Traveling is good for our mental health. It gives us a break from our day to day routines, it exposes us to different ideas and cultures, and it allows us to build memories with our family and friends. Last week I traveled from my home in suburban Colorado to rural Kentucky for a wedding. In the midst of my trip it occurred to me that travel is good for something else, too: gratitude. Gratitude for home, gratitude for other people and places; traveling can an opportunity to open our eyes to the things that are good about the world.
There’s no doubt about it, rural Kentucky culture couldn’t be more different than suburban Colorado culture. The sharp contrast made it easy for me to find some things about both places to be grateful for.
A few things that made me grateful for home:
Resources. As I made an unexpected visit to the hospital on my trip, I realized how lucky I am to have new, clean, and efficient medical care so close to my home. I am also fortunate to live in a community that believes is supporting schools, public libraries, and recreation so that I am never at a loss for things to do and never have to worry that my children are getting the best opportunities. I am grateful because this is not the case everywhere.
“Home cooking.” I like to think of myself as easy-to-please when it comes to food. The truth is, I am a bit (sigh) high maintenance. As I spent time in the land of fried green tomatoes, biscuits and gravy, and hot browns, I became grateful for the abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables near my home that better suit my palate.
Wide open spaces. Kentucky is a seriously beautiful place. But it can’t compare to Colorado; sorry to those who disagree. It is rare that I visit a place that I think is prettier than my home state. Perhaps that’s the thing about being grateful for home though, it makes it seem like the most gorgeous place in the world.
A few things that made me grateful for Kentucky:
Attitude. I find Coloradans to be pretentious and snobby at times. I didn’t see that at all in rural Kentucky. The folks seemed to be more interested in living their lives, taking care of themselves and their families, and having fun than to bother with the high-brow attitude I sometimes encounter in Colorado. What a breath of fresh air. I hope I can remember their easy going attitude the next time I take myself too seriously.
Family. Many of the folks I know in Colorado have moved here to escape overbearing mothers, annoying fathers, and other less-than-desirable family situations. I didn’t see that so much in Kentucky. Rather, families stayed living within driving distance of one another, no matter how irritating. It’s easy to take our families for granted, but most of us would agree that having a sense of gratitude for the positives they bring to our lives is a better stance.
Manners. “Would you like another glass of sweet tea, ma’am?” I never get sick of the good manners in the south. I wish they would catch on all over the country. There’s just something about showing respect for each other in our speech patterns and behavior that seems like a more civilized – and healthy – way to live.
A few things that made me grateful to be an American:
Traveling home on September 11, 2011 was a little anxiety-provoking. Seeing video footage of the planes flying into the World Trade Center while sitting in the airport didn’t make it easier. But in the end, I was left with a profound sense of gratitude that as an American I have a government that really cares about my safety even though I haven’t really done anything to deserve that concern. I’m grateful that there are competent TSA agents who check our bags before we board planes, and highly trained pilots flying up-to-date aircraft so that I can zip around the country on a whim. And I’m grateful to know that – as we learned on September 11, 2001 – the vast majority of Americans care about each other and will do what needs to be done in moments of crisis. Whether it be attacking a terrorist, clearing debris from a disaster site, giving blood, donating money, or praying for each other – Americans care for each other when care is needed. I’m so grateful for that.