Cultivating a Spirit of Gratitude in 2003

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RADU TIPRIGAN remembers as a 20-year- old what it was like standing in line for an orange or a banana during the cold winters in his homeland of Romania. "You could wait several hours and then maybe you'd get nothing," he said in a thick accent tinged with sadness.

Tiprigan grew up in the northern city of Suceava under the oppressive communist regime of Nicolae Ceausecu. During the 1980s, Romanians were suffering through terrible food shortages. "My mother would leave home to wait in line half the night for propane so we could cook and heat our apartment. Then one of my brothers would go and take her place until morning when the truck came and we could fill our tank."

He recounted the time his mother sent him out with an empty jar to wait in line for some sour cream. On his way home he stopped to play with his friends. The jar slipped out of his hands and shattered on the ground. "My mother beat me when I got home she was so mad at me."

In 1981 he left for the United States where he now lives with his wife and two children. Like most hard-working immigrants who come to America seeking a better life, he has succeeded in achieving the American Dream and owns his own auto body shop in Dumont.

While trying to imagine what it must have been like to stand in line for hours in the frigid cold I stood in a queue myself outside the Market Basket, a posh food emporium in Franklin Lakes, where multimillion dollar mansions on two- and three-acre lots dot most neighborhoods.

Two police officers were directing traffic into and out of the packed parking lot where BMWs, Mercedeses, and Lexuses were stacked like cordwood.

Some were parked illegally in no-parking zones or blocking crosswalks. It took me 10 minutes of circling before I finally found a spot in the back lot.

It was a short walk to the main entrance where a rapidly growing line was forming. "It'll be just a few minutes, folks," a man dressed in a bright red sweater said firmly while trying to sound cheerful at the same time. There was simply not enough room to accommodate the press of people inside, and management decided it was prudent not to allow any more shoppers into the store.

"This is insane! This is really insane!" the woman behind me grumbled as she jockeyed for position. We must have waited all of five minutes in the balmy, 40-degree weather until finally being allowed in.

The aisles were jammed with harried shoppers pushing carts filled with expensive cuts of meat, imported cheeses, and other gourmet foods. Lines at every register were at least 20 deep. I breathed a sigh of relief when an employee told me there were no more chocolate and caramel covered pretzels -the only items I had wanted to buy as last-minute gifts for a couple of friends. At least I avoided waiting in a second line.

As I left the store, I thought this was indeed Pandemonium -but the kind that comes from being abundantly blessed. This was hardly Romania circa 1981.

We Americans are so very fortunate. Even the poor among us are well-off compared with what much of the rest of the world has to contend with. Most of us know nothing of going hungry or doing without. We flip a switch, and the lights come on. We turn on a faucet, and clean water runs out. Much of the wood we burn in our homes is purely for ambience.

"We're spoiled here," Tiprigan says. "We have too much."

Immigrants like Tiprigan, who share in the fruits of this great land, have an ability to convey the truth about our country's abundance with greater clarity than most myopic natural-born Americans. As I listened to him tell the stories about his past and the struggles his family endured eking out an existence behind the Iron Curtain, there was an obvious tone of gratitude for the privilege of living in this country.

His testimony reminded me of the words of Paul the apostle who wrote, "In everything give thanks." That would be a great New Year's resolution for all of us to make in 2003.

Original date of publication, Sunday December 29, 2002. Reproduced with permission of The Record (Bergen County, NJ).
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