Two scenes from two different books, written from parts of the world that couldn’t be more different. First, from The Raven’s Gift by Jon Turk, who, in this scene, is on the tundra in Siberia. He has just joined a couple reindeer herders in their camp; he is being mocked for carrying kielbasa when there is so much “free meat on the tundra.” The hunter (George) says it’s the funniest joke he’s ever heard. Turk decides to expand on the theme:
I decided to add to the joke, so went back outside and returned with a can of corn. Even though it was heavy, we had taken it to share with someone as a special treat. George was neutral about the corn but excited about the can.
“Could I have the can?” he asked. “I have many uses for it.”
I smiled and went back out to our sleds, returning this time with our sugar, which we kept in a plastic jar with a screw-on lid. I poured the sugar into a Ziploc and handed George the jar.
George beamed, stood ceremoniously, and took it gingerly from my outstretched arms. After screwing the lid on and off several times, he put one hand over his heart. “This is a good jar,” he announced. “I will carry sugar in it, just like you did. I will take care of this jar. I will carry it with me for the rest of my life. Like my teapot. My teapot and my sugar jar. For the rest of my life.”
After dinner, we laid out our sleeping bags and dozed off. Sometime in the middle of the night, Nikolai got up to stoke the fire. There were holes in the rusted stove and flue pipe, so tiny orange spotlights danced on the inside of the canvas.
Next, from near where the Malagarasi River dumps into Lake Tanganyika in Africa, where writer Richard Grant is bidding farewell to Ryan Shallom, the guide who led the expedition for Grant down the river, from his book Crazy River: Exploration and Folly in East Africa:
We finished our drinks, and I got up with the empty whiskey bottle to find the trash bag. Ryan said, “A local would treasure that bottle. Why don’t you give it to one of those women?” I went over toward the blackened lean-to where women were boiling palm fruits and breathing acrid black smoke. A young mother came forward to retrieve her pointing toddler, and I offered her the empty bottle, hoping she wouldn’t be insulted by a gift of my trash. At first she didn’t understand. She thought I wanted her to go down to the river and fill the bottle with water for me. Then I explained in my atrocious Swahili that it was for her, a gift, and her face lit up with amazement, gratitude, disbelief at her good fortune. It was a fine, strong bottle and would probably be the most substantial possession in her hut.
I walked back into camp, reflecting on all the whiskey bottles I’ve thrown away in my life. Mustafa predicted that she would still have that bottle years from now, unless of course someone stole it from her.
So the point of all this is to reflect on how all too frequently it’s easy to get caught up in what I don’t have, as opposed to being grateful for what I do. We recently moved, which was a big step in a direction we’ve wanted to make for years (lowering overhead, which lowers required income, basically), but was also expensive and came, like so many things, at a time that wasn’t necessarily convenient. Also had some unplanned mishaps come up in the same time frame (vehicle repairs, veterinary bills, etc.) that became those “three steps back” after a couple forward. So we’ve been pinching pennies to get caught up like I haven’t for some time, watching the mailbox for checks arriving from my freelance writing gigs, counting minutes until payday, etc. During that time I’ve been, at times, pretty cranky. Not so much outwardly, but Julia and I have talked about how paralyzing it can feel, and my inner peace has been difficult to maintain. It’s not even so much that there are things we need that we don’t have — we’ve been eating every day, have a roof over our heads (one we OWN, not one we’ve mortgaged from someone else), etc. It’s just the idea that if I wanted to go out and spend some frivolous money, or see a movie on a whim, I can’t, and that is an affront to my overly-entitled sense of how things should be. And that is ridiculous, I know it, but it still happens.
Today I am going to make a point to feel gratitude for where I am, what I have. And make more of an effort to maintain that feeling, because I’ve got it pretty damn good.