As I viewed the poignant portraiture by Shelby Lee Adams of the people of Appalachia for the umpteenth time, I am reminded of being thankful, of giving thanks, for being alive and the opportunities that brings.
My kin on my dad’s side are from what I describe as the toe-tip of the Appalachians in Mississippi. I have always been in awe of people who have the courage, humility, perseverance and fortitude to face challenges in the quest for a better tomorrow. It was that spirit that has enabled all the McInnis’ of my generation and younger to live lives completely unlike that of our parents and grandparents; we had wants, at times, but never unmet needs.
My middle son visited Appalachia on a mission trip almost 20 years ago. The team worked in the hollers, small valleys between mountains, and my son had many poignant conversations with the people the team was there to serve. The crews helped with home repairs, clean-ups and a variety of other needs that required the limited skills and unlimited energy of service-minded high school students.
I will never forget the hope expressed in one man’s message. He and his family lived in a house of which chickens had free access. From the low position of the holler, he pointed to the higher elevation and the nice homes there. He said, “Someday, my kids will be able to live up there.” Each day’s challenges were part of the quest. Success is not necessarily defined by living away from the hollers though; his dream included it, but maybe not everyone’s dream was thus. As Shelby wrote, “…the most soulful, honest, giving and communicative people often are those living in the rural hollers.”
Robert Fulghum, of All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten fame and many other outstanding books, is a pretty famous guy. I recall an interview he cited when someone asked him if he considered himself to be a hero of the Fulghum line. His response was something like, “Absolutely not. I have had opportunities to succeed and do the things I love because of those who came before me. I believe the Fulghum heroes are those from centuries ago who lived in one-room homes with sod roofs and dirt floors and each day committed to making the day better than the one before. Those are the heroes; I am the beneficiary.” I do not remember where I read about the interview, nor do I remember the exact quote, but I will never forget the sentiment.
So, this Thanksgiving I am focused on being thankful for simply being alive. No matter the conditions, others have lived through worse and never lost sight of the chance for better tomorrows. Each day we draw breath is another chance to make a difference, to utilize opportunity for things subtle and profound, and to be soulful, honest, giving and communicative.
Happy and blessed Thanksgiving, my friends. Thank you for being you.