On Tornadoes And Turkeys

This year, when my family and I sit down for Thanksgiving dinner—of the many things we have to be grateful for in 2019— tornadoes are going to top the list.

You probably saw news reports about the tornadoes that struck the Dallas area this fall on Sunday, October 20th. Some estimates say as many as 10 tornadoes were on the ground at about 9:15 p.m. An EF-3 tornado with winds as high as 140 miles per hour tore through our neighborhood, destroying trees, snapping power lines, shredding roofs and flattening stores, schools, churches and homes. My wife and children and I took shelter in the closet of our master bedroom, and when a big chunk of our roof blew off, it sounded like an explosion.

Currently our house is undergoing extensive repairs, and we’ll have to plant new trees. Power has been restored. Some nearby schools are closed for the academic year, and one may never reopen. And yet, I’m incredibly grateful because we escaped uninjured and so did our neighbors. No one was killed by the tornadoes that night in Dallas.

Gratitude for our health and safety in the aftermath of such a dangerous storm might be understandable or even inevitable, you’re thinking. But in fact, don’t we almost always have a choice to make about being grateful or not? I could focus on the destruction and mire myself in the lengthy repairs, the insurance paperwork and the disruption in our lives. Or I could find a way to feel grateful for everything I encounter in life, even life-threatening storms. In this instance and many others, I choose to be grateful. I’m even convinced that grateful people are happier and vice versa.

Author Yuval Noah Harari devotes an entire chapter to happiness in his book Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind (2015). He writes, “But the most important finding of all is that happiness does not really depend on objective conditions of wealth, health or even community. Rather, it depends on the correlation between objective conditions and subject expectation. If you want a bullock-cart and get a bullock-cart, you are content. If you want a brand-new Ferrari and get only a second-hand Fiat you feel deprived.”

Objectively, my family and I survived a violent tornado in perfect health. Subjectively, the love I feel for my family rises above all else and makes me profoundly grateful for a shared experience that—though unwanted and terrifying at its peak—does bring us closer together.

The night of the storm I employed my personal tradition of looking to the bright side of things. Earlier the same day, I was pondering how we might upgrade our Christmas lights for the 75-year-old oak tree in our front yard and the roofline of the house. Then that evening we experienced the terrifying rumble of the tornado as we huddled in a closet.  As soon as the crushing noise of the storm had passed, I ventured out to survey the damage. When I walked back inside to share with my family what I saw, I noted, “Well, I have good news and bad news.  The good news is, we are going to save a bundle on Christmas lights for our roof and tree. The bad news is, we no longer have a roof, and we no longer have a tree.”

What are you and your family and friends grateful for this year on Thanksgiving? On a day devoted to exploring, identifying and sharing gratitude, celebrate the start of the holiday season by finding ways to be thankful for both good times and bad.

Happy Thanksgiving.