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A Story of Thanks – Remembering What Matters Most

Happy-Thanksgiving GMATFor the first time in 11 years, when I was in the Peace Corps living in Madagascar, I’m not with my family for Thanksgiving. As many of you know, I’m down in Bogota, Colombia expanding Dominate the GMAT in the South American market. So no backyard football games with the family. No sitting around watching the Cowboys on TV. None of the traditional Thanksgiving-day foods that I’m so accustomed to.

But I’m still thankful today. And a bit pensive.

In fact, I’ve been thinking a lot about one particular Thanksgiving. It was 2005 and I was in my second year of business school. The University of Denver is on a trimester system, so my final exams for the first trimester finished up right before Thanksgiving. The plan was to spend Thanksgiving with my family back in Maryland, and my wife Melanie had already flown back there a couple days earlier so that she could have a few extra days with my family while I studied in peace and quiet. After I finished up my exams, my plan was to drive our car back across the country and get there just in time for our annual Thanksgiving morning football game.

We had decided that I would drive our car the 1,640 miles rather than fly for three reasons: 1) To save some money (we were broke grad students at that time, after all); 2) So that we could bring some more of our stuff back to Denver from my parents’ house where it was being stored (we had moved out to Denver after getting married a year earlier); 3) Melanie wanted to take our two pet bunny rabbits with us for Thanksgiving rather than boarding them somewhere (yes, this part is actually true).

The fourth, unanticipated reason, however, ended up being by far the most important. And memorable. See, a couple weeks earlier my dad had decided he would fly to Denver on the day of my finals and drive back across country with me. Road trip! Sure enough, as soon as I walked out of my last exam I hopped in the car (our bunnies were already loaded up), drove to Denver International Airport, picked up my dad, stopped at Arby’s for some dinner on the way out of town, and we hit the open road just as the sun was setting.

I remember a lot of things about that experience, but three stand out:

My dad dancing with my bride, Melanie, at our wedding in 2004

My dad dancing with my bride, Melanie, at our wedding in 2004

First, I remember good conversations with him during the 22 hours of uninterrupted driving. We talked about marriage and what I was going to do after graduation and what he liked most about being a lawyer and regrets each of us had had in life and all sorts of other things, some important, some not, but at least we were talking. Usually we just talk about sports when we’re together.

Second, I remember at one point, probably somewhere around West Virginia, we both looked at each other and at the same time said, “Man, we STINK!” 20+ hours in the car will do that to you. Throw in two bunny rabbits who were emitting their fear hormones the entire time, and the car was downright ripe. I was never so happy to take a shower when we finally got back to Maryland.

Third, I remember that a snowstorm hit partway through West Virginia and I battled through it all the way over the Pennsylvania mountains and into Maryland. By the time we finally rolled into my parents’ driveway around 5am on Thanksgiving morning, we were both more than ready to be out of that car. But we were also incredibly thankful for the experience, an experience neither of us would trade for the world.

More than all of that, however, I’m thankful today that I was able to have that experience with my dad at all. See, a few years earlier my dad had had a heart scare. In fact, he narrowly avoided a full-blown heart attack and was saved by emergency open heart surgery. Seven bypasses. Scary. He was only 51 years young at the time. Think about that. He almost wasn’t able to dance with my bride at our wedding or hold his first grandchild or have that experience with me, driving across the country and sharing so many laughs together.

So on this Thanksgiving Day, I’m obviously thankful for family. And for that cross-country road trip experience with my dad. And most of all, for the gift of health. If you have your health, be thankful for it as well today. Preserve it. Protect it. Because so often we take it for granted until it’s gone.