In the calm before Thanksgiving Day, I found myself emptying the dishwasher and thinking about how much I have to be thankful for. To wit:

Phyllis — Might as well start at the top. Somehow, I was plopped into her life in high school, and we’ve hung out together for more than 50 years. She’s smart, kind, tough, understanding, tolerant, resilient and sweet. She laughs at most of my attempts to be humorous and tells me when I’m not.

The kids — I don’t believe a person has to have children to be fulfilled in life, but I know my life is richer for having had a daughter and son. Having children allows you -- forces you -- to fully understand the meaning of vulnerability. Here they come, squirting into the delivery room, and instantly you are (a) thrilled and (b) scared to death about what you’ve signed up for.

My mom and dad — They gave us all the essentials: Unconditional love. Bedtime talks. Freedom to roam. Incentive to do well. How to apologize to neighbors when our baseballs ricocheted into the neighbors’ houses or cars. Or — once — a martini glass on a neighbor’s patio.

Reading — Mom instilled in us the importance of books, and it has made all the difference. Reading took me to places we could never afford to go — but at least I knew they existed. Reading opens your eyes to other ways of thinking, of speaking, of being.

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Friendship — It is impossible to understate the value of true friends — those who come to you when you’re hurting, those who celebrate life’s big and small moments with you, those who challenge you and stand up for you and are simply there when you need them. They show up.

They push you outside your comfort zone. Their honesty cuts through all the chaff.

Wilderness — Not everyone needs wild places, but some of us do. I’m thankful so many people fought for — and continue to fight for — the preservation of wilderness. Many of us find deep satisfaction in traveling simply, making camps and immersing ourselves in the natural world. It is an antidote to civilization, a salve to wounds brought on by society. It puts our little lives in perspective. It slows us down. It heals. It amazes.

Travel — This is the logical extension of reading. Once books or friends make us aware of the Northwest Territories or Iceland or Kenya, well, you might just have to go there. When you go there, you meet other wanderers and suddenly your world is much bigger. Or smaller. And it is never the same again. Go. Start small, maybe — Canada or Costa Rica. The rest will become obvious.

Dogs — If you want to understand the meaning of unconditional love, get a dog. It is that simple. A dog will humble you, inspire you, amaze you and maybe occasionally pee on the floor. We should all be more like dogs — eager to get outside, ready to snuggle, happy to roll in the grass. (Slobbering is optional.)

Happy Thanksgiving!

Sam Cook is a freelance writer for the News Tribune. Reach him at cooksam48@gmail.com or find his Facebook page at facebook.com/sam.cook.5249.