Thank you, Cedarville, for the welcome

Cedarville, Ca.
Surprise Valley near Cedarville, Ca. Photo: Jim Catlin, 2015

I recently took a trip up to Cedarville from the San Francisco Bay Area.

Cedarville is in the far northeastern part of the state at the edge of the surreal Surprise Valley. The drive from route 5 over 299 takes you along the southern boundary of the Cascades. From the road you can intermittently see the large hulks of Mount Shasta to the north and Mount Lassen to the South. You emerge from the forest into the high desert. Cedarville sits at the entrance to the wilderness where 299 goes over the mountains to meet the most remote area in the lower 48 states. This is one of the approaches to Black Rock City where Burning Man takes place each year.

As a stranger, I never felt so welcome in a place. Why would this be?

I have written about the lack of friendliness that I have encountered in the small city I live in just north of San Francisco. Many of the people I know resonate with the sentiment that people in the Bay Area are hard to get to know. Everyone is busy making a living and keeping up with the rapid changes that the tech industry has thrust upon us. The cost of living is skyrocketing, whole industries are being “disrupted” as employees reinvent themselves as entrepreneurs and social mores are increasingly fluid as civil society is redefined. Competition has been promoted rather than community.

Many people no longer have a firm foundation of who they are, how they fit in and how they should act. This is, I think, why so many of us here feel a sense of dislocation.

Not so in Cedarville.

In this town of 400, if you go into a restaurant or store people want to know about you. They ask for your name, where you are from and how long you are staying. They tell you about their lives in the town and why they have come there.

They are a diverse group for such a small town. They include old ranchers, young cowboys, organic farmers, Burners and hippies. They have found a way of life that is remote and demands cooperation. There is no time or use for divisiveness. Professional boundaries are blurred as the chef at the newest hip restaurant is also a real estate agent. People do 2 or 3 jobs to keep the town running. This is how it used to be in the frontier days. This is how it is for them now.

I felt really good about myself and the world after this visit. It dawned on me that we all could definitely use a little more welcome in our lives.

The middle of nowhere is definitely somewhere. I most assuredly will be back.

Gratitude practice: Thanking those who gave us direction

gratitude and life directionEvery once in a while in life it is important to acknowledge the people who we are grateful to. We don’t do this often enough. We get lost in the day-to-day business of living and move on without a thank you to those who have done so much for us.

Who might you have a debt of gratitude to? This can be your parents, siblings, teachers, old friends, co-workers, mentors, therapists or other helpers. These people often go unrecognized; your acknowledgement can be very affirming for both you and them. After all, they have made your life better in some unique way.

Sometimes it is the simplest things that make that person important to you. At other times it is a lifetime of helping behind the scenes.

I have thanked many people over time but, as I have gotten older, I feel compelled to give a more formal thanks to those who have been there for me. It is becoming a practice; I am making a list. It is long and gets longer. I do this with some trepidation since there are people on it who I am no longer in contact with due to a misunderstanding. Or we just drifted apart over the years. How might they respond to my efforts to reach out to them? My apprehension is lessened as time has a way of healing the wounds that separated us.

I only wish that I had the foresight to have done this when I was younger; many of those who did so much for me have gone. I will thank them nonetheless.

My thanks will take the form of a letter, email or video, whichever medium best suits the recipient. This is my gratitude practice right now — letting people know they are important and appreciated for how they have given to me unselfishly. They oftentimes provided a sense of meaning and hope when I was lost or confused.

These people were the guideposts that created my path through life. By thanking them I am put back in touch with those things that have made me who I am.