At the bottom of a climb in Colorado National Monument, Ben Reader, a NOLS instructor and mentor of mine told me something I wouldn’t soon forget.
With a face chalked with red dirt and cinders, he looked me in the eyes and said, “Gratitude is breathing for the soul.”
I looked back at him and nodded in appreciation, but upon first hearing this its significance wasn’t fully realized.
In 1998, Guanaja was stripped bare to the bone by a vicious hurricane that hovered over the island for three days. Nearly nothing was left afterwards. The carcasses of trees were scattered around the island, the people were poor, and with nothing left the island fell into economic crisis. The scars of the storm still remain.
Guanaja, Honduras. June 17, 2018
We sit in the stands at the edges of a dusty, grass field, seeking shade from the high midday sun, watching a game of soccer amongst the locals of the island. They play with vehement passion and charisma, sprinting like warriors in to the heat of battle. Two different teams from two different towns of Guanaja square off for island pride. The intensity of the match embodies that of the World Cup being played thousands of miles away in Russia. With sweat-drenched jerseys, the players on each side of the field accelerate intermittently in bouts of offensive momentum at the prospect of achieving a goal. A goal that could ultimately separate their respective team to a victory or a loss. I look behind me to all of the people in the stands, and watch and hear family, friends, and strangers yell among the players themselves.
Children of players and spectators kick older balls along the sideline in miniature games of soccer with improvised flip-flops goals. The aroma of pulled pork and plantains seeps out a tent selling 60 Lempira lunch plates. After a Sunday morning of fishing and church, the island comes to the soccer field to bond over competition, food, and camaraderie. This soccer game is not like any I have been to in the states. Everyone greets each other with kindness. Everyone knows each other’s name. Players on the bench call out to the players on the opposing team with smiles and kind gestures. Everyone looks out for one another. I am distracted by a shout across the field.
One player trips over another, falling from a full sprint on to his back and then into a roll in the fetal position. He grimaces in pain holding his knee up to his chest. The player he tripped over puts a hand on his shoulder and to my surprise, does not call him out, or challenge the authenticity of his writhing. He stretches his leg out from a strain, and calls to a man beside a cooler on the sidelines for a water. After the injured player can be helped up, he and his teammates help the player off the field, all saying words of encouragement along the way back to the bench.
The people of Guanaja, more than the people in any other place in the United States that I have witnessed, understand the importance of gratitude. When a person, or an entire island in this case, watches nearly everything they once had slip between their fingers like ashes from a once raging fire, the only thing that have left is what they choose to be grateful for. This first day back in Guanaja, and this soccer game, and the way the locals interacted with each other while battling for victory, encompassed what gratitude means to me and to so many other people around me. Guanaja is a place in which we can come to be grateful, and leave behind us all that we have lost.
By: Will Roberts