Penguins in the Pool

The world has faced some major challenges lately. When you think about it, 2017 has played out like a tale from biblical times. An evil ruler has taken over, rewarding the rich and persecuting the poor and the disenfranchised. He is raising giant walls and golden towers in his likeness, built on the backs of the labourers and common people, erected purely to honour himself and isolate everyone who will not fall to their knees and worship him. But he has angered the Gods with his gluttony, and in turn, the greater powers have brought forth “fire and fury,” an environmental wrath the likes of which we have never seen. They have shaken the Earth and ravaged the land with fire and flood. Seriously, can you believe this crap?

And yet, somehow, I feel more thankful than ever. This strikes me as odd. A year ago, the state of things was definitely better. There was more peace and kindness and rain fell from the sky and the forests were not glowing with an angry blaze. We could camp and bike ride and hike wherever we wanted, warming ourselves by a fire and licking the sugary s’mores from our sticky fingers. Is it possible that the tougher things get, the more grateful we are for what we still have? I think, maybe, yes.

Back in July, when the fire in the Caribou raged out of control and people were fleeing with ten-minutes’ worth of scrambled belongings, I watched an interview that shifted my entire perspective on gratefulness. I’ve always taken for granted that the more you have, the more you have to be grateful for. I imagined that people living in gold palaces with butlers and real penguins swimming in the pool must be SO thankful for their amazing lives. And then the levels of gratefulness were ratcheted down from there. I fall somewhere in the middle, which is pretty thankful, but, you know, not like Jay-Z thankful. Then I watched the interview.

It was a man named Bob, who a TV station had managed to corral and place before a camera just as he returned to the home he’d been evacuated from two days earlier. Except there was no home behind Bob. Instead, there was a pile of ashes, still smoldering and sparking where his home, the home he’d built with his wife forty-five years earlier, used to be. But Bob wasn’t crying. Bob was standing before the black mess with a huge smile on his face. The reporter asked him why he was smiling, and he replied, “Oh, this is just stuff. My wife and I got out fine, and we got the dog and the two cats too. I’m just so thankful we managed to catch the cats!”

That was Bob. And he was thankful. This got me thinking. Maybe I had the whole concept of gratefulness wrong. Maybe being grateful has absolutely nothing to do with what we have or don’t have. Maybe, it’s all in the way you look at things. After I recovered from the crowning of the evil ruler, a catastrophe I thought I’d never get over, I started to feel grateful. For living in Canada. For marching women. And then, for firefighters and clean water and access to food, and laying my head on my own pillow every night. And for my family.

I am overwhelmed by my gratitude. I get a lump in my throat every time I turn on the news, watching storms pound down and buildings burning and men and women putting their own safety at risk to help others. We live in a world where people will still paddle their kayak down a Texas street searching for missing dogs, and pilots will fly directly into a wall of fire to save someone’s barn. A Lama who lost his sister in the fire has a go-fund-me page to repair his fence and buy some fresh hay. He’s doing quite well. And Bob found his cats. It’s a good world. And if you look for them, you will find so many reasons to be grateful that your cup will runneth over. And I bet none of them will involve live penguins swimming in your pool. Although, let’s face it, that would be cool.