In a few days, as we do each November, Americans will join in offering gratitude for things often taken for granted that have made their lives better.

I decided I wasn't patient enough to wait, so today, here is what I'm truly thankful for during my 77 years in the world:

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For the first heartbeat and breath from our divine creator that set my life here in motion, and for every one of them since.

For my parents, grandparents and close extended family of aunts, uncles and cousins who all contributed to a rewarding and secure childhood that sadly too many children never know.

For my wife Jeanetta, who is kind, selfless and the most lovely person inside and out I've ever known.

For my grown children, Brandon and Anna, their devoted mother Kathleen, and the grandchildren, Elizabeth, Keirston and Trenton, and the joy they've brought into my life.

For my grown stepchildren Kenda, Kelley, Kara and Frankie and their spouses and children, Kiley, Ava, Makenzie, Emerson, Johnathon and Devin, who have enriched my existence.

For my generous share of loyal friends, some lifelong, who have supported me and provided so much camaraderie, enjoyment and laughter in many ways over the years. And for those who've come and gone.

For our fun and friendly little taco terrier Benji who has brought so much happiness to our lives these past six years and, through what could only have been divine intervention, survived being severely mauled by a vicious pit bull.

For Dr. James Suen at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences Hospital who undertook a very difficult seven-hour lifesaving surgery to remove the squamous cell cancer that, despite 35 radiation and seven chemo treatments, had advanced to the base of my skull.

For otolaryngologist Dr. Paul Neis of Mountain Home and all he did to help me during that period.

For enough food and water to sustain me across the decades and movies that inspire me.

For all those who dedicate their lives and careers to serving the needs of their fellow men, women and children.

For my work with words across 52 years and the resulting thousands of stories that have given my existence a sense of meaning in helping to make a difference in this world we temporarily share.

For those I consider valued readers who take their time to read my thoughts three times each week.

For retired Arkansas Democrat-Gazette publisher Walter Hussman Jr., who 50 years ago offered me the editorship of his family's Hot Springs newspaper, then stood solidly behind me over the ensuing years together through times when some of my stories were bound to have caused people in high places to convince him otherwise. Without his unwavering support, my career would never have unfolded as it has.

For the opportunity to practice my craft and learn at major papers in Los Angeles, Chicago and New Jersey.

For the five years I was given to head the Kiplinger Public Affairs Reporting Program for professional journalists at Ohio State and watch the Buckeyes play in "The Shoe."

For existing in the age of air conditioning, indoor plumbing and effective transportation.

For the late journalism professors Tony Hillerman at the University of New Mexico (who later became a best-selling novelist) and Dean Duncan at the University of Central Arkansas and the vital encouragement they provided to a raw novice who enjoyed writing.

For the maturing experience of serving in the U.S. Coast Guard.

For beautiful music along with the fragrance and beauty of flowers, birds, Christmas trees, streams, changing seasons, mountains, blue sky, waterfalls, rainfall and the consciousness to appreciate and enjoy them and the majesty of the universe.

For a conscientious Voices Page editor like Brenda Looper who regularly keeps me on the rails by catching my mistakes. When a writer gets going too fast, it's always a precious thing to have someone with Brenda's skills and meticulous eye to rein them in.

For good neighbors with great kids who bring us fresh eggs from their chicken coop and come to the front door caroling each Christmas.

For my concerned and caring swallow therapist Julie Brandon at North Arkansas Regional Medical Center, who I'm sure has had far better patients.

For the helpful and knowledgeable staff at Jones Rehabilitation in Harrison.

Now go out into the world and treat everyone you meet exactly like you want them to treat you,

Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist, was editor of three Arkansas dailies and headed the master's journalism program at Ohio State University. Email him at [email protected].