Lessons in Gratitude… and those who teach them

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It’s the last couple days before ‘month- end’. Three to be exact. You’ve been counting the minutes in the hours before you go to the ATM with desperate hope to see, as local slang goes, “the eagle drop s&*t”. We’ve all been there.

Weeks of despair due to bad budgeting become history, inevitable to be repeated, as the temporary increase in wealth causes inexplicable spending. It is self-inflicted poverty, experienced in its harshest stages after Christmas and during Carnival season. While we cringe at the thought of not having gas money or being able to indulge in an after-work beer, there’s a Trinbagonian, right here, in your own country, who worries how he’ll feed his family on $200 a day, pay utilities, rent and have money to travel to work. There’s a whole strata of our society here in Trinidad and Tobago, where he is considered ‘lucky.

Seventeen percent of people in our country live below the poverty line. To be classified as poor, a person must earn approximately $645 a month. When even a ‘short drop’ is $4, milk, bread and cheese can run you close to $40, and the price of a single textbook in primary school can be close to $100, we should question, how do they live?

In 2008, on a trip home for Carnival, I was relaxing in the living room when I heard the doorbell. Peering through I spotted a rail-thin, frail man of East Indian descent, hair silver straight through, perhaps 60-something in age, but particularly deceptive since his clothes added ten years by their quality and style. Pleasantly greeting the man, I enquired how I may help. The gentleman wrinkled eyes filled with tears as he told me, with evident pain, the poverty his wife and him were living in, and that he was willing to do an odd job for some cash or food. He told me that it had been days since he last ate, lifting up his tattered shirt in despair, showing how his belt had been tightened to its furthest hole, so tight it looked like a noose around his waist. Helplessly frustrated, he confided that his wife had to employ shredded newspaper as sanitary napkins, as they could not afford the cotton variety. Tears came to my own eyes as I signaled him to wait as I ran inside.  Finding myself out of cash, I grabbed a small plastic bag and emptied a Pringles can we kept for loose change. Grabbing another bag, I emptied cupboards, filling the bag with any and all tinned goods. Peas and carrots with sardines?

“His reaction to my simple offerings was one of the most fulfilling moments of my life – the human gift of gratitude, the spiritual gift of grace”

Having felt his pain so intimately, past fraternal love or blood relation, but on the most basic connection, compassion, my heart ached that I couldn’t provide square meals instead of mismatched food groups. His face lit up, anyway, on my return. He took the heavy bag of change with almost child-like wonder. I ached again for not being able to give more. However, operating on the most fundamental of human feelings, his reaction to my simple offerings was one of the most fulfilling moments of my life – the human gift of gratitude, the spiritual gift of grace.

Recently, my horoscope said to ease people into seeing the positive, or risk losing a friend for rushing them into perceiving the good in their lives. I only believe my horoscope if it’s positively speaking about my love life. That experience with the old man was my crash course in gratitude. Since 2008, when I feel poor because my bank statement tells me I’m down to my last hundred, I give a prayer of thanks that I’m not ringing doorbells for handouts. When I’m frustrated that my dietary options are bread and cheese, or cheese and bread, I give thanks that I don’t really understand what ‘banding meh belly’ really means. Those of you reading this in an air-conditioned office or bedroom, munching on dinner specials, educated, well fed and clothed, should give a prayer of thanks too.

Aesop once said, “Gratitude is the sign of noble souls”. You can draw your own conclusion about the moral of this piece. Yes it’s about recognising that there are approximately 221,000 Trinbagonians living in poverty. It does reflect on human connections and showing compassion when you can. The point that I hope is most poignant and one that I stress, despite the warning of my horoscope, is to stop bitching about ‘being brokes’ or ‘things hard’. Too bad you can’t afford a night out. Be grateful! Look for the silver linings. Recognise that while most forms of misery are based on our ‘wants’ remaining unfulfilled, there are many of ‘us’ out there who can express gratitude if our basic of needs are met.

 

Quilin Achat

Quilin Achat is an avid lover of reading, so it's no surprise that she runs a small, unconventional bookstore called The Fire is Lit, in San Fernando. Check out the Fire is Lit at http://facebook.com/theFireisLit.

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