I am behind in posting to this personal blog. I owe two reviews, various musings, and a special response to a nomination by The Imperfect Kitchen – a post that I am excited about writing and sharing with my readers.
But lately I’ve felt more like thinking about writing, rather than actually writing, thinking-past-bedtime-style, and thinking about the the usual suspects.
Loss, healing and love, in no particular order, because in my mind they are all one and the same.
A neighbor of mine cared for her mom during her last days this month. She gently, sadly left her family far too soon, and it made my heart ache, though I’d never met her.
It made me think, god, I’m so grateful, truly grateful that my mom and dad and sister are still here with me.
Most nights my family sits around the dinner table and haphazardly share our daily gratitudes. It’s our “Our Father, Full of Grace”, a reflection on the day’s gifts and rainbows.
The deal is that everyone is supposed to share at least one thing for which they are grateful that happened that day, even if, and this is quite plausible, that day truly sucked and was horrible till the end.
Despite that we have shared gratitudes before the evening meal for over a year now, it’s not sinking in. Our boys dig into their food, starving, until I ask them to pause. Then they’re suddenly squabbling, hands reaching, each determined to share his gratitudes before anyone else.
Our youngest says he is grateful for the “water park” that we visited last November. He says this every night.
It’s not a religious practice, I guess it’s optional, but it irritates me that I constantly have to remind them to show appreciation for what they have. They are good at saying ‘thank you’ for an ice cream cone or a birthday gift, but less so at acknowledging a subtler act of kindness or uncommon experience.
The truth is that we live in a community that enjoys so much privilege. I want our boys to recognize this, and so I make them identify something, anything, for which they are grateful every night. Once they get started, however, they have a hard time stopping. This suggests that one day I won’t have to prompt them.
Recent gratitudes from the older brother include “watching the World Cup, especially Brazil and USA and the Netherlands, and sorry, Mom, but I’ve got to root against Mexico when they play the Netherlands, and for this dinner, and for getting ready to go to Bubba and Nana’s house…” and from the younger, “I’m grateful for this beautiful dinner and I love Mom and Dad and Miles and Coppi and our new kitchen and going to the water park and coming back from school and the dumpster wasn’t here and we didn’t need to do any more work”.
It’s really good stuff, these gratitudes that I insist they share.
In late 2000, my two sisters visited my partner and me in southern Mexico. We were working 12-16 hour days, volunteer-style, at a guest ranch located not far from the Guatemalan border. Mostly European and a few intrepid American travelers arrived shouldering backpacks, ate great quantities of excellent home-cooked food, hiked and photographed nearby ruins before heading on their way.
We served traveling Germans a lot of Mexican beer and washed piles and piles of dishes. We also developed a healthy respect for the indigenous Zapatista community’s presence down the road as well as for the Mexican army base located less than one mile from the ranch.
I’ve written about this experience in Birds of Paradise, Part One, Two and Three. Fresh out of the Peace Corps, we were thrilled to have the opportunity to live and work in a piece of the world not well known by anyone other than its residents and the local American missionaries (I should write about them sometime – they weren’t your stereotypical missionary family).
Toward the close of our tenure at the ranch, my partner and I spent time in close dialog, not only with each other, but with members of the staff. We agreed that the way in which the operation was run (by American expats greedy for pesos and a permanent vacation) was crude and unethical. The ranch employed a hard-working staff of young men and women who completed their tasks with a serious yet pleasant attitude. For most of them, Spanish was their second or third language after their indigenous dialect. We earned their trust by working alongside them, washing dishes by hand, serving plates and drinks, and weeding the garden. It helped that we spoke the language, sharing jokes and lightening the atmosphere a bit.
Bringing this memory back today seems timely. Although we did not have children back then, and in fact did not have much for which we were responsible – no mortgage, no “real” jobs, no bills waiting to be paid – we felt accountable, to one another and to the staff and neighbors of the property.
At the end of the day we felt responsible and grateful. We coordinated humble yet delicious dinners and assisted in buying, cleaning and preparing the food alongside two talented Mexican cooks. Eventually the work took place in a rhythm that worked beautifully so long as the ranch owners were not present. It was a good, yet unsustainable situation since we knew the owners were due back any day. After six months, we chose not to take part any longer in an operation that was unkind and unjust to the very people who made it work.
Maybe gratitude can’t really be forced. Through observation and experience of humbler conditions than my own, I grew in immeasurable ways that season, and I was a whole lot older than our kids are today.
I want to live my life with eyes wide open to the blessings around me. Our boys have big hearts, even if they less aware of how good they have it.
Piglet noticed that even though he had a Very Small Heart, it could hold a rather large amount of Gratitude.
– A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh
P.S. By the time I got around to posting this, both of my boys had driven me mad, because they were tired and melting down, causing me to feel very ungrateful indeed. But we’ll try again tomorrow.