One of the simple pleasures for our family is eating summer fruit. For the last few months, we’ve been blessed to have access to an incredible variety of fresh, seasonal fruit. Nectarines, plums, cherries, and mangos are among our favorites. And they help me with my strategy of convincing my kids that “fruit is nature’s candy” – a now tired refrain that has lost most of its charm and effectiveness, if it ever had any.
Over the last couple weeks, we’ve noticed the quality of the produce beginning to wane. The skins of the nectarines have begun to shrivel. The plums and cherries have lost their sweetness. The mangos are ripening more quickly. This is a normal phenomenon to be sure, as the season comes to an end and farmers work tirelessly to eke out the remaining fruits of their harvests.
It has likewise been normal for me to not give much thought to the passing of summer. And to ignore the incredible amount of work that goes into planting and harvesting the produce that I have taken for granted for much of my life. Removed from the realities of agricultural production, I have for the most part mindlessly enjoyed the fruits of an industry that today represents a mere 1% of the U.S. GDP and workforce. Until this week that is. I stumbled upon a fantastic article in the New York Times Magazine chronicling the eight weeks of the cherry farming season, during which an astounding 24 billion cherries are picked. Each one is individually picked by hand! The article details the underbelly of an industry that most people (myself included) are either unaware of or would rather not be exposed to.
Picking cherries, not surprisingly, is incredibly hard work. It is largely performed by low-paid immigrant workers who have to endure conditions that most people would find intolerable. The difficulties that these workers typically face have been compounded by an unprecedented pandemic. This is on top of the inherent uncertainty of an unpredictable industry, exacerbated by an administration that unsuccessfully tried at the outset of the pandemic to postpone the H-2A visa program that allows pickers to work in this country legally. The current situation is best captured by the economist, Varden Fuller, who famously stated that the supply of farm workers depends on “poverty at home and misery abroad.”
As a young child, I had an ability to instantly transform a disappointing or unfortunate situation by simply reminding myself that many people have it worse. Perhaps it was an adaptive response to an all too often unpredictable childhood. Regardless of its source, gratitude has been a core part of my character for as long as I can remember. As one of my core values, gratitude is something I practice each morning. I take time to reflect on all of the people and things (big and little) in my life that I am grateful for. Notwithstanding this practice, there is still so much I take for granted. So many simple gifts that I neglect to appreciate, like the fruit that I unthinkingly enjoy each summer. There is nothing inherently wrong with this. Like any value, the practice of gratitude is endless. In fact, growth is more often the product of noticing where the value isn’t being practiced than in its observance.
We are living in a time of increasing uncertainty. One that requires a commitment to self-mastery and wisdom. Gratitude may be the single most important antidote to fear and uncertainty. When things are rough, reminding yourself of how much there is to be grateful for has the power to change the way the world shows up to you. It can instantly transform a state of powerlessness and helplessness into one that is full of possibility and hope. It doesn’t take much. Just the simple act of reflecting on the extraordinary sacrifices that go into the production of a single piece of fruit is enough. In fact, a single thought, done daily, with intention, will work. Each morning when I wake up, in the very first second of consciousness, I say the same thing: “Thank God I’m alive, this is going to be an amazing day.” And I mean it. This simple, honest declaration is a game changer. The day shows up to me as a precious gift, not a burden. It reminds me that no matter what is happening in my life or the world around me, there is always something – something as simple as a single piece of fruit – that I can be grateful for.