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Justine Fedak appreciates every step

Annual Magnificent  Mile Festival Lights Parade. along Michigan Avenue. large crowds line up along Michigan Avenue watch parade.

Annual Magnificent Mile Festival of Lights Parade. along Michigan Avenue. large crowds line up along Michigan Avenue to watch the parade. November 17, 2012 I Scott Stewart~Sun-Times

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Updated: December 11, 2012 7:33PM

In the wake of Thanksgiving, I’ve been thinking about how easy it is to forget to be grateful.

I had a similar realization 11 years ago when I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. I began having severe mobility issues, and was acutely aware of everything that my legs once did for me — things I’d never thanked them for doing. As I struggled to regain my health, I’d watch people walk down the street with envy, wishing I could once again move with a smooth, beautiful gait.

I eventually recovered my baseline mobility, but the experience changed me. Now, every morning, I wake up and marvel at my ability to walk perfectly. And every single time I wear high heels, I’m amazed by how strong my feet are, how they can support all of me so effortlessly.

But that isn’t my point.

We all remember to be thankful during the holidays. From Thanksgiving through December, people I haven’t heard from in a while will email or call to thank me for something I’ve done for them, or talk about something that’s brought them joy. But during most of the year, simple things pass us by without our acknowledgement.

Last month, my daughter Ally and I were lucky enough to ride on the Community Hero float in the BMO Harris Magnificent Mile Lights Festival alongside two firefighters, two police officers, a veteran and my friend, Bears defensive lineman Israel Idonije. As the float turned off of Oak Street and onto Michigan Avenue, we were surrounded by 1.5 million spectators, all of them smiling, cheering and waving.

I was overwhelmed. They’d come together simply to celebrate life.

As I watched Ally and her friend dance and wave to the crowds, I again remembered how extremely lucky I was to be healthy enough to stand and dance with them. Surrounded by Chicago’s finest men and women, my joyful daughter and the jubilant crowd, I fully appreciated my life — my great family and friends, my wonderful job and my home in the best city in the world (yes, I love Chicago that much).

These moments of profound realization are hard to come by. Most of us get used to the little things; we come to expect them. Often, we don’t recognize how much we’ve cherished something until it’s gone — whether it’s a close friend who moves away, an early-morning phone call that stops coming or someone at the coffee shop who always wishes us a good day and then isn’t there anymore.

I’m going to make an effort, beyond just this holiday season, to stop expecting things. I’m going to embrace the simple things that bring the greatest pleasure, such watching a basketball game with my best friend or talking about mundane things with someone who cares to hear it. I’m going to appreciate, not anticipate. I’m going to live in the moment, to forgive. And I’m going to say thank you as much as I can, so others know that I’m grateful for the little things — and that they matter in the biggest ways.

Justine Fedak donated her fee for writing this column to the Noah’s Arc Foundation.

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