Albany Journal – 8/17/12

As we sit here in the present, either in our own homes or rented apartments, among relatives and roommates, with cars and SUVs, or at least a few cigarettes to smoke, it is sometimes a unique difficulty when we find nothing to be grateful for in this life.  It seems that in the high schools and in the colleges, while some of us turn to academics for enlightenment or the fall sport of football for the physical shape of our bodies, we are always taught never to be satisfied with anything.  When we own our own homes, we want bigger homes with costlier price tags.  When our sons and daughters have fine schools they go to, we want even better schools in other wealthier districts.  When we already have a million dollars, we crave a million more, just to buy those new dresses and suits at the more posh department stores.  Rarely do we want to go back down a level after reaching a majestic material height, but what happens more than not is that our lives are roller coasters – we go up and we come down, until we notice that all we’re doing is going around and around, and no, we are never willing to surrender to what we have already.  This frame of mind doesn’t involve greed at all, because none of us are really greedy in my humble opinion.  We are just trained to want more out of life, and so what we have are cravings, all due to  this concept called ‘more.’ 

This is actually one of the main problems with American society today.  We are not greedy for the things we want.  We just want more, and this small nugget of truth gives rise to the capitalistic framework of our country as well as our capitalistic fervor towards our country.  If we want material items, we go until we find the best quality.  When we want power, it is our job to compete for public office, let’s say, or become chairpersons of the board who have power over company policy.  There can only be one top dog after all, and like the playground game of “king of the hill,’ our job is to defeat anyone standing in our way, as things get narrower as we move to even higher ground upon the ladder that we have been so used to climbing since we all learned how to crawl.  But where does the idea of gratitude fit in to all of this?  Should gratitude fit in anywhere, considering what gratitude is up against?

I, for one, haven’t been grateful enough these days.  My computer works well, and somehow I want a better one.  My car is ready roll, but somehow it is not good-looking enough.  I have a round belly, but somehow I need a tighter one.  You see, I too am stuck in this paradigm of always wanting more, and while it is quite natural to rise steadily in social position and political rank in this world, it is important that we revert back to the simple things that we already have.  It is important to engage in simple pleasures, even though our spending on new, complex items rules the day.

I am grateful for shelter, clothing, food, and transportation.  Now this sounds more basic and much simpler than buying that ten-story apartment complex in SoHo.  I am grateful for the people I know, and this is much better for us than always wanting to meet someone higher up on the social scale.  Sure, we would like to hang around movie stars and successful people, as there is no way I can be satisfied with the basic friendships that I have formed in Albany already.  Yet I should definitely be grateful to have a community of friends, because one doesn’t really need much more, I would think, than a community of friends and support networks to fall back on.  We should all be grateful for that.  I am grateful that my father earned enough money to send me to college.  It’s not the best college in the world, but it is a damn good one, and yet most of my friends in my graduating class felt less of themselves, because they couldn’t get into Ivy League schools.  This sounds very sick to me.  Actually, what about being grateful for our health, or grateful that we’re not dead yet?  Can we at least be grateful for the songs we hear on the radio, or do we have to have the most popular tunes all of the time?

Gratitude, though, more than anything material or social or even political, is more of a feeling than anything else.  It is often that we ‘feel’ grateful rather than pin it on anything we specifically have, like a new television or a new microwave oven.  Certainly we can be more demanding about the products that we own, but of course, gratitude remains this emotional variable that only comes when we just go ahead, jump off the cliff into the wide-mouth of the river below, only to lose every scrap of what we once owned. 

I often think about those flood victims further up north in New York State.  They lost everything.  Down South too, all the way to New Orleans, which is still recovering from Hurricane Katrina.  And when I saw a news report about what these residents had to say, it is amazing how they are happy enough that their families are safe – if they were indeed saved – and they have such a motivation to rebuild what was lost to those flood waters, it’s just uncanny how one can be grateful just to have their own lives and not depressed by all of nature’s catastrophes and the materials that were almost instantly taken away.  When I hear people on the news say that they are just lucky to be alive, and that they actually look happy on the screen, I am really confused.  If one were to put me in that situation, I would be the most depressed man in the country without any will to go on.  I would just passively sit under a tree and contemplate the vast complexities of where I should move next.  There is no way I would ever be able to stick it out in a flooded town – which is why I’m so amazed that so many who have fallen victims to great floods are still willing to rebuild all that Mother Nature took away.  I can safely say that I am grateful for people like that – the people who build and create societies and businesses rather than just simply owning them, like shares of common stock.

And so, dear reader, I am thankful for the sunlight that keeps us warm, the few slices of no-frills cheese that I have in the fridge – and of course, all of those Diet colas that keep me awake.  I am grateful, I say!  Now if I could only be more grateful than other people.  (Just kidding).

Harvey Havel is the author of five novels. This past spring, Stories from the Fall of the Empire, his sixth book and his first collection of short stories, was recently released by Publish America. Later this summer, Two Tickets to Memphis, his sixth novel, is forthcoming from Publish America as well. Havel has previously taught Writing at Bergen Community College in Paramus, New Jersey and also at SUNY Albany and the College of St. Rose, both in Albany, New York. Born in Lahore, Pakistan in 1971, Havel now resides full time in Albany, New York.