I was raised atheist, but when I was little I used to recite my gratitudes, concluded with “Thank you, God.” I was never sure about the idea of God Himself, per se, but I didn’t know whom, or what, else to thank. Eventually, I gave up on these recitations– not because my desire to acknowledge my thanks diminished but rather because I felt my thoughts were directed to a force I didn’t fully believe in.
Standing at the foot of mountains on my first morning in what some consider the “wilderness,” I found myself much smaller than I remembered and once again compelled to express my gratitude. This time, though, my recipient was broader; disillusioned by the idea of a single God, I instead said thank you to the world I’m so lucky to be a part of. The Biblical saying “ashes to ashes, dust to dust” stuck in my mind as a humbling summary of my connection with the very many lives and life forces with whom I share this planet.
At one point, the realist instincts I grew up with would have protested against the idea that mere thoughts of thankfulness could have any impact on the world or even myself. However, I now believe that making an effort to express gratitude may potentially impact my mindset and, consequentially, my actions, even in some minor but accumulated ways– and that doing so is the very least I can do for a world that allows me to love and to think.
Growing up as a semi-nomad of sorts, I’ve felt little connection to the lands I live on and to the food I consume, and it’s been easy to move through unexamined motions of living. On the rocky shore of the Colorado this morning, Jeff prompted us to think about how our families interacted with the natural environments they felt most connected to, in contrast to how we connect with our fondest spaces in nature. I thought first of my great-grandparents’ apple orchard, which they sold before my memory begins, and then of the beach closest to my house, a place which I frequent and love dearly. Although I do take the time at my beach for an occasional reflective moment, most of my time at the beach is for recreation, and I do not allow that land to sustain me, nor do I sustain it, in any significant way. Instead, my food flocks from across the world and arrives to me anonymously at grocery stores where I rarely question its origins or impacts.
My contract with the land is something I lack and something I must work to found with intention if I want to live a happier, more meaningful, more sustainable life built less off of blind consumption and more off of love. I’m not yet sure how to create this relationship , but I will begin with gratitude.