Yanabah: The Spirit of Giving Thanks

Yanabah in the doorway to her home.

Yanabah in the doorway to her home.

It is an interesting paradox that so often those who have so little are the ones who exhibit the most gratitude.  Yanabah was no exception.  She had very little of monetary value.  Yet, through the course of my life, I have yet to meet someone who more completely exuded a spirit of thanksgiving than her.  I spent a significant part of my childhood with her.  Her home was small.  Two rooms; a kitchen and a living/sleeping room.  Each had a wood-burning stove for heat and, in the kitchen, for cooking.

The view out from Yanabah's kitchen on a rainy day.

The view from Yanabah’s kitchen on a rainy day.

Water was hauled in and stored in large drums outside.  Indoor plumbing didn’t exist and still doesn’t across much of the reservation.  Electricity came during the last few years of her life, but throughout all of my childhood and well into my adult years, kerosene lamps provided the light at night.  Today it would be considered third world.  To us then, and to Yanabah in particular, it was everything we needed.

I watched nearly everything she did.  She was the epitome of what you would imagine a Navajo grandmother to be. Soft spoken, exceedingly kind, wise, and capable.  I noticed, on many occasions, one particular practice which I did not understand.  Often while cooking a meal, she would take a small bit of food and throw it in the fire of the wood-burning stove while saying a quiet prayer.  One day I asked why she did this.  In her quiet and humble manner, she explained that we are supposed to give back to mother-earth to show our thankfulness.  That moment has remained with me.

I was part of many of her evening prayers while growing up.  Unfailingly they were front-loaded with expressions of gratitude before asking for any blessings.  She was always up before dawn to greet the sunrise and say her morning prayers.  It was simply part of who she was. Humility incarnate.  Later in life as she grew older, I would bring her to our home for extended stays with my family and I.  She was so detail oriented in her expressions of thanks. “Thank you for having me.” “Thank you for the time with my grand children.” “Thank you for super.” (All in Navajo, of course, since she didn’t speak English.)  She was never withholding of gratitude.

Simple things endear her to me.  Perhaps most of all was this spirit of gratitude.  The grandeur of her humility must surely have stemmed from her thankful disposition.  I too am thankful for the blessing of having known and been influenced by her.

Happy Thanksgiving to each of you.  Please feel free to share your stories about your own “Yanabah” in the comments above and have a wonderful holiday weekend.

Yellow Bird