We are in the season of Thanksgiving here in the states. While this holiday has changed over the years to include copious amounts of food, watching endless football games, and a frenzied shopping spree- at the heart of it has always been the reminder of being thankful for what we have. And for me one of the most profound lessons I learned about this attitude of gratitude came from a family trip and the first time I set foot in a country other than my own.
I was in my first year of college when we were invited to go with a family friend on a cruise to Mexico. The family friend, his wife, and their daughter were regular cruisers and had done just about every one available on this side of the world. For this cruise, they were thinking to do a shorter one that would stop in San Diego, Catalina Island, and then onto Ensenada Mexico and thought this would be perfect for us who were new to cruising. My mom said that we would need to pay our own way and so my brothers and I started putting money aside from our small jobs so that we could go.
The day arrived and we flew into California where we met the other family. Now to to figure out the best way to get 7 people from the airport to the port to get on the ship. After going through all the different options, it was finally decided that the most efficient and least expensive means was to rent a limo to take us to the port. That would allow the most space at the least cost for so many people. We felt like we were high rollers for that short drive. And as we pulled in, others stopped to look at the long black limo possibly wondering what important person would be pulling up to the port in such style. The look of disappointment was apparent as we tumbled out of the limo with a tangle of limbs between us.
For the next few days we lived the high life, at least we thought so. We loved the fancy dinners every night, the giant pool on board, and learning how to play high stakes bingo. The other family’s daughter had a running commentary about the sub- par ship and all the things that were wrong with it. Parts of the ship were under construction so there was scaffolding here and there, but for us cruise newbies it didn’t take away from the fanciness of it all.
Our first stop was in San Diego, California. While the other family took off to the mall because the daughter wanted to go shopping, we went to the old town to see the beautiful crafts and food that carried their Spanish heritage.
The next stop was to the beautiful island of Catalina which has an array of beautiful mansions, yacht filled harbors, and high end boutique shops along the waterfront. The people who live there did not care for the tourists coming to their little piece of paradise and gave the general feel of looking down their noses at us. At dinner that night we talked about our visit to the island and laughed off the snooty people we had met. The daughter rolled her eyes at us and talked about how she planned on having a home there someday.
The next day we came into port in Mexico, just a handful of miles south of the border. We had been told to not give money to anyone but if we wanted to give something, to give food. So we loaded up our packs with food from the buffet that morning. There was a band playing as we left the ship and it gave such a warm welcome that we were then surprised when we turned to the city.
Immediately we were met by a large group of kids wanting to sell us pieces of chicklets gum. We emptied our bags of the food we brought within minutes, wanting so badly to give them something but also remembering the admonishment to not give money as any money would probably not go to helping the kids but the adults that sent them out. There were women who would reach out and grab some of my hair and begin to braid it wanting me to then pay them for the braid. I had four women trying to braid my hair at once when my brother managed to pull me out of their reach. He was sporting some long hair in a whale spout fashion and the women then tried to reach for his hair to braid. But he was taller than they were so they unable to get a hold of him.
The friend we had come with rented a golf cart type vehicle and we drove around the city. Much of what we saw fell in line with the scene from the port. A few hours later, we went back to the ship for dinner. We were much more subdued at dinner that night. The friends daughter had not gone into the city, preferring to stay in their room and watch tv than go see what she called ‘ the downer part of the trip’. She was unabashedly rude in her comments about the people there and about us for wanting to see the city instead of stay on the boat too.
We made it back to California and were piling back into a limo heading for the airport. We were not sorry to see the back of the friend’s daughter and her talk of shopping and better ships that she had been on. There a general feel that this would be our first and last vacation with them if we had anything to say about it.
Our trip had left us with a deep feeling of gratitude for what we had and for who we were. On one side, we had far more than those we had seen in Mexico. We felt all the more grateful for our menial jobs that we had worked to have the money to go on vacation, for the comfortable home that we would be returning to, and for the opportunities that we had to make our life move forward in ways so different from others. On the other side, we also felt gratitude at not being so consumed with wealth yet still treat others so ungraciously as we had seen in Catalina.
Never was the place of being in-between the wealth and the wanting so apparent in our lives than on this trip. But because of that experience, we all felt a greater gratitude for the life we had, with all the highs and lows that come with that life of in-between the haves and the have nots.