Going beyond the basics to find true thanksgiving

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By Piotr Ulmer, MSPT


I grew up in Poland, and I never knew about Thanksgiving, until I came to the United States in 1992. My family and I embraced this joyful holiday whole-heartedly. Halting the flow of life for a splendid family celebration rooted in spirituality and an abundance of food and comfort was very appealing from the start.

Even though we didn’t have Thanksgiving in Poland, we prepared for and celebrated other holidays like Easter and Christmas. I still remember the week-long cleaning of the deepest corners: beating rugs, washing all the base boards, windows, doors, walls and furniture. My parents made us go through this process every time. It was hard work, but the feeling of cleanliness, love, and happiness when time for the Christmas meal finally came was unforgettable. The previous generations worked hard to instill these values of hard work, motivation, thanksgiving, and charity in us.

When we moved away, we realized that we no longer had the support of our families for holiday preparations. It became evident that if we ourselves didn’t prepare the Christmas or Thanksgiving celebrations, it wasn’t going to happen. It meant the more we worked on the preparations, the greater the celebration became. Our hard work helped us to appreciate the holidays, because we invested so much of ourselves into putting them together.

Before coming to the US, my wife and I, along with our oldest son Aleksander, had to live with our parents, because we didn’t really have any prospects for our own apartment, not to mention a house. When I started my first US job as a contract physical therapist in a VA hospital in Detroit, within the first month we were able to rent a 2-bedroom apartment and also buy a used Honda Civic. I was making $15/hour, and everything seemed magical. I was very thankful for the opportunity this country gave to me, and I still am.


“Even though we didn’t have Thanksgiving in Poland, we prepared for and celebrated other holidays like Easter and Christmas.”


I am frequently surprised by people who seem not to be grateful for all the splendor surrounding them. I observe in restaurants, for example, some customers ordering food saying: “Give me a cheeseburger,” or “I’ll take a salad,” which seems rude and cold. There is no “Please” or “Can I have,” and everything seems to be in a tone of entitlement, even possessive. It aggravates me at times to see this. These customers just don’t seem to care.

With Thanksgiving approaching, do we remember how to give thanks, who to give thanks to and for what? Are we able to fully appreciate what has become “part of the daily grind?” Those who don’t care and who don’t take responsibility can become increasingly numb, have less and less desire and time to make the effort for others, like cleaning and other preparations for a holiday celebration. The demands of daily schedules can become so “squeezed out,” that little time, if any, is left for family. This increasing pace of life can cause exhaustion and even depression. I know about it. It happened to me. I didn’t know it before. I’ve learned.

One cause for this involves the food we eat. Foods containing genetically modified crops, saturated with sugar and processed heavily, for example, can damage our bodies. Food like this, then, becomes a burden instead of support and refreshment on the path of life. Feeling numb, exhausted, rushed, and not caring can lead to losing a basic awareness of ourselves and our surroundings, which then leads to poor decision-making.

This was certainly true for me. Some years ago, I discovered that a prayer and fasting “combo” worked well for me.  I personally started with partial fasting, not eating meat on Fridays. I educated myself about good nutrition, and I stopped eating sugar and artificial sweeteners – that’s when my memory improved. A few years after that, I went gluten free, which took me out of the mental “fog” I was in from making poor food choices. All these life adjustments, combined with manual therapy and prayer, greatly improved the quality of my life. I thank God every day for this. The older I get, the healthier I become. It all took action, trial and error.

We may care about being hungry and act to satisfy this basic need, but fail to act on anything of a higher order, like noticing another person in need or going the extra mile to thank somebody. We may appreciate that Thanksgiving gives us a day off work, good food and football, but fail to stop, think, and act on the true meaning of Thanksgiving (and I don’t mean the prayer before the turkey!).

I beg you, don’t settle for less! Let’s make good decisions, and act on them. If we don’t do it, nobody will do it for us. The more we work at it, the greater the results. Maybe, even try prayer and fasting (but first enjoy the turkey!). May we be able to see beyond our daily necessities and become truly thankful every day for everything we have.


Piotr Ulmer established CTS Physical Therapy in 2001. A native of Warsaw, Poland, he received his Master of Rehabilitation degree from that city’s Academy of Sports in 1991. He formerly served as the director of an outpatient physical therapy clinic in Clarksville, TN and as a Sports Medicine Physical Therapist in Knoxville before starting CTS Physical Therapy.

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