Monday, September 1, 2014

Gratitude and Privilege

Recently, Eric & I can't stop talking to each other about how much we have to be grateful for.

On the morning of our second day backpacking.
 At the beginning of August, we finally went backpacking together for the first time - a trip two years in the making. We spent two days in the Pecos Wilderness in the Sangre de Cristo mountains, starting at a trailhead that is a half-hour's drive from our house. We had amazing weather, saw some beautiful wildflowers and lakes, and even harvested some porcini mushrooms. It felt wonderful to really get away from everything and spend time in the beautiful wilderness that's practically in our backyard.

My half-marathon training is going really well. I feel stronger than ever and the idea of running 13 miles in a few weeks seems more and more possible every day. Eric's been running with me on my shorter training runs, and it's really fun to start our mornings with a sunrise run. It feels so good to be working toward this goal and seeing the progress, and exploring Santa Fe on foot has lead me to some spectacular views of the city and the surrounding mountains.

Eric with his first cherry tomato from the garden!
 It's harvest season, and Eric's garden is producing some delicious tomatoes, potatoes, kale, broccoli, and even a few strawberries. This morning when I needed a few more tomatoes for a recipe, I just walked out front and picked a few right off the vine - how cool is that?! And on Saturdays, we usually bike to the farmer's market to get the rest of our produce. Right now it's green chile season - the best time of the year in Santa Fe, probably - so the scent of roasted chiles fills the air.

Our most recent surge of gratitude comes from this happy news: Eric just started a new job as Program Coordinator for the best park in Santa Fe, which is right up his alley. He'll be spending a lot of time in the park, maintaining the gardens and educating kids & adults about plants. Last Monday and we both biked to work; on the way home, we met up on the bike trail by our house and rode home together. It was pretty darn cute.

And of course, we are continuously grateful for each other; for our life in Santa Fe; for Zeezy, the best cat in the world; and for all our friends and family that will be joining us next month for our wedding.

But while we are basking in all this gratitude, we definitely don't forget for a single minute how privileged we are.
We returned from our peaceful, restorative backpacking trip to the news that an unarmed, 18-year old black boy was shot to death in Ferguson, MO. Unfortunately, his story is all too common - a black man is killed by police in the US every 28 hours. Eric & I are both white - we don't worry about becoming victims of racial profiling, we don't worry about interacting with police officers, we don't worry about being referred to as "no angel" in our obituaries.

White folks are the minority in Santa Fe, but you know who we see at our weekly trips to the farmer's market? Mostly white folks. The farmer's market is doing their best to make it accessible and I definitely commend them for making it easy for people on the SNAP/WIC programs to spend their money there, but most low-income residents live on the south side of town, far away from the market and most bike trails that could take them there. Plus, our public transit system is... lacking, to say the least. These are systemic issues that make local, fresh, healthy food inaccessible to low-income populations.

Santa Fe's median household income is $50K. As DINKs (Double Income, No Kids), our household income exceeds that number. We both have college degrees, just like our parents and grandparents, and we can find jobs with a 9-5, Monday-Friday schedule that pay more than minimum wage and that engage us professionally and personally. We have time in our schedule to pursue our hobbies and to exercise and photograph our lives. These simple luxuries are impossibilities for many people in our community, country, world.

Not to say that Eric & I haven't worked hard to make our life happy & successful - we have. But we started our lives with advantages over so many others, and we've been met with very little resistance when we set out to achieve something. We've been encouraged to succeed every step of the way, not only by our families and friends, but by the implicit and explicit messages in the media we consume, telling us that white, middle-to-upper class kids deserve to go to college, deserve to pursue careers that will make them feel fulfilled, deserve to eat healthily and exercise.

I've read studies recently saying that gratitude is the key to happiness - and I do think it makes us more mindful, appreciative, and overall content when we remember to pause and reflect on what we are thankful for. But the good things in our lives don't exist in a vacuum. And if we simply feel gratitude without acknowledging that, what good is our happiness? When so many people struggle to get the basics - food, water, shelter - is figuring out "the key to happiness" really that important?

These are some things I struggle with as I decide what parts of my life to share on the internet. I don't think there's anything wrong with sharing the good stuff - I want the world to know how proud I am of Eric for getting this awesome new job, how great it feels to prioritize exercise, and how happy we are in our relationship. Those things are great and deserve to be celebrated! But not at the expense of ignoring our privilege.

There's no absolute answer to this, but - I saw Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg speak in Santa Fe a couple weeks ago (another experience I am super grateful for!) and she advised everyone to find some pursuit you're passionate about that will benefit and improve the lives of others. Pretty good advice, if you ask me.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you so much for sharing your gratitude. I have similar thoughts from my point of view, too. It is difficult to see so many in our communities suffering as the result of color, ethnicity, or the lottery of being born into a particular class. While I have my own life to plod on with, I remind myself daily that I have so much to be grateful for, and while it has taken a lot of work, and I have come a long way, I know it has been easier for me because of my education and because of the uncontrollable factors that were handed to me at birth.

    Thank you too for including the fantastic links. I followed the Times link and I am fascinated by the search terms study.