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A Grin at the End: Lessons in fortune – Realizing how lucky we are

As we come down the home stretch of 2023, it’s time to take an inventory. Some of the major events of the year:

Went snorkeling with the family in Hawaii. Check.

Didn’t drown. Check.

Took about 20 minutes to recuperate from not drowning. Check.

Took about 30 seconds to figure out that I might have a problem more serious than “a little heartburn.” Check.

Listened to my doctor – for once. Check.

Had major heart surgery. Check.

Didn’t die. Check.

Learned how to walk again. In fact, I learned how to do everything again. Check.

Learned that I can’t do everything for myself – and I never could. Check.

Figured out that I can overcome just about anything, if I try. Check.

Trying is the hard part. Check.

Went back to work. Check.

Went to heart rehab. Met some of the most amazing people ever. Some had survived heart attacks. Others had heart failure. All of the them had stood at the precipice of life. They knew they had been close to death. One, a retired Marine, was recuperating from his sixth heart attack. “I remember when they put the paddles on my chest and shocked me,” he told us.

Another was a 42-year-old woman who was trying to head off heart failure. Another was a retired medic rebuilding his strength after a setback.

Yet they all were optimistic, funny, ornery and, overall, sweethearts. I miss them.

When I hear people complain – whine – about their plight, part of me wants to say, “Buck up, junior. You got it easy. You have your health. I know people who feel as though they hit the lottery every time they wake up. Making it to the bathroom is a major achievement. And you’re complaining that you’re special and that you’re owed happiness. You’re not.”

Every day I think of my “classmates” in rehab. I feel lucky to have known them and witnessed their courage. One woman had an ultrasound of her heart during every session. Just to make sure it was still working right.

That’s courage.

Another woman had a heart attack and the doctor had inserted a couple of stents into her blocked heart arteries. She told me she was lucky.

In a sense, we are all lucky. It certainly shouldn’t take a heart attack to remind us of that fact. We are lucky to be riding this planet through the void of the universe, and that the sun provides us with warmth, and life.

This was quite a year. In fact, every year is special. One miracle after another. One reminder after another that we have been put here for a reason. To make the best of our time here on the planet.

So what will 2024 bring? Beats me. But I will do my best to remember the lessons I’ve learned. To be kind. To love everyone. To appreciate the big things – and the little things. And to give thanks.

2023 was the best year ever, but I would bet that 2024 will be even better. I’m looking forward to it, and the many lessons yet to be learned.

Carl Sampson is a freelance writer and editor. He lives in Stayton.

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