EXCERPT: '365 Thank Yous' by John Kralik

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Now time was running out. I was older than the idol of my college years, Jack Kerouac, had been when he drank himself to death. I was just a bit younger than Hemingway had been when his muse so dimmed that he saw no point in living. As I struggled through the brush in search of a new path, I ran through ideas I'd had for writing projects over the years. This year, I thought, I should try to write something, and I should actually finish it. Yet even as this thought made its way through my mind, I knew how futile a thought it was. I had no time, no energy.

Still not finding the path, I began to slip and stumble in the rough. As I became more lost and tired, I began to despair of getting home before dark, much less finishing something I started in the new year. I imagined falling down into one of the ravines. If that happened, how would I survive the night?

Then I heard a voice: "Until you learn to be grateful for the things you have," it said, "you will not receive the things you want." I do not know who spoke to me. I could not explain this voice, or the words it said, which seemed to have no logical relation to the other thoughts in my head.

I was tired and frustrated. I sat down for a minute. The voice was loud. For me, the voice was loud enough that I thought it might be important, and that it might have an important message. I should not throw it away.

I sat there listening to my breath. The wheezing from my asthma subsided. As things grew quiet around me, I realized I had no choice but to get up, or I would still be sitting there at the end of the day. While I was not sure I wanted to go back, there was no point in staying. Feeling less exhausted, I pushed on.

The mountains in this area are not so complicated, and despite the drama in my head, a return to civilization was still available to an inexperienced hiker. Heading generally downward, I eventually found another trail, and made my way, slipping and sliding, to the old hotel. Sitting on the remnants of its concrete slab, I stared out at the vast, quiet expanse of Los Angeles. This is a perspective from which the most sordid distress of humanity can seem peaceful.

For some reason, at that moment I thought of my grandfather John Kralik Jr., a veteran of the First World War and a successful dealer in insurance, real estate, and the stock market. Perhaps he came to mind because when he was my age, my grandfather had already retired. When I knew him, he played golf and watched it on television. In the morning, he sat at his desk and checked stock prices. Perhaps I was dwelling on my own bitterness at the certainty that I would not be playing golf or checking stock prices anytime soon. I would be working for a long time, I thought, perhaps till the moment of death.

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