Each late December the media rehashes the year’s breaking stories and we all tend to reflect on how we fared. This year, no one’s disputing that it has been a tumultuous and wild ride, not just here in America, but around the world. And as we say goodbye to the last decade, most of us are licking our wounds and crossing our fingers that the new year will somehow bring redemption, including a stronger economy and happier, more hopeful stories.
The end of a year, and especially, the end of a decade, deserves our attention. However, as this year draws to a close, there is nothing but uncertainty lying ahead of us. Will the dreadful economy shift? Will the wars end? What about a sense of security? How can we bear so much uncertainty?
The only thing that makes life possible is permanent, intolerable uncertainty; not knowing what comes next. — Ursula LeGuin
Intolerable uncertainty gives us room for hope.
This last decade has been perhaps the most important in my life. I don’t say this easily; I can think of numerous moments and months that rival anything in these last ten years. I also admit that this has also been a really difficult decade. So what gives?
It’s the sum total of what occurred this last decade that has left me humbled and deeply grateful as it has been deep, profound and transformational.
So what exactly happened to make this decade so important?
For starters, I conceived of and launched The Vanilla Company. As a bootstrap startup, this meant hard work and a lot of good luck.
Ah yes, luck. We launched just after the dot.com crash and three weeks before 9-11, quickly followed by the anthrax scare. Nobody – and I mean nobody – was ordering online!
The next hurdle was the vanilla crisis. Triggered by hurricanes, political unrest and more, vanilla bean prices shot from $40 a kilo to over $500 a kilo at source! All we could afford was a kilo here, a kilo there, then once we sold them, we’d order more.
The third hurdle caught me by surprise and took my breath away. A little more than two years after launching the business I was told to put my affairs in order. I began my six-year journey with metastatic breast cancer.
There are no easy fixes for a life-threatening illness or accident. The impact of this on my life has been enormous, both positive and negative. My life stood still for nearly a month, then my first grandchild was born. Slowly my life returned.
In the ensuing six years medications triggered crippling arthritis and neuropathy, I endured a year of aggressive chemotherapy and ultimately I had 40% of my liver removed along with the breast cancer tumor. The bills have been staggering and I’m not sure if I will ever break even. And then came the recession. I have come close to losing my house.
Has it been tough? You bet! But I’m still here, the business is still here and for the last year and a half, I have been on no medications and have no evidence of disease.
You might wonder why I see this as the most important decade of my life. Yes, I have so-far survived an incurable disease, but surely there must be something more. There is.
In the process of launching The Vanilla Company I gained an enormous international community. In my wildest dreams I couldn’t have imagined this. And it couldn’t have happened if not for the World Wide Web.
What a remarkable tool it is! It has the capacity to bring people together in a way that nothing has before. Not only to connect them, but to bring them together for the common good of the entire planet.
When I was diagnosed the farmers whom I had met through my site, farmers who sometimes traveled four hours to get to an Internet café, began to pray for me. In Catholic and Christian churches, in Hindu temples, in mosques, in a rural school in Haiti. People who live marginally by American standards, gave what they had in abundance: faith. And they continue to pray for me!
I was profoundly moved by their grace. I made a commitment then that I would never stop my work for social equity and justice for marginalized people worldwide. For malnourished children. For opportunities for women in developing countries. As long as I’m alive, I will give what I can, however I can, to make this a better world.
The farmers – and all of YOU who are reading this blog, buying our products, subscribing to our newsletters – are the gift I gained from launching The Vanilla Company. An international community of friends.
And, I also gained two beautiful grandsons.
I have grown to understand at a profound level the true meaning of gratitude. And I have learned that miracles occur every day. Small, simple miracles at times. Occasionally extraordinary miracles. It is all there if we open our eyes.
As we close this decade I have done a lot of thinking about the farmers I’ve met and how much they have taught me. In Santa Cruz we’ve had three years of drought and steep water restrictions. If we don’t get rain it will be harder.
But it’s not like Eastern Kenya. The drought there means starvation and death and it is happening right now! Despite these hardships, Joseph Nganga wrote to thank me for connecting him to resources this year. He said,
“The greatest help you have given me is your encouraging words. In Kenya when you call one auntie it means she is quite close to you and I know that though we have not met our spirits have. May God bless you richly.”
Gratitude despite the specter of hunger and poverty.
There is a place for each of us to create miracles. Even small ones. Get involved! Reach out to someone in need. If you have enough money to pay your mortgage and put food on your table, donate to Feeding America. If not, volunteer some time for others. It all makes a difference. And it gives us the gift of appreciation for what we do have. The gift of gratitude.
May this new year bring you prosperity, abundance, miracles and gratitude.
There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle. –Albert Einstein