January Gratitude

by Mark Blackwell
“What contented people I’ve seen looked mighty easily pleased.” —Abe Martin

It’s January. The holidays are over. Nothing is left but stray shreds of wrapping paper, cookie crumbs, and Christmas tree needles stuck in the rug. It’s time to sober up from all the excesses of the last couple of weeks and assess the new year.

Many folks over-do the “resolution” thing. There’s a tradition that calls for us to wake up bleary-eyed and penitent on January first to declare that we will never do that again—whatever that is. We promise ourselves that we will lose weight, quit smoking, won’t spend as much next year, and on and on.

But January is a terrible time to be realistic and take positive action. It’s a dark time, both figuratively and literally. There are no more holidays to look forward to, except Presidents Day—and who wants to celebrate that? My brain is stuck in survival mode. The notion of creative, constructive, thought is as foreign as the idea of teaching my dog to sing an aria from Don Giovanni (my dog is not a tenor). I, like millions of others, invoke faith to get through this time of year—faith that the days will get longer, the weather will warm up, and that Spring will come again.

Abe Martin stopped by the other day and offered some perspectives. I was comin’ in from the barn with a load of kindlin’ when I spotted him turnin’ off the road and up my drive. I waved and he nodded. “How’s things?” I asked. He replied that things are about the way they are and asked me how I was. “Well, it could be better,” I replied. “How so?” Abe asked. I just looked at him for a minute and told him that things could always be better. “This is America, land of opportunity and that means there’s always room for improvement. My barn could be bigger, my truck could be newer. I could be wealthier and a little younger and better lookin’ t’boot. Why, what couldn’t stand improvement?” I asked back. Abe just grinned a little and shook his head.

“Alright, what have you got to say?” I challenged. He said, “Weeelll, I kin see that your attitude could use some polishin’.” To that, I parried with, “Oh yeah, and just what’s wrong with my attitude?” Abe studied the mud on his boots and said, “You jes don’t sound like yer very contented.” I went on, “I think I’m fine. I just need a little more of this and some more of that and everything’ll be just ducky.” Abe looked me in the eye and said, “Yep, right there ’tis. See, yer not contented. What contented people I’ve seen looked mighty easily pleased. And you ain’t contented.” At that point he turned and shuffled off down the road.

As usual, Abe’s visit got me to thinkin’ that maybe he’s right. Sure, I wish I had built the barn about ten feet longer, but at least I have a barn. Maybe if I cleaned it up a little and organized things some I might get some more usable space. And as far as the truck goes, it might be old but it runs and it’s paid off. I kept this up for a while and decided that things could always be better, but they weren’t all that bad either.

So, why was I not contented?

It’s hard to separate a contented person from his money. There’s a whole legion of folks workin’ round the clock, stokin’ the fires of dissatisfaction. They’re on the TV and radio and in magazines and newspapers tellin’ everybody that they’re just not quite good enough without whatever product. The advertising folks tell us we aren’t successful unless we lose weight, dress up in the right outfits, and get rid of our wrinkles. There’s a message that we can’t be happy without ownin’ computers and cell phones and bein’ connected up 24 hours every day. If you succumb, the next thing you know you’re caught in a new blizzard of advertising to convince you that you need even more stuff.

My advice is to ignore anybody who says you need somethin’. Chances are, whatever it is, you don’t need it. Outside of the three basics that we were taught in school: food, shelter, and clothing, you might add medical care and some more schooling. Anybody who’s made it that far should be gettin’ perty close to contentment. Maybe the government could help us out a little bit and offer ways to get folks health care and better education.

I’d like to see us rearrange our holiday schedule. Instead of skiddin’ up to New Years Day maybe we could celebrate Thanksgiving on the first of January. Those of a short-sighted nature would only have to look back a week to find some things to be grateful for. Surely we could come up with list of friends, family, and good fortune to offer up thanks. Why not turn New Years Day into a time to be grateful for the fact that you survived another birthday, the holidays, and another whole durn year.

I say let 2008 take care of its self and let’s try to be one of those “people who are easily pleased.”