Gratitude

There’s a lot to be grateful for. In the spirit of ‘half-full or half-empty,’ it has become clear to me that life is, at the moment, leaning definitely in favor of the full side. Count your blessings. How many times have you heard that? Sometimes you hear something so often you cease to listen. But then, the right time comes; perhaps the phone is charging or the TV is off. Maybe the guests had to bail at the last minute and you have a little alone time. Maybe it’s thanksgiving and you find yourself up before everyone else is awake. Whatever. You settle in and, unconsciously, your thoughts drift to the day. Mind did this morning and I started to list what I’m grateful for.

Family did not make this list at all.

No I haven’t lost it. Look, if I decide to even mention family at all it will so eclipse the other items as to make them nothing more than a footnote. Next to everything else family looms just too high. The one (of two) things I would be nothing without.

So, too, with friends. Same reason. By the way it’s the ‘other’ thing.

So, here’s the list of why I’m grateful to be living in my province (NL) and in my country (Canada). You will find it easy to disagree with many of these, or at least nitpick. Perhaps as you read some of my items you will be able to find it inside yourself to resist the urge to admonish me to remove my head from my posterior. All I can say is that the list (a) reflects my own biases and (b) is based on general perception. There are many exceptions.

The levels of government are essentially serving the needs of most of the people and not just a privileged minority. Don’t mock :>) In this country politics is certainly a full-contact sport. In the broadcast media, at popular online spaces such as reddit (a place without which this world would be so sorely diminished) and in public spaces, there is certainly a healthy ongoing debate about all the so-called stupid and self-serving things that all levels of government are engaged in. But just step back and think about for a few minutes. Under a truly self-serving government, wouldn’t all debate be suppressed, elections be ‘rigged’  and our social policies reflect only the needs of the super-rich. You may have to take your cynic’s cap off to do this, mind you. While there certainly are elements of all three items in modern society it is also true that they only exist to the extent that we–the people at large–allow them to. We have freedom of expression (yes, under challenge, especially in digital media), honest elections (the irregularities are under investigation, thanks to the efforts of many) and decent social policies (which, while facing challenge are still being vigorously defended by the people at large, including our long-suffering union movement).

Law enforcement officials are on the side of the people. People of conscience do not have to live in fear of the police here. Just this weekend a friend of mind related a story of how he’d been pulled over by the police. They had him dead to rights talking on his cellphone and he was faced with the possibility of a $300, 4-demerit penalty. Now, as an aside let me be clear on one thing: I am staunchly against the use of cellphones while driving. In many cases, including mine, people are unable to safely operate a vehicle while driving. The conversation, be it text or voice, robs you of of the situational awareness required to safely operate the vehicle. That said, it is worth noting there are few absolutes. It depends. Some drivers can handle this better than others and sometimes you do need to take the call–there are such things as emergencies. In this case it was a quick call, on an important matter made by someone who hardly uses the cellphone at all, especially while driving. But he got caught and the officer could see what was going on. This was not a cronic user operating the vehicle erratically. Iyt was a quiet street and the driving was not visibly unsafe; it was just that the officer’s trained eyes spotted the cellphone. The officer found a reason to give him a smaller penalty, one that, under the circumstances will give him reason to pause the next time the phone rings in his car; in short justice was served. That’s not the case everywhere. Elsewhere he could have faced the ‘full force of the law’ to make him suffer greatly for what was, in reality a minor offense or, worse, would have been expected to provide a personal bribe to ‘get out of it.’ Neither is acceptable here.

We are reasonably safe. The next time you see a car being pulled-over by the police take note of how it plays out. Notice, in particular, that the officer’s body language does not convey extreme fear or caution. You will not see that hand-on-the-gun side-step approach. No, the officer will simply stride to the window and ask for the normal documents. That, by itself, signifies the fact that we expect strangers to not pose a threat to us. Violence is not the norm here.

Necessities of life (food, clothing, etc.) are affordable and obtainable. It’s become popular to gripe about the cost of milk, gasoline, meat, whatever. Lost in this whole conversation is the simple fact that costs of the basic necessities comprise a much lower percentage of our time and money than they once did. In the pre-industrial age, for example, the mere provisioning of food tied up all of the efforts of  about 80% of the population. By contrast food production now runs more like 15-20% of so-called ‘manufacturing’. More importantly, we now only spend 10-15% of our income on food. And, look, a litre of gasoline is cheaper than a litre of bottled water–read what you want into that! This is not to say that, as consumers, we should continue to advocate for prices that balance a living wage for the producers against our own prices. The fact remains that in general our society offers more than just the possibility of having more than enough to sustain the basic needs of life, thus leaving us with the resources to pursue our concept of ‘the good life’ if we wish.

We have a vibrant arts community. Notwithstanding all of the commotion around governments’ lack of support for the arts, the fact remains: we are truly surrounded by beauty produced by our culture. Music, dance, visual art–the list goes on. You can find it everywhere; in the streets, the bars, the shops and the publically-supported spaces we have. What’s more there is general acceptance that this is of value. Those of you who wish to argue need only visit George Street or any craft fair or theatre and see for yourselves.

Sport is valued. Sure, not enough people are participating but there’s no doubt that society is actively encouraging it. Yes, cheap fast food entices us to undo our best efforts at personal fitness. Also agreed: TV and video-games are spiriting our young people away from the physical activity they need. That aside, let’s not forget that for the most part those are things that we should be dealing with as individuals. ‘Society’ is not feeding our kids junk and chaining them to the TV. We–parents and guardians of all types–are responsible for that. There are options to junk food and passive entertainment and institutions do provide and promote them. The fact remains that we live in a society that has a lot to offer in the way of sport and it is just up to us as individuals to get on with it.

We have access to decent health care. Turn on the TV or the radio and you will hear story after story of people left waiting for critical care or for particular procedures. Stories about about malpractice or professional misconduct also abound. You will also hear much about the terrible wasteful bureaucracy that surrounds our whole system. Bashing health care is socially acceptable, almost a starting point for social conversation because there exists an unwritten agreement that the ‘the system’ is failing us. Lost in that, though, are the tremendous advances that modern health care have brought. We forget so easily that in our past the infant mortality rate was tragically awful, the population at large was generally undernourished, pain and suffering was commonplace and widespread infectious diseases took a steady deadly toll. Just look at the life expectancy rates from just 50 years ago. Today we live in a society where vaccination programs have all but wiped out those deadly infectious diseases, where free dental and eye care have had almost immeasurable benefit and where routine medical procedures are just that: routine. Broken limbs, lacerations, infections. They are nothing compared to what they once were. What remains are the truly hard cases.  That is what they are and it’s wise to bear that in mind. The next time you need to visit a hospital, take the time to look and listen. Notice the doctors who hurry by. A casual glance might imply rush; impatience. A closer look will reveal determination; a need practice a highly-skilled craft in the face of emergencies and tight deadlines. Watch the nursing staff–a close look shows the human response to the weight of an almost unbearable workload; a response fueled by a combination of dedication and compassion. It’s everywhere, in the diagnostic, administrative and maintenance staff, everywhere you look you find the collective application humanity. Say what you will, as long as that is there the system is something we can be thankful for.

We can get where we want to go and we can communicate with whom we please, cheaply and easily. Most of our ancestors, at some point, left a far-away country at a young age, never to return and never to communicate with friends and family ‘at home’ again. Just think about that. Somehow a phone bill or a weather delay in the airport just doesn’t seem so bad.

You don’t have to be brave every day. Don’t misunderstand; this is not to imply gratitude because that we can hide behind anonymity. No, far from that. We do need to follow our principles–every single day. In order to live worthwhile lives our actions do have to match our values and that means that frequently we all have to undergo great stress as we buck the trend or proceed to do what we must even when it hurts. That said, we are all vulnerable; human and there are days when it just seems harder than normal; days when, for whatever reason, we are just not as strong as we can be. Grief, stress, illness: it takes a toll and every now and then it is just so good to know that we live in a place where there are many helping hands; hands that can pick up the slack when it happens and let others rest for a while.

The land. If you start at the eastern part of the province, stick to the TCH, and just head west you will be treated to an ever-changing landscape: the turfy highlands;  moose country; a spectacular vista of a far-greater-bay; the land of beneficial vapors; the boreal forest; lakes and more lakes; river country; the mountains; the valley; the great gulf, the great expanse; the great parkland forest; the tundra; the mountains again. On and on. Then you can also go off the beaten path and it gets even better. No matter how many years you spend exploring you still discover wonder after wonder here in this place.

The water. This works two ways. First, just turn on the tap and there it is. Contrast that with hauling buckets home from a disease-infested community well. Second, everywhere you go along our vast coastlines you are treated to the next big view: cliffs dropping to rocky beaches; gentle hills rolling to the sea; mountains broken by fijords that just go on and on; waterfalls running straight to the ocean; sheltered harbours and coves; windy blue watery days; crashing grey salty days; flat calm days with fog teasing the edges, making you wonder what’s beyond; heaps of slate; fist-sized beach rocks, white sand, grey sand, golden sand, no sand–just seaweed-covered rocks. Even more. Every day–really–it reminds you of the words from Wayne Chaulk’s beautiful Saltwater Joys, “I was born down by the water, and here I’m gonna stay.”

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About Maurice A. Barry

Coordinator: Teaching and Learning Commons, Faculty of Education, Memorial University of Newfoundland, Parent & Husband. eLearning consultant/coordinator. Program Development Specialist - eLearning (Department of Education; Retired). Writer: over 40 Math/Physics texts/webs. Developer & Manager of web content. Geek. Not into awards but loves comments.
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