Don Rogers: Gratitude goes so far

Don Rogers
Don Rogers

I’m grateful to the bees and wasps that stung me through childhood up to the yellowjacket doubled over on a forearm while I ran a chainsaw in the brush, gently set the saw down, and only then slapped it off my arm, now on fire, howling.

To Sandy Beach waves, which bounced me off the bottom and drove not just water through my nose and ears, but sand, yes sand. Which taught me to curl into a ball at the end of rides, to start swimming in the shore spit.

To the ice I skittered across on my snowboard, to the moguls I no longer take. To injuries, every one, baseball, softball, basketball, jumping out of a crew truck to open and close a gate on initial attack and wrapping fiber tape tight around a knee and not limping, much, onto a helicopter to our fire line assignment before a boss could notice. How else would I have gutted it out, learned something about myself?

I’m grateful for every test I did not pass, every F on an essay, every titter I endured while serious. To every embarrassment, especially socially, nearly all while young. Every awkward conversation, dumb remark, words I wish I could take back.

I’m grateful to the bullies, the critics, the trolls. To the lousy teachers, the idiot bosses, colleagues who wouldn’t listen. I’m grateful to complete, utter defeat.

I’m grateful to the bridge I contemplated throwing myself off of. It was only momentary, indulgent, a thought experiment really, not even a high bridge; I’d have had to drown. The misery of the moment passed surprisingly fast for the strength of its grip. Not that big a deal, all around, even if the water, the lamplight, the incredibly persuasive question — why not? — all hold their tug in memory, indelible to this day.

To youth and the inevitable path to wisdom so often playing the fool. To every lost love, to every stupid thing I did or didn’t do to cause it.

I’m grateful even to my father, my hero, exasperated one afternoon off the Honolulu coast trying to teach me to sail, hollering, “No, the other starboard!” while I lurched toward a port winch, wondering why he couldn’t just say left or right, cursing him properly like a sailor. To my own son in Little League, scowling and giving me the slash sign across the throat after I called out some helpful parental advice about swinging the damn bat. He could have flashed worse, now that I think about it.

So hey, happy Thanksgiving, loser.

I mean, aren’t we missing something when we thank only the people and events that have made life wonderful? Don’t we see enough of this cotton candy, “It’s a Wonderful Life” on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, in newspaper columns everywhere around now?

Gratitude for Dad wise in his chair, Mom always, apple pie? (And this year ours will come from our own tree, along with some good hard cider we made ourselves; of course we’re all grateful for that. “We?” I’m hearing my family say as I write.)

The mother of our children, love of our life, best friend, soul mate? Mentors and benefactors, people who just liked and helped us because that’s who they were? Everyone who gave us the slightest nudge in the right direction, that wind at our back? Our children, our dogs, our cats?

Sure and to our big breaks and always that someone who stepped in on our behalf at just the right time. To winning lottery tickets, however modest, and ski passes and continued good health just like Mom said was most important of all. Well, next to young grandchildren.

To all that and more, we should sit a minute and feel our gratitude for what turned out great, helped us along the way. All our blessings, and they are many.

My logic, if we can call it that, breaks down here. Thank misfortune as well as fortune, the wrong turns, the bad decisions, the obstacles, the accidents, sure.

But there’s darker than that, even living as we do in the greatest time and greatest place for human life in the history of our species.

How can some of us summon gratitude for their abusers, tormentors, attackers, rapists, thieves of fortunes, traffickers of all the worst that can be imagined and other truly evildoers? For the deaths of loved ones to violent means, horrible disease, wrecks on the road, addictions, despair, mental illness, broken lives?

Where can thanks giving possibly lie except in thanks for the good fortune to avoid these worst of the worst possibilities in life?

Still, we are who we are from all of it, what we’ve experienced and what we’ve managed to miss.

Yet some do come through just those worst, most evil experiences with gratitude intact, at least in some measure. How is that? And what comes of it? I’d like to say sainthood and perhaps that’s so for a precious few who can turn such extreme pain into a purpose you and I can only guess at. Survival might be enough, though.

Never mind gratitude. I’m in pure awe of them.

Don Rogers is the publisher of the Sierra Sun and The Union, based in Grass Valley. He can be reached at or 530-477-4299.

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