Thank you, dear God, for this good life and forgive us if we do not love it enough. Thank you for the rain. And thank you for the chance to wake up in three hours and go fishing: I thank you for that now, because I won’t feel so thankful then. ~ Garrison Keillor
With a life expectancy of 78.8 years, and using estimates suggesting we hear about 30,000 words every day, most Americans’ ears will take in some 900,000,000 words in a lifetime. It must surely mean there’s something special about the few phrases and tidbits that push through the clutter in our instant daily recall.
I still hear certain choice phrases my father frequently used, and recall the one time nearly 40 years ago when he uncharacteristically broke out in a verse of Swing Low, Sweet Chariot, as we chopped cotton on an oppressively sultry Arkansas morning.
Never forgotten is the moment my young, always dramatic, attention-loving, middle-child daughter saw a pro-life billboard on the highway just as she was learning to read, and cited it out loud for us all, so sure of herself as I drove, yet misreading, “Life begins at constipation.”
Lonesome Dove, the television mini-series based on Larry McMurtry’s novel of the same name is so special to me, I know every line of the dialogue.
But it’s a recollection from an intentional meeting I uncharacteristically arranged during a bout with depression just a few years ago that’s helped broadly shape so much recent thinking, even if it is a daily challenge, still.
Dean Jacobs’ name regularly popped into my social media friend suggestions until one day I took a look. The algorithms linked us through a mutual interest in Ecuador, I’m sure. Among his credits, Dean’s traveled the 4,000 miles of the Amazon River basin, brings attention to environmental causes, and has a passion for helping the youth of an Ecuadorian indigenous tribe called the Achuar. He’d dumped life in the corporate world to pursue these things, and that got my attention.
His current adventure would bring him close to home on a canoe trip from the Mississippi River’s source in Lake Itasca, Minnesota to its terminus at the Gulf of Mexico. I dropped him a line and offered to buy a nice lunch in Memphis when he passed through. He wrote back, quickly accepted, and we targeted a tentative date.
Everything about Dean fascinated me. He drove an old, compact pickup truck nearing 200,000 miles, enjoyed successful careers in higher education and the pharmaceutical industry and dropped it all before heading out on a 22-month adventure taking him through 28 countries. Beyond traveling, he dedicates time educating stateside children toward a greater understanding of a big world.
There, in the West Memphis Cracker Barrel, we discussed world affairs and talked philosophy. As we neared the end of a late lunch, Dean shared an idea that made me glad I’d gone beyond a comfort zone and reached out to a total stranger during a time when I was pretty down.
He said, “I’ve learned that depression and gratitude cannot co-exist in the same space.”
I’d heard similar sentiments, but Dean really nailed the idea for a visual learner like me. And while some of us never completely conquer depression, the visual picture of gratitude pushing depression outside a physical space makes a world of difference in how I see certain things.
As much as anything maybe, it’s had an effect on how I pray.
The truth is, I’m a lousy warrior when it comes to focused, intentional, purposed prayer. While I feel as though I’m in a constant, companion-like conversation with God all day, most every day, and have good discipline with daily Bible study, my prayer life is less than I know He desires. And I’d like that to change.
It’s not that my prayers were so wrong for so long, as they were out of order. What I found is that I’d jump into a prayer and ask God to protect my children, and keep my family safe, and help me be more of this, and less of that. It was a laundry list of things I needed Him to do. And more times than not, I left out the most important thing. I left out my gratitude.
What’s most important to me now, much through Dean’s revelation, is a genuine acknowledgment of God’s glory, and grateful thanks for keeping, and using me for His purpose. Above all, I just want to give thanks.
There’s nothing about the Thanksgiving holiday I don’t completely love. Early in the week I love buying a cart full of groceries, oblivious to the cost, sparing no expense for all the perfect ingredients. I love waking up at 3 in the morning thinking through the strategic plan for how it must go, chopping the onions, celery, organizing the seasonings, all the prep work.
All morning, satisfying holiday aromas mingle and dance together as music blares through the house and I move back and forth from cutting board to oven to sink. And as with other monumental tasks that seem so ominous in the beginning , there’s the moment late in the morning, an hour before the first guest arrives, when you know you’ve conquered the assignment. It’s like mile 25 in the marathon. When lunch is served precisely at 1 just as the invite said, it’s a would-be chef’s sweetly savored victory.
Then, just as it has for centuries, food on a table brings people together in an especially communal way. There is happiness, peace and deep-down satisfaction. There is football, naps and complaints of gluttonous indulgence. Then, supper, of course. It’s an exhausting day, but I love it so.
The original plan called for my Thanksgiving day arrival in Santiago de Compostela, and for more than three weeks I was on schedule to do just that. The reality was that I spent most of Thanksgiving day walking alone, hobbling slowly in a heavy mist, missing home, and three days behind plan. Once again, I hoped I’d catch up with my walking partners somewhere in Melide, but hurt too much to put in extra effort finding them if it wasn’t easy.
Hungry, a bit irritable, and entering the city’s outskirts around 2 p.m., I stopped for a late lunch at a cafe where I was the only guest the entire hour. A plate of grilled chicken, papas fritas and a fresh salad was close enough to a traditional Thanksgiving, I reckoned. It was surprisingly fresh and satisfying, lifting my spirits for the final walk toward Melide’s centro.
A text from Aida an hour later gave me a general idea of my partners’ location, and after more city walking than I intended, I found her and Naomi checking in at an albergue on the far side of town.
Melide, Spain carries an international reputation for its pulpo. Some United States restaurants will have octopus from no other place. The Way takes pilgrims through Melide’s main thoroughfare where they encounter a walking tour featuring some of the world’s finest pulperias, many of which are open-air. Aromas just walking down the street are an epicurean’s delight. I was enticed by it all, but too out of the holiday spirit to much care.
Luckily, Naomi had a keen understanding for how opportunities like those in Melide can lift a pilgrim’s spirit. After showers, bunk selections and a longer than normal post-hike rest, she insisted we go out for a culinary experience in what makes Melide famous. My heart said no, but somehow the mouth said yes, and we began an early-evening stroll in search of our Thanksgiving dinner.
There’s almost nothing I love more than when a meal is surprisingly excellent. At the Garnacha Pulperia, Naomi, Aida and I enjoyed a Thanksgiving meal I’ll never forget. The pulpo was spicy sweet and so fresh you could still taste the Bay of Biscay. Hot caldo gallego and stewed potatoes gave comfort. There was a green salad with young asparagus so tender and crunchy, it delighted every sense. And pimientos de padron addictive enough you could eat them by the dozen. It was all served family style and we passed plates, served one another, poured wine, laughed, shared stories just as millions of other families did that same day. Family comes in so many forms.
I said my prayers that night, thankful for a simple experience I knew I’d always remember. And from a top bunk wrapped tightly in a sleeping bag, I asked Him if he’d walk beside me just three more days.