A Can of Gratitude

by Mark Bitterman

Here we see an abundance of privilege, manifested as a collection of canned fish. How did they get here? What's their story?

Every day we wake up and rush off to tackle our myriad responsibilities.  Every evening we rush home to flop out and enjoy time to ourselves or with our cats or our HO gauge train sets or our whittlin’ or our honey bunny. Every day, the hope goes, a little bit more of the things we desire will accumulate at the center of our lives.  A relationship. Some wealth. A little meaning.  A sense of belonging.  

All along the way, the enlightened among us practice gratitude for what they do have.  The soft pillow under the head at night.  The kids sleeping sibilantly in the adjacent room.  The new car in the driveway.  The promotion, the publishing deal, the jacuzzi purring in the back yard.  All of this is great, I suppose, and something toward which to work in a life.  

Of course, others among us don’t meet such things with such gratitude.  Some don’t because they have no jacuzzi, no new car, no soft pillow.  There are those who have given up on, or at least strain to see, the shimmering dream where the basic comforts of life are their own.  There are those who have all those things and more, but it is not enough to warrant gratitude because there is so much more yet to have. 

What I find is that we are all both of these people.  And that it is not always the things at the center of our lives (wealth, pillows) that we are actually working toward every day, and coming home to enjoy every night.  It is the things at the edges. 

As in the case of canned fish in my home, it is often the things at the very back of a cupboard, 22 inches above eye level and almost out of reach, where I find clues of just how rich and wonderful and, yes, privileged my life is.  Every can an item collected, bought, purloined, gifted, happened across, in a shop across town or a cannery across an ocean.  Every can holding a little hermetic pool of oily olive oil and oily little fish.  A gift.  Every plump olive and every silvery fish sacrificed from the sunshine and salt water of its universe to be sealed in a state of perfect suspended animation; a moment of life on earth, mine to enjoy on a salty cracker with a spritz of lemon whenever the impulse strikes. 

And I didn’t even know I had them.

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