This article was published in the November 2008 issue of Orange Coast
Magazine. I was asked to write
about gratitude and how it pertains to
, where I’ve lived for twenty years.
REALITY CHECK – It’s
Thanksgiving in the land of plenty. Truth
is, we’re more fortunate than what you see on TV.
While doing research on winemaking for one of my novels, I discovered a
meteorological term called microclimates.
Within a small area, say a county, there can be varied weather
climates, from bone-dry to rain forest conditions. Those conditions affect
the grapes and therefore the type of wine that is produced.
is like that—a group of micro-communities within a larger one.
Within those communities, countless acts of kindnesses and courage
are performed every day. Of
course, this is not the
you see portrayed on TV. Most of
us aren’t like those fictional characters, images that have been formed by
“The OC,” “
: The Real Orange County,” “The Real Housewives of
,” “Top This Party,” and other series.
These shows portray a county where everyone is affluent, lives in
magazine-perfect homes, and dreams of owning a diamond-encrusted Rolex and
giving their 16-year-ol a $50,000 birthday party.
is not my
, the one I experience on a day-to-day basis, the one I’m so grateful to
G.K. Chesterton said: “When it comes to life, the critical thing is
whether you take things for granted or take them with gratitude.”
In a county as affluent as ours, it’s easy to take things for
granted. I’ll confess that
I’m not always as grateful as I should be, but it is a good and necessary
thing to stop and think about what we have to be grateful for, not just for
good weather and restaurants, but the people in this country who make a
difference every day in both big and small ways.
There is more heart here than appears on the surface, more community
than we are given credit for.
Recently, my father fell in his apartment, setting off a series of
physical problems complicated by his dementia.
For a month, he was shuffled between the hospital and a nursing home.
One evening I was called back to the hospital to find my father
hysterical. He’d pulled out
his catheter and IV and wouldn’t let anyone near him.
He was hallucinating, thinking he was in prison.
I finally cajoled him into trusting me—a stranger claiming to be
his daughter—so the nurse could reattach both.
By the time I arrived home I was exhausted and dizzy with fear.
That’s what prompted me to send a crazed 2 a.m. email to the Orange
County Alzheimer’s Association Web site.
Her name was Jean. She
answered my email with a phone call the next morning.
Her voice was calm; the spaces between her words measured like the
perfect stitches on an Amish quilt. She
told me how to find the best hospitals for my father and about resources to
help him and me, how to fight for his rights.
“You are his advocate now,” she said.
“You are his voice.”
Jean answered my cry for help with grace and composure.
And for that, I’ll always be grateful.
experienced one of its deadliest wildfires, many people had to evacuate
their homes. A young Fallbrook
couple with three dogs—one an unvaccinated puppy with medical
problems—could not find a place to take their animals.
Desperate, they called All Paws Dog Daycare in
. Veterinarian Tara Haddad, the
owner, solved their problems with two words—“Come here.”
She vaccinated the puppy, bathed the dogs, provided flea control, and
kept them for five days without charge the couple one cent.
I once attended a small Methodist church in the same town that, when
it had some extra money, chose not to improve its buildings and grounds, but
to build a shower for the homeless people it feeds every Saturday morning.
My favorite quilt shop in
hosts a “Binky Patrol” meeting once a month.
The volunteers makes quilts to give to children and teens who are
abused, ill, in foster car, or experiencing other traumas—to remind the
kids that they are loved.
Because of our father, my sister, Mary, is hyperaware of people who
might have dementia. Recently,
while waking with our father around her
neighborhood, she saw an elderly gentleman peering cautiously into parked
She asked him if he would like to come to her house to rest.
He went along willingly—something that is terrifying if you think
about it too long. His wallet revealed only his name and address, so she
called the police. While
waiting, she looked through the phone book and found only one person with
that name. His grateful son came
to pick him up, thanking my sister profusely.
My sister and I have talked about this incident, voicing our hope
that if Daddy were ever lost, someone would do the same for us.
I believe they would, because those someones are everywhere in
I’m grateful for the woman who stopped to help me lift an elderly
man who’d fallen in front of a McDonald’s drive-through while others
drove around us; the minister of a church we no longer attend who calls to
make sure my husband and I are doing OK; the young people in my neighborhood
who banded together recently to find out why an elderly neighbor, whose fire
alarm had gone off, wasn’t answering her phone or door.
I’m grateful for my husband and his co-workers who buy bottled
water from an older colleague who sells it to make extra money.
I’m grateful for teachers and librarians and police officers and
our uncelebrated trash collectors.
I’m grateful for smiling waitresses who call me “sweetie” and helpful
mail clerks and the organized receptionists at my doctors’ offices.
I’m grateful for the store clerk who showed me the easiest cell
phone to use, the brave tree trimmers, the hardworking pothole fillers, the
bread bakers and the cheerful crossing guards.
I’m grateful for nurses and doctors and veterinarians and the fire
department paramedics who rescued my father after his fall.
I’m grateful for all the people who answer late-night cries for
help with words of hope. They
are the real people of
They are all heroes.
They are us.