Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Gratitudes.

How Much is Enough? I've pondered that question a lot recently. I know people who have surrounded themselves with such excess that they have become used to plenty that would embarrass the rest of us. They don't see the abundance. They truly don't. Conversations with them focus always on what more they need. They don't need a thing, but for them, life will never hold have enough.

I know other people who, until last week, didn't have a place to call home. And these particular people shine with the light of abundance. For them, even when what they have is little, they tithe their thanks. For them, life will always hold enough.

What is enough? Most would describe it as the absence of want. But for many, “want” and “need” are relative terms. We “want” therefore we think we need. Frankly, we don't need most of what we want. During this great recession, there is more true need out there than this country has seen in decades. It's more like the reality that large portions of the world know as life every day.

We were founded as a country because people came here seeking; seeking religious freedom. Seeking opportunity. Seeking adventure. Seeking a new start. And from the first, we found enough. From the start, we were a grateful people. Have we forgotten that?

I've had opportunity recently to research the lifestyle of the first European people to this shore. No, not the pilgrims or Columbus. The Viking settlers of Vinland, who built turf and timber longhouses and scrapped out a living at L'Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland before the year 1,000 AD. Leif Erickson stayed only one winter, but ranged the east coast from Labrador down to(some say) New York Harbor. Gundrid the Far-Traveler, her husband Karlsefni, their infant son and their household spent three years in this strange new world.

It was an indescribably hard life. They came with little and found both want and plenty. It was only after they discovered that the Native Americans were not too pleased to see them that they packed up their dragon ships and returned to Iceland, leaving evidence of their time here in those turf longhouses on that Atlantic shoreline.

What drove them? The same things that the founders of our country articulated hundreds of years later. The same kind of dreams that inspire us now. If we keep our wits about us, we will truly know, down deep in our bones, how blessed we have been. And that deep knowledge can return to us an attitude that is gratitude.

Tomorrow, Americans worldwide share a ceremonious meal of Thanksgiving. Many of us have traveled great distances to be with family – or have telepathy-sent our wishes to loved ones living far away from us. Let's keep our wits about us and remember how far – how very far-- we have come. And remember too that we Americans have – more than enough.

Come Ye, thankful people come, raise the song of harvest-home.
All is safely gathered in, ere the winter storms begin.

“Wits must one have who wanders afar.”

From the Hávamál (Viking Code)
© Jan Johnson Wondra 2009

Monday, November 9, 2009

And Things Tumbled Into Place

And Things Tumbled Into Place...twenty years ago a little something came down in Berlin that changed the course of my family's life. That day I was busy with other things. New client advertising campaigns. 1990 marketing plans. A just over-two-year-old son with a head cold who had to be picked up from daycare. Icy roads. A pending birthday.

And into the ordinariness of that day dropped one of the five most significantly historical days (according to my reckoning) of my life. In Berlin, the wall came down -- over which were pointed the guns of my husband's secret missile site while we lived in Germany. The wall came down -- built as a retched split of the city and symbol of a defeated country. The wall came down -- that divided two clear sides of the cold war. The wall came down -- behind which lived millions of faceless, freedom-lacking people. That day the gates of freedom were thrown open and the wall came tumbling down.

I watched events unfold that night with awe – seeing something that I never thought I would see in my lifetime, so cold was the war, so frozen had been our attitudes. Although I didn't yet know it, the falling of the wall changed my life in a way I could not imagine. Not two years later my daughter was born in a tiny village on the western edge of Russia's Pskov Region and began her life of waiting in a country orphanage for a family. Only five years later in 1994 we would board a plane to bring her home to America. The realities I saw in that orphanage launched me into fifteen years of advocacy in children's issues, here at home and in the former Soviet bloc countries as a member of Families for Russian & Ukrainian Adoption.

A short fifteen years after the wall came down, that toddler with the cold boarded a plane to fly around the world to live for a year as a Rotary exchange student in Ukraine. He returned, with a different view of his world and a completely changed perspective on what he was going to do with his life. A few more years and mutual study at the University of St. Petersburg acquainted him with the woman who became his wife this past summer. Having now lived in four former Soviet countries, he speaks fluent Russian, some Armenian, Ukrainian and Georgian. As a Fulbright Scholar, he and his new bride now live in the Republic of Georgia. The tiny daughter has become a marvelous college freshman who can also speak Russian. My Russian? Not so good.

None of this would have happened if the gates had not been thrown open; had the walls not come down. An entire generation of children has grown up in a world that is a different place. New fears and uncertainties have replaced that iron curtain. There is truth, I think in this: that every wall built, represents failed policy. Every wall torn down represents new opportunity.

Today as the world celebrates what was in reality the end of the cold war it is important that we remember to listen to each other. Because while we do what we do, another generation of children will grow up.