gratitude


Dr. Renato Guzman

Dr. Renato Guzman

On June 23, 1994, this man saved my mom’s life by performing emergency surgery. I got to meet him when my mom was in the hospital two weeks ago for a repeat of the same ailment. He was ready to save her life again, but it turned out that she didn’t need it this time. He didn’t strike me as a person who would enjoy this kind of accolade, but I feel compelled.

At the time of the surgery, I was 22 old and appropriately egocentric. I remember being scared that my mom was in the hospital, had a tube coming out of her nose, and seemed suddenly so helpless. (As far as I know, the only other time she’d been in the hospital was for my delivery.) It did not occur to me to seek out and thank Dr. Guzman. I never felt much gratitude towards him in the years since, either, possibly because of how long and arduous her recovery was.

This time around I was much more involved and met Dr. Guzman several times. This time it became very clear: This man allowed my mom to live twenty more years, and hopefully a lot more, than she otherwise would have. He allowed my mom to see my brothers grow up, meet their wives and children, meet my wife, and take part in all of our lives as fully as she has. He made it possible for my mom to do all the wonderful things she has done, with and for our family and community, for the last twenty years. I am grateful for him, his skill, and all the choices he made that brought him to be a surgeon in Joshua Tree. Thank you, Dr. Guzman!

(Read my mom’s account of her recent hospital stay here.)

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Reanna, my wife and best friend. That I got to see her wake up so groggy and mild this morning in our cute little trailer home, and that she liked my curry stir fry for dinner last night.

Joshua Tree and its sunny, warm late Novembers.

That so much of my family live so close to me, so when Maya takes a walk with Ollie, they will probably come by and see the solar water heater I’m building and borrow some eggs.

That Ollie is starting to say my name, which comes out completely different every time, but you can tell he’s saying “Nathen” because he sticks his tongue way out to make a “th” sound.

That I have so many amazing friends and family to miss on a day like this. I’m thinking about the Alders, Pikes & Plowmans, and all my Not Back to School Camp staffers and campers.

That I have the capacity to be so moved, by all this, by my morning media (Radiolab “Fact of the Matter,” Ashly Miller’s Radicool EP), and to anticipate the company of Lesters and Rizzos this afternoon in Pasadena.

Thank you.

This is a question I’ve come back to many times in my life, and it’s a tough one. As a kid, there seems such a difference between kids and adults that it appears dichotomous; first you are a kid, then you are an adult. The actual transition is so gradual, though, it’s confusing.

The rituals our culture provides are pathetic and seem more and more pathetic in retrospect as I get older: graduating from high school, registering for the draft, being able to purchase pornography, being able to drink. Even graduating from college is pathetic in terms of an adulthood ritual. I just watched a bunch of people graduate from UO and they sure seemed like kids to me–certainly not children, but still dependent on parents, still at best vaguely aware of what they would do with their life, still without anyone depending on them.

There are biological markers, but no one I know was an adult at sexual maturity, even if they did manage to have sex or even conceive. Physical maturity doesn’t seem to correlate with emotional maturity at all. And brain scientists keep pushing back the age at which our brains are fully mature–lately I’ve been hearing 25 or 26, but fifty years ago it was 7, so in another fifty will we not have mature brains until we’re 45?

We could use financial independence, but what does that really mean? That we only ask our parents for help when we get into really expensive trouble? We could wait to say we’re adults when we are supporting our parents, but that’s tough for us Gen-Xers, whose parents will mostly die richer than us for social and political reasons.

I imagine the “real” answer is a combination of a bunch of factors, not amenable to a simple scheme, but I have come up with two, simple, adult-identifying schemes to offer. They are pretty subjective and fail to provide a distinct moment in which adulthood occurs, but they are my favorite ideas about this so far.

1) Gratitude for parents: We gradually become capable of understanding what our parents have done for us. Perhaps we are adults when we are able to, without idealizing them, fully appreciate our parents. This could be a good indication that we have moved past egocentricity.

2) The ability to distinguish threat from non-threat: A bus bearing down on us is a threat. Someone disagreeing with our opinion is not a threat, even if the disagreement is strongly worded and about religion, politics, or contentious-topic-of-your-choice. Perhaps we are adults when we can easily respond in an appropriate manner to the reality we are presented with–when we can consistently use reality testing.