“At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.” ~ Albert Schweitzer.
I did not know what a shower looked like until I was almost 8 years old. Homes in the UK in the 60’s tended to have one bathroom equipped with a bath tub. The closest we came to a shower was a rubber hose which attached to the faucets (aka taps) and sprayed you inefficiently. Hair washing took place in the sink. You would stand on a step-stool, facecloth over your eyes, head bent over the sink as your hair was soaped up, then drenched with water poured from a basin, hopefully neither too hot nor too cold. When we moved to Jamaica, to a simple home in the country, we were amazed to find we had a bathroom with a bathtub and a separate shower room! Just a few steps away through the back door was the ‘pit latrine’, the out-house. Apparently it had been decided to gift the new parson and his English family with an upgrade, a new bathroom had been added to supplement the traditional outdoor amenities.
The contrasts between life in the UK and life in Jamaica were everywhere. As the youngest child, I was blessed to be able to explore my new world with non-judgmental eyes. Like a sponge I absorbed and observed (do sponges observe?). I listened and learned. I soaked in the experiences and they became a part of my DNA. Before long it seemed normal to celebrate Christmas without snow (although the Christmas breeze certainly brought a special feeling to those early morning services). Before long I was eating homegrown fruit and vegetables, going to the market instead of the ‘grocer’s’; learning a different set of stories (Anancy instead of Enid Blyton).
That gift of being transported from one world to another has informed my entire life. I have continued to move between worlds, although I have now lived two thirds of my life in the US. Moving from one culture to another requires humility and patience. Like a lizard watching a predator we must be cautious and still, adapting to our new environment as a means of survival. Adults, especially those who arrived without having completed the requisite paperwork, perhaps outstaying a visitor’s visa, or otherwise being ‘undocumented’, must learn new skills. Survival depends on keeping a low profile, knowing that any wrong move can precipitate disaster.
This week I have encountered two stories of ‘undocumented’ human beings being repatriated to the country of their birth. One had lived in the US since age 2, had completed his education beyond high school, but had served time for a felony. Upon release from prison, and after completing his probation he was a productive member of society, with a wife and small son. In a ‘roundup’ in 2017 he was one of thousands who were deported (even though he had his permanent resident status, and his wife was a US citizen) and he found himself in Iraq, a country he did not know, only able to speak broken Arabic.
This week as we are reminded of the importance of giving thanks, we are able to read some of the stories from the hellish forest fires in California. Stories of heroism and sacrifice, stories from real people who assumed they were facing the most horrendous of deaths. The common theme among all of the stories is that humans are social creatures who bond and work together during times of crisis and tragedy. The worst of situations bring out the best in us. And although the phrase may be a bit pointed the old song comes to mind: “It only takes a spark to get a fire going, and soon all those around can warm up to its glowing.” But it doesn’t only have to be extreme conditions that calls for strong examples. When I go to my Zumba class, the room is often littered with the left-over equipment of other gym users; dumbbells and weights, mats and exercise balls. So long as one person who is there early for Zumba starts to pick things up and clear the area others will join in. But it takes that first person.
There has been a thought-provoking meme floating around social media. It challenges you to imagine a world where the only things you had today were the things you were grateful for yesterday. How empty would your home be? How hungry would you be? How many of your friends and family would still be around? What have you neglected to appreciate in your life? What are you taking for granted?
This week I saw one of those breathtaking morning skies, the kind where the sun sends beams of light from behind a bank of dark clouds. It always looks divine, like a sacred message from the universe. But if it were not for the bank of clouds we would be blinded by that same sun. I was reminded that we must be grateful for the negative, which allows the positive to peek through. Even the clouds serve a purpose.
Sometimes the hardest thing to do is to imagine the world through someone else’s eyes. This week I am giving thanks for a life which has given me many opportunities to imagine the world of the ‘other’. I give thanks that I have been able to see clouds and skies from many different perspectives. I have been ‘sparked’ so that I may ‘spark’ others. I have been a shape-shifter moving between different worlds and cultures so that I have been able to appreciate them from a unique perspective. And I still prefer to take a shower rather than soak in a bathtub!
This Friday morning, I am feeling the chill of an Atlanta morning and appreciate anew my mild South Florida winters. I give thanks for the fall foliage that greeted me as I drove in. I am grateful for the challenges that each new day brings, whether with clouds or rosy skies.
Have a wonderful weekend Family!