It was about midnight and Reza was ready to go to work. His wife Anissa packed him some lunch, a thermos filled with piping hot chai, and a few extra rags for protection. Every evening she gives him a goodbye hug as if it’s the last time, even though she doesn’t want to.
Reza is a sulfur miner and on his way for the daily climb to Mt. Ijen’s volcano, located on the outskirts of Java, Indonesia.
During his trek up, he has little by way of protection. Volcanic gas and toxic fumes only increase as he makes his way closer to the belly of the beast. He has a thick rag that has become damp with heat, humidity, sweat, and gas that rivals overcharged battery acid.
He’s in his 40’s, fit as an ox, hopeful about the day, yet sad because he wishes he could provide Anissa more. His eyes grow harder and more resilient with every new day because every midnight hour is a test, both mental and physical.
It takes him about an hour and a half to complete the daily 6,500-foot uphill hike to the top. The gas is as dense as white clouds at this point and his dimly lit headlamp can only see a few feet in front of him. With his vision obstructed he carries on. The terrain is familiar having walked it many times. Even the loneliest shrubs and stones were welcomed acquaintances of his.
Now at the top, the real work begins. He starts his descent into the malignant volcano. Even though it hasn’t erupted in 60 years, it spews higher concentrations of sulfurous gas. He starts to mine the yellow sulfur deposits that form in the craters of the volcano after its minerals have precipitated. He’s careful not to go any deeper into the mouth of the beastly mountain because the invisible gaseous line where death is waiting is faint but eager.
He loads about 150 pounds of sulfur ore into a basket and begins his descent out of the volcano and down to the base of the slippery mountain.
Towards the way down, Reza looks at the stars, wipes off his sweat, and takes off his rag so he can start to breathe the fresh air since the majority of the deadly gasses are behind him now. He takes his break, before heading to the mountain for one more round before his 12-hour shift comes to an end. He opens his thermos and the smell of cardamom, cinnamon, and sweet milk brings him home momentarily. He can’t wait to get back home to Anissa.
This is a story, but a reality for many Indonesian miners every day. The sulfur deposits they collect are used to bleach and purify sugar, and make explosives and skin cream. Miners make about $12 dollars a day, which is enough just to get by.
Gratitude is more than just being thankful. It’s acknowledging the chance we’ve been given to be where we are. I could have been Reza or Anissa, but here I am, somewhere in the middle of nowhere doing something that brings me joy. It’s important to cultivate gratitude every day. You don’t need a regimented practice. Instead, just a few moments of daily introspection for the beautiful things that are right in front of you.