When I talk with elation about my gratefulness, I wouldn’t want anyone to think that my life has been easy. I come to my place of gratefulness because I understand pain and loss. ~ James

In the summer of 2020, while all of us around the globe were isolated in some way from those we love, award-winning photographer and filmmaker Doug Menuez found a way for us to gather safely, outdoors, to listen closely to the stories of seven individuals for whom grateful living is a way of life. The result of Doug’s beautiful work is a new video series, Grateful Voices. In the short film and narrative below James, who generously participated in the project, shares his story.

James’s Story

“I am Garifuna, from a region of the world that runs down the coast of Central America, now called  Belize, Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua — all the way down to Panama — since the Europeans came over and divided it all up. That is where my people come from. We were once called the “Black Caribs,” one of the Indigenous groups of this region. I am glad to be here, to be able to share how I and how my people live with gratitude, even with the understanding that our very existence has been threatened ever since the Europeans came to these shores.  

I’ve had to come to terms with how we must exist in a place and time where there’s a constant push and pull, challenging all of us to hold in the center, being safe, being loving, being kind, so that this energy can permeate throughout the universe. This is who I am. It doesn’t come from me, it comes from my people and the understanding that each of us is more than who and where we are in this moment of time and space. We have been here since the beginning of time. Not as humans, but as energy. That’s how my people know we are connected — no matter where we go. We are taught this from a very young age. 

I try to always remind myself and others around me how truly magnificent and connected we all are. There is a very personal reason I do this work. It’s because I remember what it was like to begin life without a mother or father.  And so I do this work of building connection with people and building a caring and nurturing community wherever I go.  

I believe it’s our human potential for connection, potential for love and respect, that can liberate us. But this will only fully manifest when we redefine success and power from how it is currently being defined — as competing and winning, as dominating others, and as acquiring wealth. When we begin to hold our markers for success in concepts like interconnectedness and kindness, when we place our highest value on each other, our children and our relationships, then our human spirits soar.”

We invite you to share comments in the space below the video transcript which follows.

Video Transcript

My being here at this moment in time in terms of gratitude begins with the possibility of the breath, understanding that through the breath coming in through my nostrils, feeding my body, my brain, my energy, and my spirit, it is what gives me the opportunity to make sense, especially with this thing called light. To be able to see and know that it’s reflecting off everything that I see and it’s with that kind of energy that I give thanks every moment because when we forget to pay attention to these simple things as air, light, sound, energy and vibration, we miss the connection to each other and the universe.

When I talk with elation about my gratefulness, I wouldn’t want anyone to think that my life has been easy. I come to my place of gratefulness because I understand pain and loss. So it’s in my understanding pain that I know that oh my God, things can get better or because of the pain and what is possible, that my being in peace right now, that it doesn’t have to be like this. That’s what helps me to hold on to my gratefulness, that people are listening and are remembering that we can build community no matter what we look like or where we come from. That’s my gratefulness, that a few people are being saved physically, mentally, spiritually.

Yeah, my gratefulness for my existence is in honoring everyone who came before me who struggle to breathe. And because of political, economic, racial terror, many of us don’t survive and it’s still happening to our humanness no matter where we are. I’m holding mine in terms of my coming from the Caribbean, but I’m saying even here in the United States, I am grateful and understand that there’s so many who are not surviving spiritually, physically, emotionally, and it’s all because of greed. It’s all because of disconnection. So I am grateful when I can see and hold on to our humanness. That reminds me this is temporary.

I grew up right on the ocean. And so our existence and survival begins with the elements of water, air, sun, and the vibration of the drum that holds our pulse, that gives us tenacity so that no matter what we encounter in this daily existence, that can be bountiful and can be meager, that the drum reminds us to keep on moving, moving, moving, because our destination is way ahead of us and we’re just part of that movement. So that I like to say my people, my culture reminds me that we are part of this and the only way to be is to continue to exist with gratitude and understanding how integral we are to the vastness of the universe, that we as humans, no matter where we come from, have a profound connection to the universe.

Thank you, Doug Menuez and team, including Executive Producer Pear Urushima, Director of Photography Luke Carquillat, and Sound Technician/Gaffer Dino Davaros, for the grace and heart you bring to your work in making it possible for the diverse stories of grateful living to be shared.

To watch more films in this series, visit Grateful Voices.

Grateful Voices