Paradoxical Connotations of Gratitude

This picture illustrates the prominence other cultures place on things Americans tend to take for granted.

This picture illustrates the indifference and loss of gratitude Americans have for things which we feel are given rights rather than luxuries.

                While vacationing in Puerto Vallarta, one thing that had me baffled was the amount of gratitude people embodied. I believe our Americanized definition of appreciation and gratitude is mildly tainted and derived from a tunneled sense of vision. There, people stop and smell the roses (yes, I know that’s cheesy), but we don’t! For the most part, we are so used to having supplies that meet our basal needs. We have opportunity. We have a great deal of equality and fairness. We have more than we tend to realize.

                I was able to meet an amalgam of people in Mexico. Yet, there was one man who truly stood out. I encountered him on a morning that was alike any other. My family and I lazily got out of bed, meandering our way to the kitchen to grab something to eat. We decided to go to the small town of Yelapa. Assembling our gear for the day, we trekked out of the condo to catch a taxi. Expecting the ride to be congruous to the others, I listened with a negligent ear as the driver spoke over his walkie-talkie – his words rolling one after the other at an incomprehensible speed for my three years of Spanish. Yet, I eventually couldn’t help but recognize an unusual (to me) sense of enthusiasm and delight in his voice. It was then that he turned to my family and began asking us about ourselves in fluent English.

                Our new friend continued on to narrate his time in the United States. He moved to Tillamook, Oregon for three years to milk cows in his early twenties. All the while, he had been saving to pay for his half of a taxi in which he and his brother would grow to share as the primary mean for their income.

                Three years in American milking cows, away from his family, not speaking English, probably paid an unfair wage, and most likely living in sub-par conditions. Yet, this was a job (unlike any he was able to easily discover in Mexico) was paying what to him was an exceptional wage which allowed him to buy his half of the taxi!

                To us, owning a car is simply a right. Everyone has one. They’re easy to get. I don’t appreciate my car as if it were anything out of the ordinary. In fact, sometimes I look around at the people around me and see their brand new cars and feel as if I just don’t measure up. But Carlos had nothing but extreme appreciation for his taxi. In Mexico, he explained, it is a huge deal to own your own taxi as it serves as an income for him, his wife, his two kids, his brother, and his brother’s family.

                Additionally, he works 4am-4pm and his brother drives it 4pm-4am! They are literally working 6 days a week for 24 hours between the two of them! Meanwhile, I’m over here worried about my iPhone malfunctioning, getting my nails done, being on time to yoga, and efficiently splitting my time between school, Netflix, and friends.

                As Carlos continued to drive, he filled the car with an electric energy that soon caused me to subscribe to his words with my undivided attention. He went out of his way to take us forty-five minutes to Boca de Tomatlan as he informed it would be more cost efficient than the water taxi. Not only did he save us some pesos, but he stopped to show us his favorite sites along the way. First, he veered off the road to show us a public entrance he had recently discovered to what he claimed was one of the most beautiful beaches in Puerto Vallarta. He further informed us that many people don’t know they can access it because the entrance is hidden amongst palm trees and other foliage. Second, we stopped at a look out and, as I began snapping pictures, he so kindly insisted on taking one of our family. Before dropping us off, he made sure to warn us of the private boat rides we should evade due to the fact that they can be a bit of a rip-off. Additionally, he explained to us we had to try the key lime pie in Yelapa. In fact, he noted that he takes his family to get a slice on rare and special occasions when he has the extra money.

                Carlos took three years to go to another country to milk cows and his brother saved every penny working for Senior Frogs in order to just simply split the cost of a taxi. One in which they work day in and day out to operate, ensuring a steady income for them and their families. Yet in America, a car is but another right we think is owed to us, getting us to and from our jobs which for the most part pay more than any you find in Mexico. Furthermore, he didn’t take his job for granted or treat it in a complacent manner. Rather, he actively decided to enjoy himself and to be appreciative of all he had, as little as it was. It’s funny because, in terms of material possessions, Carlos had far less than I but the love he exuded far surpassed that which I chose to instill in my life. He showed us graciousness that was neither required nor expected and all of this got me to thinking what would happen if we started embodying like depths of gratitude in our society? It’s little things like this that seem ridiculous, but can make a genuine difference if taken seriously. Acknowledging all that is available to us helps impart a deeper love and sense of belonging in an individual’s existence. We live in a time where depression and a lost sense of belonging are plaguing the masses, so what little things can you do day to day that help you actively partake in bettering our cultural narrative?

                Meeting Carlos made me truly realize the amount of things I have to be grateful for. Gratitude is something I have always understood and thought I had, but this encounter showed me I hadn’t truly comprehended its most deep and true connotation. The stories he spoke of, no matter the context, were each interwoven with the upmost optimism and gratitude. He got great joy from his travels to the U.S., Yelapa’s key lime pie, the public beach he discovered, learning new words in English, driving his taxi (which, much to his amusement, will allow him to drive up and see Trump’s new wall) and as he put it, “being blessed with the opportunity to meet new amigos!”

                Appreciating the little things and taking a step back to realize what you do have rather than what you don’t, is key to establishing a better mentality. Finding joy in things mundane elicit an enduring positivity that does nothing but enrich this life which has no bounds with bountiful unknowns.

                So I conclude by asking both you and myself:

                What can you be grateful for that you haven’t already thought about?
                What does gratitude look like?
                How do you show people, things, and places you appreciate them and what new means can you create?
                How can being more appreciative improve upon your life as it breathes today?

                I would love to hear your answers to these questions! You can comment on this post or email me at contact@kaileebillerbeck.com.

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