It is a Wednesday in November. And I feel heavy.
I’m halfway through one of those weeks that started off bad and quickly got worse. My mind is spinning with tasks of privilege. I mentally recount all that is wrong: My puppy has her period (for 22 days and counting) and she is bleeding all over everything. Our washing machine is broken. Our cleaning lady bailed on us three weeks ago and we haven’t heard from her since then.
I cross Borcherd Street from my apartment to the vacant lot with the Bluegum tree, adjacent to the public parking lot on the corner of Banhoek and Andringa. Moira is perched under the tree like always; Dino isn’t far away. They both approach me with gusto and I can tell that even though it’s 11 am, they’re both three sheets to the wind. Dino asks where my dog is while Moira hugs me and asks me to buy them a loaf of bread. Sometimes she is very belligerent and sneers at me when I walk by, muttering under her breath in Afrikaans. Today she tells me I look beautiful and tells me, “I’ll be waiting for you, sweetie.” She will forget about me by the time I walk back home.
I continue across the street and notice the mountains. They are pronounced before a smattering of cumulus clouds that make them look as if they’ve been painted upon a canvas with a plain white background. I see the sky. I feel the breeze in my hair, the sun on my face. It’s one of those rare days in the Western Cape where one really can’t find a reason to complain about the weather. This too, feels like a gift.
And suddenly, I’m above it all. Not in a cliche, ‘birds eye view of my life’ type of way, but in the sense that, for a brief interval, I’m able to see all of my immediate challenges as the petty minutiae of first-world human problems they are and breathe in the gifts that are all around me.
I say a prayer of gratitude for the freedom to walk outside without having to ask anyone’s permission; in flip flops and a sundress; without a jacket, or the need to carry an umbrella. Gratitude for not having to live in a place where you wear a mask over your mouth to protect from pollution, or the bad part of town, or the part of town where they look twice at a white woman walking alone, or in a city where my body and head have to be covered outdoors. Gratitude for my two legs that work, and my two feet that are taking me exactly where I need to go, which happens to be the drug store to refill the prescriptions for my depression medications and I’m grateful for those, too.
And it feels trite but before I realize it I’m doing it again, quoting the closing monologue from American Beauty when Lester Burnham says the following beautiful words in voice-over:
” …But it’s hard to stay mad when there’s so much beauty in the world. Sometimes I feel like I’m seeing it all at once, and it’s too much; my heart fills up like a balloon that’s about to burst. And then I remember to relax, and stop trying to hold onto it. And then it flows through me like rain, and I can’t feel anything but gratitude—for every single moment of my stupid, little life.”
And those words resonate with me like they always have. I’m walking past the Blomstalletjie on Andringa now. The flower seller, an older slight blonde-woman from (what was then) Rhodesia named Gay waves me over. She asks me when I’m going back to America for Christmas; She tells me we simply must have a cup of tea before I go, how she’s makes the most perfect melk tert, how I really must try it. I bid her adieu and smile again. It’s nice to have friends.
Even in places where I feel like I sometimes don’t have enough, God never leaves me without smiling faces to call my name and wave me over. Sometimes, these faces are all I need to fill my days spent in my spare bedroom typing all day on my laptop. Sometimes, I require more than just the faces.
And sometimes, at least on days like today, all I really need is the breeze to remind me of my freedom. To ignite my gratitude for that freedom, and for the problems I have. A puppy, a dishwasher, a cleaning lady. A few years ago I didn’t have any of these things. These problems, these are the results of having a full life. And then I whisper prayers of gratitude for the fullness of that life, that I’ve been granted the job of living.