I lay in a hospital bed near Cappadocia, Turkey. The government hospital, which was cheaper, but where no one spoke English. The open emergency room area was full of people moaning, a woman screaming in Turkish about her back (she had suffered a terrible fall). Men walked by my bed, staring at me. I was the only Westerner in this room full of suffering. Mine, too.
It was 3 am. Next to my bed lay a young Muslim man, tired, quietly resting, watchful eyes on me. He had left a gathering at the hotel where I’d been staying. Everyone had been on the roof, partying with vodka and sweets, when someone heard me screaming. The only sober one in the lot, he had come rushing downstairs, and he and his friends (who owned the hotel) bundled me carefully in their ancient car and hauled me to this hospital with as much speed as the rusty little vehicle could muster.
A few days prior, I had begun what was going to be a five-day private horseback riding adventure through the storied rock gardens of Cappadocia, one of the world’s great natural wonders. My mount, however, had a different idea. Spooked by the swishing sound made by my down riding jacket, he bucked repeatedly, and hard, not twenty seconds out of the corral.
Despite my best efforts to soothe him, I was airborne. I slammed my helmeted head hard on the rocky ground. Saw stars. Through the dizzy haze I made out that my right foot was still stuck in the stirrup.
The horse was further terrified by having me still attached. He did his best to rid himself of this huge human dingleberry. He kicked my ribs, broke my teeth and stomped my right shoulder before my guide could grab the reins and calm him down enough for me to loosen my leg. I rolled over on the ground, barely able to take a breath, and spat, several times. I needed to know if I was bleeding from the lungs.
When it was clear I wasn’t, I moved carefully to see what was broken. Remounting wasn’t an option. My guide and one of the stable hands rushed me to the private hospital, where they stayed with me constantly until all the tests were done and they were convinced I would live. They brought my saddlebags, wrapped me in their coats when I had to use the public toilet, escorted me holding my IV over my head. We laughed a lot. Mostly from relief. Broken ribs hurt when you laugh, but laugh we did.
I insisted on paying these good people for my adventure. My guide refused at first, and I pressed the cash into his hands. I had insurance. He didn’t. He was beside himself with gratitude. I found out later that he had just lost a horse and a cow. The income from my trip prevented a family disaster. He returned the favor by asking his friend, the hotel owner, to put me up for a few days while I healed.
Now one of those partners lay on the hospital bed next to mine, attentively watching over me. Doing his best to ensure whatever privacy could be had in this maelstrom of a hospital emergency room.
After a series of tests to make sure I wasn’t bleeding internally, the doctors released me with a packet of pain pills. However the hospital didn’t take credit cards. I had no cash. This kind young man paid for my entire hospital visit. I paid him back as soon as we returned, just as the sun was painted pink, rising over the rock fairy castles of this lovely Turkish town.
For seven days I stayed with these good men. They fed me, regaled me with stories. My guide came by and left a pair of gorgeous, hand-made half chaps that I had complimented. They lay on my open window one morning, as he didn’t want to wake me up. We laughed, we discussed religion and politics and life and love. They squired me to the local sites, local rug shops, and ferried me to ancient Christian churches built into these rocks. They helped me negotiate deals on gorgeous Turkish ceramics, which now grace my shelves. The gorgeous kilim rug that now hangs in my bedroom.
They became family. When I got back to my house here in Colorado, they had sent me an email to make sure I had gotten home safely. Called me “mama.”
I will return to ride again, and by all means to stay at this same hotel. With my Muslim “family.” People who protected me, supported me, fed me and slept next to me in a hospital bed in the middle of the night to make sure I was safe.
My reasons for being grateful are not relegated to one day out of the year. In every way I give thanks for extraordinary experiences, rich relationships and generous people all over the world, no matter where I find myself. If nothing else, travel has taught me that there is good everywhere, in all people, in all cultures, all religions, all countries.
I am not grateful for what I have so much as for what I’ve experienced. Nothing in my house, my closets, nothing that I own has given me so much joy as those moments that grace my life like a string of diamonds. People and animals who have taught me to see differently, and as a result, be able to move in the world with extraordinary courage and gratitude. Fearless.
My house could burn down tomorrow, and still I would be rich beyond measure.
The true gifts in our lives don’t carry price tags. Nothing that we buy can give us what we gain through living lives out loud. At the end of the day, it’s what we’ve been willing to risk that makes us who we become.
So rather than relegating my thankfulness to a single annual holiday, I take a moment each morning before leaping out of my bed to express my thanks. The habit keeps me humbled, full of wonder. It keeps my cup empty, so that I may fill it again this new day.
I needn’t carve a turkey or handle a ham to know that I am supremely fortunate. Our real riches reside within.