In Honor of Thanksgiving: The Gratitude Challenge

Beginning:  10:35 a.m. on Tuesday, October 14th, 2014
Listening to:  Whitacre:  Choral Music (2010) by The Elora Festival Singers
Reading:  Graduate Admissions Essays by Donald Asher and Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
Rereading:  Composers at Work:  The Craft of Musical Composition 1450-1600 by Jessie Ann Owens

Dear Internet:

It’s good to return to the daily grind.  Since my last post, I’ve begun work teaching for INSEEC Grande École de Commerce at the Harrington College of Design; hosted members of an award-winning early music ensemble during a competition in Chicago; and come upon a number of powerful, uplifting realizations regarding plans for graduate school next year.  In short, I’ve been busy.  🙂

To ensure regular non-academic writing practice and a steady output of posts, I’ve been weighing whether to include occasional diversions not related to this blog’s original intent.  Initially, I’d decided that Texts from Africa’s primary purpose was to document past experiences from my nine months in South Africa, pairing these with ex post facto revelations from back home in the States.  What I have to share now does in some way reflect a deep lesson learned abroad, namely gratitude.  Yesterday, Thanksgiving was observed by dear friends in Montreal, my once and always second home.  In honor of them and (Canadian) Thanksgiving 2014, I’ll share my take on the Gratitude Challenge.

The Gratitude Challenge is an exercise that charges participants to list persons, places, events . . . really, anything they’re grateful for over seven consecutive days.  On social media such as Facebook, participants have the option to tag three new users each day, thereby perpetuating the challenge and thanksgiving.  When Kevin, one of my oldest friends, selected me for the challenge, I decided to participate but modified the exercise to avoid overwhelming colleagues and mentors with spam by tagging three new users only on the first day.  Also, because I am a relatively slow thinker, I did not perform the challenge over seven consecutive days, but rather allowed sometimes several days to pass before composing the next installment.

One of my aims was to think outside the box and list items I wouldn’t normally acknowledge, let alone give thanks for.  It was a good exercise to consider aspects of life and our world today beyond comprehension; how out of randomness can result good fortune; and how history and humankind perpetually interact.  From day one:  here is what I managed to muster to meet the challenge.

First day of the gratitude challenge:

1. My mother, particularly at this point in life, for her example of womanhood, and the intelligent, sage advice she has always given.

2. My students in South Africa for teaching me what it means to be responsible for others and offering me seemingly inexhaustible perspective beyond myself.

3. My friend Kevin Wyllie, who took me to Ann Sather restaurant in Chicago all those years ago for the best meal I’d had all winter.

Second day of the gratitude challenge:

1. Access to clean, drinkable water–anytime, at any temperature. In Hamburg, the elementary school where I taught had its water shut off by the municipality, because there wasn’t enough money to pay for it. For over six months–from the end of November 2013 till June 2014 and beyond–the school did not have water for cooking, cleaning, drinking, and the toilets. Through word of mouth and help from the Keiskamma Trust, the shortage eventually made the local paper. A donation was made to restore the school’s water supply. Each day when I went to teach I inquired about the water and learned that fortunately students and teachers were able to access drinking water and toilets in the village. Occasionally they could also make use of rainwater collected in a large drum by the side of the school.

2. The fact that my parents wanted and anticipated my birth, and afterward had the means to raise me to adulthood without lack.

3. A healthy, whole body that makes possible the cultivation of my mind–legs that enable me to walk to a library and up flights of stairs, eyesight allowing me to read.

Fourth day of the gratitude challenge:

1. In the early 1440s, German goldsmith Johannes Gutenberg combined art and enterprise to develop an idea for a new form of printing. One of its initial projects was a Latin Vulgate Bible at forty and forty-two lines per page. From this profoundly ambitious product, the idea has proven its revolutionary ability to inform and inspire us, princes and paupers alike, to this day.

2. At the Paris Exhibition of 1867, French gardener Joseph Monier introduced reinforced concrete to European intelligentsia and obtained his first patent that same year. What was conceived as a means of building a better flower pot now constitutes a multibillion-dollar world-wide industry whose applications and structures dwarf those of steel, wood, plastic, and aluminum.

3. In 1855, the State University of Iowa enacted a policy to admit men and women on an equal basis. That year, forty-one female students enrolled with access to departments in ancient and modern languages, philosophy, history, chemistry, and mathematics. 1870 saw the founding of the university’s medical department, which welcomed an inaugural class including eight female students. This first coeducational state university continued a precedent set by American institutions as early as 1826, with Cumberland, Oberlin, Lawrence, et al.

Fifth day of the gratitude challenge:

1. Employment: having the ability to write, teach, and perform work in service of others with ample time still for music, travel, and the pursuit of long-term goals. The fortune of securing employment in safe, clean, and accessible work environments for competent, equitable employers who basically have my best interests at heart.

2. Upcoming concerts near and far: for the fellowship I’ve found in music; the challenges and inspiring arenas; and most of all the invaluable votes of confidence along my path.

3. Memories made along the road–like that time after a concert in Vermont when our hippie host waxed poetically about religion versus nature and the universe and then took me outside in the utter darkness to see something akin to this (

Sixth day of the gratitude challenge:

1. Probably the most interesting person I’ve met on the road was a middle-aged woman in Newark, NJ who assumed that I, too, was homeless and gave me a card for a local women’s shelter. At the Newark bus stop, during our ten-minute break, she prayed over me and gave me a cotton floral shirt she had washed by hand.

2. The fact that North America’s major mountain ranges extend north and south. We can discern the significance of this in histories of Civil War tactics, Manifest Destiny, and fast food franchises. The experience of mountains presents itself even in our choice of rain gear and the taste of wine.

3. My friend Ting, for grounding me in her maturity and alternative perspective on life.

I haven’t yet completed the seventh day.  I’ve decided to save it for when it’s time and I’m able to state something truly meaningful.  If I take anything away from the challenge, apart from further confirmation that I have good friends, it’s to be more cognizant not only of what I’m readily grateful for but also what I habitually take for granted.

Trailing off for now,


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