Why it’s the small things that make me feel grateful to be alive

Sometimes we need reminding of how fortunate our lives are.

The other day while returning from a road trip to Adelaide, we stopped by the side of the road for a fruit stall. The red and orange peaches and nectarines, piled high on a trestle table under a blue makeshift canopy, looked inviting and were hopefully locally grown.

We decided to buy some to take home and for consumption on the long drive back. Behind the pile of fruit was a short woman, plainly dressed and clearly of European extraction. Her hair was greying and pulled back off her face into a bun. We started chatting and soon it became clear that she was of Greek background and my travelling companion, who also had Greek parents, effortlessly switched into fluent Greek. They rabbited on as is often the case when a native speaker finds another.

I bought my fruit and said thank you in Greek. The surprise on the woman’s face was wonderful. Clearly, she had not expected that response from my white, Irish background face. The conversation with my friend continued, barely skipping a beat as the financial transaction took place. 

I had noticed the weather-beaten face of the woman and the lack of teeth. One blackened front tooth remained and wobbled slightly as she spoke. I wondered what had happened in her life.

As we resumed our journey, I discovered the tale. The woman lived four hours away on a property in the Riverland and she had come to set up her stall for the next two days to sell what fruit she could. She came out to Australia as a 19 year old, sponsored by a family member who had migrated earlier. She came from a poor Greek village and, like many young Greek women in that era, was seen as a liability unless she married. Essentially, she came to Australia as a sight unseen bride for a young Greek man, an arranged marriage, as was often the case for migrants after the war and beyond.

She had started work in a factory in Melbourne, married and then went to live in rural South Australia, on a farm growing fruit. It was hard physical work, she raised children and spent virtually her entire life on the farm, never learning to speak much English. Her children all left the farm to live in big cities away from the loneliness and hardship of farming life. Clearly, they had not had much money, certainly not enough to spend on good dental care or skincare products. And to still be so linguistically isolated was upsetting for me and my companion. We could imagine and feel the frustration and loneliness that that created. 

It led, of course, to a discussion of the good fortune we had experienced as women growing up in Australia without some of the customs and constraints of village life. The feminist movement and the free university education provided to us by the initiative of Gough Whitlam had meant our lives were so much more fortunate in terms of choices and outcomes than for this woman. We appeared to have had far more agency over the direction of our lives than this woman had. 

 Both of us quietly felt both immense gratitude and sadness as we drove home.

What do you feel grateful for as you age? Does this column resonate with you? Let us know in the comments.

Also read: Is the world getting more violent?

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