Saturday, December 6, 2008

unpublished works: part 1

I submitted a piece to my hometown paper, but I think it was too late for the to use around the holiday weekend.  Here it is for your possible enjoyment:

Thanksgiving from Abroad

Timothy S. Brown

It is late fall, and there is something in my Wisconsinite bones that is telling me to look for that last glorious display of autumn colors, or the first snow flake of winter. I can almost taste the fresh apple cider, and smell the chill building in the air. This is the time of year when #4 likes to lead the Pack to dramatic victories, and something inside me is dreaming of playoff glory. Next week is Thanksgiving day, and my mind is filled with all of these familiar, seasonal images.

On this particular year, though, the images are for me no more than a memory. This year I am serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Dominican Republic, far away from the familiar sights and smells of the mid-western autumn. I've traded fall colors and snow for banana trees and hurricanes. Instead of apple cider in my mug I have the coffee that grows on the mountain where I now live. The cool air of winter will never arrive to cut through the eternal Caribbean summer. And we all know what happened to Brett Favre. Still, Thanksgiving is coming regardless of how unfamiliar everything may seem.

I was chatting with my neighbor the other day, explaining in Spanish that in the USA we have a special holiday set aside for thinking about what we are grateful for. It's important to understand that I spend an awful lot of time explaining American culture to Dominicans, and a lot of it doesn't make much sense to them. The idea of a place where everyone has their own car, electricity is abundant, and where it SNOWS is usually more than they can imagine. Life in Southern Wisconsin is so far removed from their experience of subsistence farming in the tropics, that I feel lucky any time I make some kind of connection. Thanksgiving, though, was something that made a lot of sense to my friend. He nodded his head, flashed me a gap-toothed grin, and said “Yes, it is very important to be thankful.”

He is a man who works sun up to sundown all year, planting, harvesting and doing other odd jobs to be able to feed his family. He works hard, so there is usually enough to eat, but not always. On most nights I sit outside with him, watching the sky light up with more stars than anyone could count. We talk about the weather, crops, and life in general. He is glad to have work. He is grateful that his wife and kids are healthy, in a country where public health is not the best. He's happy to live in his two room wooden house, knowing that there are others who are not so blessed. He is a man who recognizes that while he may not be rich, he still has so much to be thankful for. Life itself is a gift, and he understands this better than I do most of the time.

Here I am, thousands of miles from home, living in the jungle. Being a Peace Corps Volunteer is not easy. On some days I miss my family and friends so much that it hurts. Yet I love what I am doing, and I am thankful that my parents taught me to believe in the importance of serving others, and that they encouraged me to take a few years out of the rat race to do just that.

I am thankful that my Dominican neighbors, though they have never been far from home, understand that it must be hard for me. They go out of their way every day to let me know that I am a valued member of their community.

I am thankful that I come from a country that believes in the goodness of humanity enough to have a program like the Peace Corps, recruiting inexperienced young adults like me to be good will ambassadors to the poor and broken parts of the world.

In a world economy that is coming apart at the seams I am thankful that I have a bed to sleep in, and food to eat. I may not be rich, but I have enough for today, and that is a good thing. Life truly is a gift, and I know that my blessings are even greater in number than those stars that I watch come out in the vast sky every night. Even in a world as unpredictable as the one we live in, I hope you will join me in celebration this Thanksgiving. There really is much to be thankful for.


Cat said...

tim! nice post. I've run across a couple folks from the DR at the church I'm attending (in Spain - I'm teaching English here until June), and every one of them have been really really generous and welcoming here - I have been fed and made to feel at home so much!

hope all's well - I'll try to keep up on your blog a bit more!

Daniela said...

I adore your writing Tim. I hope to see you soon! Love, Daniela

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