Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Gratitude

Well, we Americans will be celebrating Thanksgiving here the day after tomorrow. Being part Native American, I'm not totally unambivalent about Thanksgiving, but I like the notion of gratitude, however superficial, being interjected into our rather selfish culture. And for those of us who are aware how delicately things are balanced, and can imagine a more difficult future, I think that only enhances the urgency of both gratitude, and its partner, generosity.

I've been thinking a lot about the degree to which peak oil is pushing me simultaneously in two directions that I would once have thought were exclusive, but now I know are not. On the one hand, my job is to become more self-sufficient - less dependent upon marketplaces, electronic and gas powered slaves, and public economies. On the other hand, because I can't do everything, I become more dependent on neighbors, and people and friends, and, since that is my personal sort of thing, on G-d. Regardless of whether theism is your thing, it can be a little unnerving to know that going into the future, you will have to rely on a lot of awfully contingent others.

I think a lot of people find the notion of being dependent upon others frightening, and they are not alone in that. Other people are, after all, much less reliable and far more complicated than lawn mowers, dishwashers and private cars. And when, as often happens, the balance of what they do for me shifts, and I've done less and they've done more, I'm grateful, but uncomfortable with the necessity of gratitude at times. Risking owing someone more than you can pay is frightening. Indebtedness is difficult. No one wants to be the one who owes more, and most of us are on some level afraid of being taken advantage of as well. But more than being owed, I think we're afraid of owing. We have this notion that all debts must be paid, when in fact, the only way all debts can be paid is if you live wholly and purely in a money economy, and never at all in the economy of love.

And in fact, the economy of human love is what we're moving towards as we give up our electric tools and our reliance on the grocery stores - that is the basic nature of community, or family - an unbalanced, imperfect, inadequate set of exchanges. Barter, and sharing and community are, as people often point out, far less efficient than money. Money allows you to figure out what things are "worth" - with barter or simple sharing, there are things that can never be quite worked out. Is that firewood equivalent to 12 dozen eggs? Was it really enough for me to babysit in exchange for the help getting the gutters cleaned out? Should I make some cookies too? What is the correct repayment for loving your child, or helping care for your elderly parents, or for chasing the local pest dog across an icy field to rescue your chicken? Things never come out evenly. You always have to be grateful, and thus, dependent. If we give up all the things that have stood as barriers between ourselves and the people we need, that have enabled us never to be dependent, we're never again going to be square. The only hope is that the person you are working with or bartering with or sharing with is secretly afraid that she/he hasn't done his fair share either.

But then again, that's what love is, isn't it? I've never met anyone who loved someone, or was truly loved by someone else who didn't secretly think that their spouse (or parents, or child or friend) was crazy to love them, that if they could really see all the way through, they'd realize how inequitable things are. So you end up just being grateful, feeling damned lucky that this time, you got more than you ever deserved. That some miracle, or gift appeared to you, and someone loves you.

Sometimes all barter is is "I've got honey, will you give me carrots?" And sometimes all neighbors are are someone you can ask to help pound the fence pole in. And sometimes all friends are is the person you sit down at the table with on the day you are supposed to consider gratitude. But the day you start to trust that your neighbor will remember that you need some carrots, and the day that your neighbors step away from their own work, no matter how urgent, because keeping you secure and your sheep in is more important than their work, and the day that the friend sits at your table, and shares the fruits of her garden and you the fruits of yours, and you eat and you eat and you eat and you are full together of what you share, you have achieved not just community, but gratitude, and an economy of love.

Shalom, and happy Thanksgiving.

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