives as we face the challenges of raising a teenager who has severe Autism and is nonverbal. We have our happy, silly moments, like Cindy doing a goofy dance to Billy Joel's song "You May Be Right" this morning before Nolan went back to Barney on the YouTube for Kids app. We have a plethora of stressful moments, like waking up this morning to find Nolan's sheets, blankets and pajamas soaked in urine. I also found cat vomit with my bare feet when I took the dirty laundry to the basement.
We see a lot of ugly stuff. I'm staring at a third load of laundry because Nolan has had two accidents since lunch. So, it's time for me to look at something that will remind me how fortunate I really am -- like that birch tree outside our living room window.
I think part of my mindset comes from where we live. We moved to this neighborhood at the end of April. Our last house, which was in a subdivision near a retail corridor, no longer suited us, and we needed something smaller. We thought that would mean living in an apartment or duplex for at least a year. The house we ultimately bought had been on the market for a few months, and it was at the very top of our price range. We accepted the seller's counteroffer hours before someone else made an offer on it. It's the first house, and neighborhood, out of the three Cindy and I have owned in 16 years of marriage that I've sincerely loved. It's a year older than I am. Most of the houses in this part of the city were built about the same time (1960s and 70s). They're just your garden variety ranches and split-levels with small- to medium-sized yards and tree-lined boulevards, but I love them and this neighborhood. It wasn't unusual for me this past summer to walk a few blocks and take it all in the minute I put the mower in the garage after cutting the grass. I even put off showering to do this. If that isn't love, then I don't know what is.
Of course, it would mean nothing without having Cindy and Nolan here with me. We're in this lifelong tussle with Autism together. The battles -- with teachers, for services -- will never end. Many days give us too little sleep and patience. Some days give us wet sheets and meltdowns. But some days give us Nolan successfully completing tasks, communicating his needs, and just being happy. I've thought about a world without them in my life. It isn't a happy one, and it isn't one that makes me appreciate the little things.
In the closing minutes of the series finale of "Cheers," Sam Malone takes a look around his bar -- and every little thing in it -- and says, "Boy, I tell you, I'm the luckiest son of a bitch on Earth." I can relate to that now more than ever.
Happy Thanksgiving! (This is how most of our pictures turn out).