Gratitude in spite of hardship
Long-time readers know that I live in the southwestern deserts of Arizona. I was born and raised here (except for about three years in England from about age five months to age three years which changed me in many ways). Our varied landscape — just in the southwestern deserts — includes those deserts but also what we call “sky islands” mountains seemingly jutting out of stark desert landscapes to impressive heights of almost 11,000 feet/3,300 meters above sea level. In the deserts our temperatures can soar, in the summer, to 120F/49C. In the winter, and again, just in the deserts, the temperatures can drop to 0F/-18C. And in terms of rain and precipitation, well, just where I live, we will experience, this year, the driest year on record with less than 4 inches/10 cm of rain. It can be a harsh and unforgiving climate and land.
I have been blessed and fortunate to travel my state extensively, often backpacking and hiking with just a backpack, tent, sleeping bag, food, water, and other provisions to sustain me, in the mountains and in the deserts. While I normally hike in the mountains, just this past September I hiked in an area called the Aravaipa Canyon Wilderness, a 19,410 acre/7,850 hectare wilderness area. It sits in a canyon at an average elevation of 2,800 feet/853 meters, which is about the same elevation as my home in my town in the desert. High rock walls surround the canyon and a small stream flows, continuously, year-round, a rarity for the desert. According to the Bureau of Land Management, the agency which manages the canyon, “Aravaipa Creek flows year-round, an unusual phenomenon in the Arizona desert. Nurtured by this abundant water, large sycamore, ash, cottonwood, and willow trees flourish along the stream, flanked by other riparian vegetation. In the fall, a kaleidoscope of brilliant red and golden leaves contrasts dramatically with the surrounding Sonoran Desert landscape.”
Our brief two-day, one-night hike had us hiking, at least half the time, through Aravaipa Creek in water anywhere from one inch/2.5 cm deep to two feet/61 cm deep (it was deeper in many places), while the air temperature hovered around 90F/32C during the day, though cooler at night. Words can’t really describe the sensation — in the desert, surrounded by high rock walls, often with cactus growing on or in them, and here, at the bottom of the canyon, a cool, delicious flowing stream of beautifully clear, water, soothing our feet, providing drink (when filtered), and creating the ideal sounds to fall asleep to.
Again, the desert is a harsh, often unforgiving place. And yet animals, plants, and humans have thrived here for ages. All have not just adapted to the climate and learned to live with it, but, in many cases, have overcome it, and — here’s the important point — grown because of it, because — at least we humans — have come to appreciate it.
In life, it turns out, there is hardship. Dostoyevsky said “To live is to suffer.” And that is true. But there is more than this in life. Life is full of wonder, joy, amazement, beauty, love, and more, if you overcome the hardship and the suffering and look around you. I know this to be true in my own life, and not just because I live in the desert. My mother became a single mother when my father passed away before I turned seven and then had to raise me and my young sister by herself for a few years before she remarried my stepfather. And both my grandfathers passed away within five months of my father’s death. I have known more pain, more suffering.
And yet I am thankful and full of gratitude because, despite my losses and suffering, there is much more to my life than those brief, dark, periods. Much of my life has been filled with much more than this because I have made a deliberate decision — a choice — to look to what is good, and right and beneficial and accept it with gratitude. I have also made a deliberate decision — a choice — to reject that which is bad, and harmful.
As you, Macedonia, continue to go through yet another period of frustration, with attacks on your identity, language, and more, remember that you can be grateful in spite of this hardship. In fact, I would wager that if you respond to all of this with the proper and right attitude, it will make you stronger. You must not simply survive, you must, and can, thrive. Reject the bad and harmful. Accept, with gratitude, your past, your history, your identity, your language, your future.
I have been privileged and blessed to be a part of Macedonia and the Macedonians in my life for almost 25 years now. I have seen individual Macedonians — and Macedonia — overcome hardships, suffering, even war. And I have seen you grow stronger.
It takes courage. It takes strength. It takes gratitude.