Sunday, 12 July 2020

Gratitude and your own, mad song

In what were probably some of the darkest times of my adult existence, I was obliged frequently to sojourn in the Eastern Cape frontier town, Grahamstown (privately and helpfully nicknamed Grimsberg during those years).

When in Grimsberg, I must do shopping.

I used to go to a little complex, called Peppergrove Mall. The front of the Pick 'n Pay there is roofed, and a part of the area is marked, by a railing, containing shopping trolleys. There used to be a slender, youngish man there, who wiped the handles of the trolleys for each customer, with sanitising wipes, which he nimbly reached over to pull out of a bucket with a hole in the top.

Not only did the man's helpfulness make the act of extracting a wipe, and sanitising my own trolley handle, unnecessary for me to do. He also wiped my grimy soul, by filling me each time with wonder.

For, on each occasion, without fail, when I fetched a trolley and greeted him, and asked him how he was, he would reply -

"I am alive! I am so grateful to God that I have today, and that is why I am happy!"

His fervour never waned, his line never changed.

When circumstances altered, and I no longer needed to frequent Grimsberg, I made a point of going especially to thank him for so liberally tossing his good cheer into my days. I am not sure that he recognised me, for I had not been coming to the town regularly anymore, and he looked, perhaps, a little nonplussed.

"You made a difference to my life," I told him, "it was a difficult time for me, and your thankfulness for being alive always meant so much."

I did not get the impression that my thanks made a difference to him. I don't think he needed it.

I never bothered to find out his name, or to make conversation with him - he did not exactly open himself up to conversation - and so, other feelings, which I could have had, such as pity for his station; or guilt and shame about the differences between us; or worry about his well-being - none of those feelings stood a chance with him.

Here was a king, as the German folk round sings it -

Froh zu sein bedarf es wenig                                        To be happy one needs very few things
und wer froh ist, ist ein Koenig.                                    and the one who is happy is a king.

One sees many memes, which highly recommend the trolley-handle-wiper's attitude of gratitude in practice. But you have to be wild to do it - wild enough to know your life can be snatched from you at any moment, wild enough to know that all you have is NOW; wild enough to be mad enough to sing your song as wholeheartedly and as wholesomely as you possibly can. And thus, the trolley-handle-wiper's song is humbling and no doubt an example for all to follow.

Hah, and there's the rub!
YOUR song is not the trolley-handle-wiper's song.
Your song is NOT the song of A.A. Milne or Piglet or Pooh Bear in the accompanying, famous illustration below.

Personally, I would have to exercise brute force on myself in order to do for somebody else what that lovely youngish man did for me. The sheer horror of having to tell myself (never mind somebody else) daily that I am happy to be alive is enough for instantaneous gloom to pour itself out within me and spread depression diligently through my system over the next five weeks. Why? Because I would be forcing myself to do something utterly monotonous to my spirit - the words would not spring up naturally out of my heart as they did out of his.

I surprise myself over and again by how fluid I am: how, not seldom, the cornucopia of disappointments and sorrows, which my life has generously granted, seem far too heavy for me to carry. Despite the fact that I am richly blessed with joys AND am grateful for them, I flop UNGRATEFULLY like wet clay back into default position, i.e. flat dust, which not even the wind can whip into a prettty storm, because this thing is way too waterlogged.

That is the moment when you become grateful for tears. Or just for honesty. Or for the teeth you're gritting all over again. And, at last, you really do resolve to make that appointment with the dentist. Tomorrow.

Photo acknowledgment: Saeed Al Jafar from Kuwait in the Masai Mara, Kenya. 'The end of a cheetah yawn'.

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