The Birth of Gratitude
2016, by John Manimas
I was very young, having recently learned how to talk, when I was trained by my mother to press my palms together to pray before eating, and recite:
"Bless us, oh Lord, and these thy gifts, which we are about to receive, from thy bounty, through Christ our Lord, Amen."
Made a clear impression, that everything was a gift, and a gift from God, who was God the Father and also God the Son in the body of Jesus. Heavy theology for a little hungry kid. Worst of all faults would be a deficiency in gratitude. A child's mind would pick up on that. Say thank you so that you will not be an ungrateful bastard. So I said thank you. And I am grateful.
But the prayer lesson came long after the beginning. The beginning was at 5:10 a.m. on December 23rd 1943, when I felt an urge to push my way out of the tight bag that enveloped me and fed me through my umbilicus. This was the first big change that came without being ordered and it set the tone for the remainder of my life: I would make it, but only with a struggle and lessons learned. I don't remember the trip down my mother's birth canal, but I have a vague recollection of three adults waiting for me with a mixture of disapproval and an air of routine boredom. A sudden light and cold on my skin.
I want to thank the doctor for slapping my ass like he was taught in Junior Doctor School, and I want to thank the two nurses for checking my vital signs to assure that my landing was successful -- no broken parts, all systems operational. I was in good hands being at a hospital in Bridgeport, Connecticut a city of Hungarian goulash and the world's best pizza and pervasive heavy industry that was manufacturing guns and ammunition and bombs and parts for airplanes, helicopters, tanks and ships and the equipment that soldiers needed to kill people more efficiently than the enemy. I was lucky that my soul was born into a body that arrived in the United States of America, a troubled land, but much safer for children than most of the world. My mother's mother was born in Sicily which meant that my mother's ancestors came from different parts of the Mediterranean. I should thank them, the Mediterraneans, who liked to couple with a lot of mates and wander over the world spreading their seed and taking whatever they could get their hands on. Especially fish, and gold, and land. Being Sicilian, my ancestry could have included Greeks, French, Moroccans, Egyptians, Spanish, Jews, all kinds of warriors and twisted theologians as well as farmers, sailors, carpenters and olive oil pressers. Grapes too. Lots of grapes. Seventy-three years later I would buy a DNA test and be advised that my dominant genetic origin was "Iberian."
As a young child my mother explained to me that my missing father had made a quarter bet that he could get into her pants, and he won, and that is how I came into being. I certainly was glad to know that I was not accidental. At least there was a motive. I did not know my father as a child but I was told that he was Portugese and Spanish, and he served in the Merchant Marine and he was a gambler who once got arrested for stealing a car. Something was said that his parents came from the Canary Islands. I imagined an island with canaries flying around, a colorful place. Later I came to understand that the Canary Islands were an island port in the Atlantic ocean that served as a stop for ships from all over the world to get fresh water and food. That meant also to get laid by prostitutes and that also meant a gene pool the size of Jupiter. So, I am very proud of the fact that I probably have a genetic heritage that is bigger than yours.
I want to thank the sailors and prostitutes and bakers and cooks of the Canary Islands, and the lunatics who have occupied Sicily since Cleopatra fucked Ceasar. I want to thank the Neanderthals or Cro-Magnons or Negroids or Berbers who squirted and received somewhere in the ancient past who carried the gene for patience. I have had some patience, a capacity to work on a project that is expected to be very long and holds no certain promise of success or reward. The journey is its own reward. When I commit to a long term project, I learn something. I keep my mind alive.
I thank the people of Fairfield, Connecticut, and the State of Connecticut who picked up the slack for my absent father. Many years later he told me that my mother's brothers, Sam and Tommy, told him that if he did not go away his legs would be broken. I question whether that excuse was valid, but with my uncles being Sicilian-Americans, it could have been.
Oh yeah. I almost forgot. Thanks Mom. Thanks for bringing me into the world. I came to believe, through my own unique viewpoint, that the path of life is not that we are tested to see if we deserve the reward of heaven after we die. I believe that life is the reward, the gift and blessing for which it is appropriate to be thankful. And, we should spend our lives, guide our decisions and actions, on a path of gratitude. We should do our best to say thank you. There is no reward waiting for us. No reward waiting for you. You have your reward. The substance of your life is how artistically and creatively you say thank you to "whoever is listening."
Thanks, whoever gives blessings, for the oxygen in my blood as soon as I popped out of my mother's body. A delay of only a few minutes and I would have been a retard for all of my life. Timing is everything. Thanks for the timing. If I had been a retard, I wouldn't know shit about Sicily and the Canary Islands and the patience of the Neanderthals.
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