I’ve been thinking about gratitude lately. I have a ton to be grateful for: a great marriage, a great family, a warm place to call home, good friends.
Also, up to this point, I have led a fairly unusual life with lots of off-the-beaten-path experiences–some good, some not so good So, at the risk of sounding like I’m bragging, I’ve listed ten micro-stories of things I’m incredibly grateful to have seen, experienced, or done. As I consider my gratitude, it seems like these events point to some important gifts: opportunity, serendipity, support, and time. Not everyone experiences such. I’ve been really privileged, and I know there are educators, mentors, traveling companions, colleagues, a spouse, friends, parents, siblings, other family members, and institutions who have made these things happen. So when I say that I’m grateful, it’s not just some sort of self-absorbed pontification on something beautiful. Lots of you made these things happen. I know who you are. I hope you know who you are, too.
So, in that spirit, here is my first “listicle” for this blog, sans GIFs (it’s not BuzzFeed, y’all)
Ten Things I Am Grateful to Have Seen:
1. A Cacao Co-op in the Dominican Republic: I was part of a fair trade delegation sponsored by Equal Exchange. We witnessed the production of chocolate from farm to production line, were invited into farmers’ homes, learned about organic farm practices, learned about Co-op governance and social investment, and even tasted raw cacao on the farm. Everything about this trip, even the production line, felt magical.
2. The Bead Artists of Odamase-Krobo, Ghana. My sister was doing field research in Ghana for her first graduate degree when I was living in Kenya. Since we were on the same continent, I decided to take some vacation time to visit her. With my sister as a tour guide, I got to see some amazing things–Cape Coast and the Slave Castles, “Fantasy Coffins,” even worship of an obscure Christian sect founded by a Kentucky evangelist who considered himself a prophet. For me, however, visiting the bead artists with whom she partnered, including one artist who gave me a band of beads as a gift, was the biggest privilege.
3. The Nile. I feel lucky to have been on the Nile twice–once in Uganda while white water rafting (Crazy. Ask me sometime about “The Bad Place.”) and once in Egypt, during a much gentler cruise.
4. The Johnson Farm, Hiram, OH: I went to college near the Johnson Farm, and once when I was back for a visit in 2003, I had some spare time, so I took a tour. The tour guide assumed I was a member of the LDS and so the tour was tailored for a church member. I was given some time to sit alone in the room where Joseph Smith had received some of his visions. At the end of the tour, when the tour guide asked the name of the town where I attended church, I explained that I was not a member. Embarrassed, he told me that he hoped that I was not offended by anything he said. I thanked him–and told him it was a privilege to have such an intimate view of a place so important to so many people. It really is a privilege to be in someone else’s sacred space.
5. James Joyce’s grave, Zurich, Switzerland: In 2002, I spent a day in Zurich tracking down the grave. Having loved _Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man_ and having read _Ulysses_ both in College and at Divinity School, making it to the grave was a sort of literary pilgrimage for me. It was a day spent wandering and asking directions, of confused looks and a mangling of German.
6. A Horse in El Salvador: I traveled three times to a small village in El Salvador with delegations from a church where I worked. The trips were always great, but the highlight for me was a mid-week hike to a village a bit further up the mountain, where we’d place orders for coffee which we’d bring back to the States for roasting. On my last trip, our group of hikers came across a seemingly wild, magnificent white horse standing in the woods, circled by fog–like something out of a fantasy novel or fairy tale. It was quite a moment.
7. Meeting Ernesto Cardenal, Managua, Nicaragua: As part of an immersion study trip in Nicaragua I participated in, our group met with this poet/priest/artist/activist at his studio. He read several of his poems, and told us that he was really interested in the possibility of life on other planets. A Sandinista, he told us he hoped there were lots of revolutions happening on other planets.
8. Cape Point, South Africa. At the end of this hike, overlooking the place where the Indian and Atlantic Oceans mythically meet, I realized that I was closer to Antartica than I was to my hometown. Pretty amazing. Pretty humbling.
9. James Brown in Concert, Edinburgh, Scotland. He sang “I Feel Good” as part of the Live 8 Concert that topped off the Make Poverty History campaign during the 2005 G8 Meeting. Brown died a little over a year later.
10. Christmas Fair, On the road to Shillong, India. Christian missionaries made quite an impact among the “tribal” ethnicities of Northern India. Christmas is a big deal in many of the communities, including Shillong, a vibrant University town. However, on a trip to Shillong, a group I was traveling with stopped for tea and fuel in a little village that has a remarkable Christmas fair. It’s not the sort of place that attracts many American or European tourists these days, though. The mix of familiarity and foreignness was mesmerizing. The colors and chaos–such a once-in-a-lifetime thing to see.
I could probably list a number of other unusual things that I am grateful for. But for today’s gratitude exercise, these were the things that percolated their way up. And as I said, there are so many other things I have to be grateful for–love, life, and purpose….but such things deserve a piece of writing that is longer and more involved than a list. I’ll get to them sometime soon.
**update–I realize that I linked an incorrect page to item #2. Lesson learned–never do your blogging and homework at the same time.