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The Infinite Lifespan of Giving Thanks

Over my years in medicine patients have often said “Thanks, you’ve been so kind”. I say “You’re very welcome” and explain that according to the way I was brought up—and the way I was taught medicine—kindness must be the foundation of what we do as human beings. And you can’t go wrong by being thankful, including for the fact that kindness exists.

In my own life I’ve had many moments when I realized how thankful I was that each day my brain and arms and legs and hearing and sight still worked. That because of one of the cranial nerves I have a sense of smell so I can relish food. As a physician I know that the body and mind are simultaneously strong and fragile—and any part can be changed in a moment. We should try not to take these things for granted; but it’s hard to remember to say thanks in the velocity of our days.

I still miss my parents, but I am grateful that they both lived into their eighties. I’m thankful for how brave they were when “life didn’t go according to plan” and my mother’s innumerable Irish sayings for any occasion. I’m glad I think I still have time to put them in another book, and I’m thankful that we have tears as humans because they truly are part of a flood of emotion that can be cleansing and a relief, physiologically and psychologically. When I get choked up unexpectedly because something reminds me of my father or mother, I’m thankful my memory can bring back her words: “The dead aren’t gone; they’re just beyond the corner of your eye.”

I’m so grateful I have three children who are all alive and well and still speaking to each other and to me. Not a given. I’m glad texting was invented because we can stay close across distances—and my kids make me laugh out loud at how funny they are. I’m thankful for my one-of-a-kind husband. I’m even thankful when someone is less than courteous in a store or on the phone and says “I can’t help you” because I learned the phrase “Laugh or go crazy” and I take a breath and in that second I can stay calm and change the conversation by telling him or her “That’s the wrong answer.” Makes me smile, and that special human ability and the sound of laughter is priceless.

Saying “thank you” to someone is a precious gift to share. No cost, just immeasurable joyful impact for the body and the soul of both the speaker and the recipient. In those two words time stops, and grace abounds. I’m thankful for the brain I came out of the womb with and my God-given ability to do well on standardized tests so I could get a scholarship to university, and the guts I grew up seeing that made it possible for me to survive medical school and residency and end up with the humbling honor of having someone put his or her life in my hands as a doctor. And then say “Thanks” to me one day.

Giving thanks lasts forever. It reverberates like a harmonic chord. It has an unlimited life expectancy. This is my trademark phrase that I try to remember every day: “Love your brain. Cherish your heart.” Keep those two plugged together and be very thankful the juice still flows.

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