When I was a kid our Thanksgiving tradition was similar to most. A big meal of turkey, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie (of course, as an Italian family we had a pot of meatballs on the stove just in case).Extended family gathered ’round the dining room table with cloth napkins. The kids’ table, with paper napkins and lots of them, was in the kitchen. Cranberry sauce was more manageable on linoleum than on shag carpet.

Over the years, we kids grew up, as kids are wont to do, married and had families of our own. In-laws had to be appeased and one brave soul actually moved away from the family compound in South Jersey to a foreign land called Iowa. So there are no more big, fat, Thanksgiving celebrations in my immediate family. In fact, my kids spend Thanksgiving at their dad’s house and I watch the Macy’s parade with my dog. I usually go out for a late afternoon dinner with my parents and have a quiet, pleasant celebration that requires no SOS pads, let’s give thanks for that.

This year my kids are at their dad’s as usual but my parents are traveling too. That means it’s me and the dog for parade through pumpkin pie.

When I first came to this conclusion I felt a little tug of loneliness. “I’m going to be all alone on Thanksgiving Day,” I thought glumly. Then I thought of the many good friends I had, all of whom, I believe, would welcome me to their tables, their mothers’ tables, perhaps even their sister-in-laws’ tables. When I realized that I wasn’t alone in this world, just on this day, I relaxed. Suddenly, my earlier thought had a bright exclamation point at the end instead of a dull period. A Thursday without the alarm clock’s blare. No school buses to rattle my bedroom windows. No anguished cries from the bathroom because the hair straightener blew a fuse.

And t he world, or rather my world, would be closed. The office, the mall, even America’s Most Convenient Bank. All closed. Nothing for me to do but hang around the house, surf some channels, and feast on whipped cream straight from the can. Maybe a brisk run. Probably a nap instead.

So I’m looking forward to my non-traditional Thanksgiving. I’ll give silent thanks for those big blessings, good health, family and friends. Thanks, too, for the more mundane, a roof over my head, shoes on my feet and Redi-Whip in my fridge.

But mostly I’ll be grateful for a lesson that took 47 years and lots of wasted time spent whining to learn…every day we live, every person we encounter, every situation we face, no matter how foreboding, offers us the opportunity for joy.

We just have to decide to find our exclamation point.