Gaylord Herald Times, Journalism

Decisions and people

I lost a bit of ground, shifting gears from college to home. After writing my latest column for the Gaylord Herald Times (shameless plug here), I realized that I totally glazed over the topic that I should actually be writing about this time of year.

Many of the adults I am Facebook friends with have been posting what they are thankful for throughout the month. It’s not that kids aren’t thankful, I think, but is more of a matter of how generations use technology differently. More of my peers decide to play a stupid number game instead.

Anyway, I’ll put on my best grown-up pants and give ‘er a whirl.

When I was visiting my mom’s preschool class yesterday, she asked each one of them what they were thankful for. Responses varied from “my new truck” to a favorite cartoon character or superhero. One boy said that he was thankful for his sister, which was cute. None of them, though, said that they were thankful for wealth or large-scale material things. This, at its core, is what I am thankful for as well.

As a disclaimer, I can’t say that I am perfect in that regard. I’m jamming away on my Macbook Pro, and before deciding to write this I was polishing the final details onto what camera I am going to buy myself in a couple of weeks.

Material things are important, and without them there would be no medium for me to work, being that journalism is evolving into a techie’s dream. However, as much as I’m looking forward to snapping with my new Canon and currently enjoy my Mac, they’re not what I’m thankful for.

Really, the things I am most thankful for are not things at all.

As a kid, I remember reading stories or playing games that had alternate endings, depending on which decisions I made throughout the course of the narrative. If one choice was made, the character’s path was routed one way, leading it to a new set of decisions and steering it forever away from the alternative and it’s potential route. This can be likened to a tree diagram of sorts, where you can’t have one thing without picking its predecessor.

At that point in my life, all of my quote on quote “important decisions” were being made for me. This continued roughly until age 15, where high school, money and responsibility emerged more toward the forefront of my life. Starting at around this point, I can liken what I am thankful for to one of those storybooks.

Had I done one thing differently, I would not be who I am today.

If I wouldn’t have decided to save up all of my money from age 13 on to buy my first car, my beloved Subaru, I would not have learned how to work for what I really want.

If, at 15 years of age, I wouldn’t have made best friends with teammates up to three years my senior, I would not have learned to grow up. At least not as quickly.

If I had not fallen on my face at age 16, I wouldn’t know how to handle tougher situations.

The list goes on and on.

Looking at this simply makes me wonder, which, to me, is a powerful thing. What if I would have decided to run cross country in the fall of my sophomore year? How would things be different if I set my mind to learning the ins and outs of biology instead of committing myself to writing? If I would have picked a different friend group, what types of preconceived notions would I have developed about life?

Maybe everything would still be similar. More likely, though, most everything would be very different.

What I am thankful for cannot be summed up in one word, or even in a collection of them. Only in experiences and decisions is my true thankfulness defined.

I can highlight a handful of decisions that define me as an individual. Most, if not all of those decisions have been made over the past several years. Nearly all of them I am very proud of.

Really, I should not be all that proud of myself, though. I should be proud of the people that taught me the things that I stand so strongly for now and those who gave me the opportunity to figure out for myself what was right and wrong. For those who supported me and those who gained my trust.

For it is those people who have given me the opportunity to become who I am today.

Without one push of encouragement or nod of approval, I might be a completely different person today. I might have gone down an utterly different road.

The short answer to all of this is that I am thankful for decisions and I am thankful for people. Every individual has both of these things, yet few probably put them on the top of their list when it comes to telling the Facebook world, or whatever.

The people? They know who they are. The events are not necessarily defined in my thinking, however. Yes, saving money, making friends and facing adversity have molded who I am today. However, I can’t quite say that I can pinpoint specific junctures in my life that have shaped my being. That’s the beauty in it, I guess.

The great thing about storybooks is that even though in hindsight you realize you made a wrong decision, it’s not like you can go back and pick back up halfway through, changing all of your answers so that you have the best standing at the end of the plot.

I have definitely not made all of the correct decisions in my life — it would be foolish to even suggest that notion. Regardless, I could not be more satisfied with how everything has played out up until this point.

One of my favorite bands puts this together perfectly in one verse:

“And I wouldn’t change a thing
I’d walk right back through the rain
Back to every broken heart
On the day that it was breakin’
And I’d relive all the years
And be thankful for the tears
I’ve cried with every stumbled step
That led to you and got me here, right here”

Couldn’t have said it better myself, when looking at it from a sense broader than a love song.

I’m thankful for people, decisions and what’s waiting for me when I open my eyes tomorrow.

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My name is Jim Ryan, and I'm a breaking news reporter for The Oregonian and OregonLive in Portland. I'm an Ohio University graduate from Gaylord, Michigan.

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