Editor’s Note: An Extreme Way to Not Forget to Be Grateful

When I call my mother this Sunday to wish her a happy Mother’s Day, I won’t empower the negative that she lives half a country away and complain that I can’t see her in person. I’ll tell her how grateful I am that she’s happy and healthy and such an important part of my life.

The way I arrived at this message began last month.

When I returned from Alaska a few weeks ago, I could have kissed the tarmac upon landing in Green Bay. I was filled with gratitude for our snowless land, for electricity, for plumbing, for showers that aren’t located in a public laundromat and cost $5 for 30 minutes and a towel.

I have been to Alaska many, many times to visit my sister. These visits have always included adventures. We’d backpack-snowshoe into the woods, carving a winter campsite six feet into the snow, or camp in the fall along the 135-mile Denali Highway. We’d be dropped by boat on a remote peninsula and not picked up until a week later.

Yet all these adventures started and ended at her normal house – the kind that comes with heat, electricity and plumbing. With all the basic needs met, I would look at the majesty of the mountain ranges all around and swear the view was feeding my soul. The views were no less breathtaking this time, but I looked at them with the indifference of a dumb animal that has no use for anything that doesn’t contribute to safety, food, warmth or water. 

My sister sold that normal house several years ago and opted for full-time living in Fairbanks in a dry cabin. Now she’s moving to the more extreme environment of the homestead cabin and property that she bought some 20 years ago atop a mountain about 500 miles from Fairbanks. 

I offered to help her move. Love will do that to you – cause you to buy a ticket for a place that takes 12 hours to get to and has five feet of snow and mosquitoes.

It’s a long story for this short space, and I wanted to set it up only in snapshot form to juxtapose how I lived for 10 days with how I normally live. It was enough time for me to rediscover joy at turning on a faucet and watching water pour over my hands. It was enough time to be thankful for meals that could be cooked without the consequences of a basinful of dishes that could only be washed outside in the snow with two cups of carefully conserved water that was bone-chilling cold by the time I was done. It was enough time for me to rediscover the comfort of a warm bed rather than a bunk contaminated by a chronically unwashed body and clothes.

I swore once I returned that I would not go a day without being thankful for the comforts that wrap my First World life on this beautiful peninsula. And then, early this week, I forgot to be grateful. I complained about the weather and a reluctant spring and the lack of cell phone coverage at my home. I empowered the negative as quickly as an old habit.

At least I was aware I was doing it, and awareness must come before change, solutions or growth.