“Nature’s beauty is a gift that cultivates appreciation and gratitude.” ~ Louie Schwartzberg.
It is sometimes hard, in the rush of routines and deadlines, to pause and pay attention to all the things you should be grateful for. Thanksgiving Day in the US may gloss over the history of the origin of this country as one in which a group of people landed and declared themselves the ‘Founders’ of a land already long settled by hard working guardians of the land. But if you can put away your instinctive desire for a correction of all that went wrong since then, it can be that day of paying attention, of appreciating.
It is hard to imagine that more than 80% of the time I have lived on this earth, I have lived in urban areas. It is possible to go walking on paved concrete and admire the trees in the neighborhood; to listen for the different birds going about their business; to watch bees at work and breathe in the beauty that sprouts up between buildings. But it is the memory of that slice of my life spent in the country that keeps me going.
Photos on my Facebook feed taken in the hills of Jamaica bring fresh reminders of that cool and soft early morning layer of peace; that time when the community is hushed, when the occasional rooster’s crow confirms the hour; when the sun, although above the horizon, still has to climb up over the surrounding hills to cast long shadows amid the trees and cultivation. There may be a cool breeze (especially towards the end of the year, when the ’Christmas Breeze’ makes you pull on a sweater), and even when there is no rain, the dew is heavy on the grass and leaves, soaking your shoes if you go for a walk. There is a stillness, as if the earth is meditating quietly to itself before it pulls on its work boots and gets ready for a serious, action packed day.
If you want to know the pull of the country to Jamaicans living abroad, read Claude McKay: “Jasmines, night jasmines, perfect of perfume, Heavy with dew before the dawn of day!” Or of course at this time of year: “I have forgotten much, but still remember The poinsettias red, blood-red in warm December.”
Not that there isn’t much to appreciate in city life. For some, the country is a great place to visit, but who wants to deal with that kind of inconvenience? When you live in the city (or even the suburbs) nothing is far away. Malls, banks, government offices, all are within easy reach. You don’t have to make plans, make appointments, try to make the most of a day’s trip to the city. And if it is green space you want, that’s what parks are for! They even have gardens planted on the tops of sky-scrapers! Walls of greenery can be spotted in the middle of a city block! And who could resist those gentrified areas, where trendy cafés, enticing pastry shops, bookstores with treats for all readers abound. Of course, let’s not think about those poor (predominantly) black folk who lost their humble dwellings in those ‘historically black’ areas of town to the developers and movers and shakers. They’ll find somewhere to be relocated to.
It has taken a year of COVID to remind us to be grateful of all we have, of all those we have lost, of what is important in life. But there are those who have focused on all they have been unable to do, bemoaning the year 2020 as one of horror and disaster. And indeed it has been immensely challenging. But it is up to us to flip the script, to turn over the card and count what we have gained rather than what we have lost. I don’t want to belittle the very real crises that some are facing; food insecurity is a bigger problem than ever; there are many who could not work from home, or have lost their jobs, and now have no idea how to pay their bills. But how we respond to life’s challenges can be the difference between survival and overcoming.
I have never liked the term ‘survival’ as applied to those who have lived through disasters, or health threats, because to me it sounds passive. It does not capture the amount of energy and hard work that it takes to face and make it through some existential danger, some horror. There was a song in the 90s that described a series of trials that people have to go through in life, and singer wondered if he could face and overcome, if tested. It is easy to imagine how resilient we would be if challenged, how we would turn it into a story of heroism and overcoming, we would be the protagonist in our own legend.
This communal college course we have all been enrolled in this year has had a lot of assignments; it has required us to change the way we live our lives; it has turned our priorities on their heads. But the most important thing was not to get the highest grade, but to learn as much as you can from the lessons. And as we appreciate, give thanks, show gratitude, it is also important to acknowledge that our life before COVID was full of excess. We owned far more clothes than we actually needed; wasted far more time worrying about things beyond our control; that we did things carelessly and without consideration for our planet, our environment.
I looked up the origin of the word acknowledge this morning. One explanation is that it is a blend of a few Middle English words that mean to understand, to know, and to admit or confess. And I think it is the admission part that makes it significant at this time. Usually when we read the acknowledgments in a book, the author is thanking those who have helped with research or provided background for a story. But it is the recognition that the author was somewhat ignorant in those areas, that s/he needed that help, that support. In the midst of giving thanks it is important to acknowledge how much we need each other.
This Thanksgiving Friday morning, I hope you appreciated your new tradition (if you are reside in the US), a new way of being in this world. It was heartening to hear of the many who created ‘to go’ dinner boxes, packaged gifts of goodies that somewhat made up for missing the crowd around a communal dining table. And if you are feeling overwhelmed, I hope you can find a green space somewhere to echo country living, to recall that slow peaceful start to a day, away from the concrete jungle.
Have a wonderful weekend, Family!