A country in turmoil. That’s what you get when you combine a pandemic with unending political angst, a lack of respect and tolerance and the unmitigated sense of entitlement that pervades our society today. The effects of the pandemic are both staggering and overwhelming: the loss of life – so many lives - jobs, businesses and financial and emotional stability. And yet, from the worst of the worst, the best of the best have risen to spit in the eye of the monster – neighbors bringing meals and groceries to neighbors, volunteers stepping up to man overburdened food pantries, citizens applauding health care providers and essential workers who never stopped delivering medical support, tangible goods and everything else we needed to survive.
Creativity blossomed and our usual routines were replaced with unusual and sometimes uncomfortable alternatives; people with basic sewing skills lovingly created masks to share; technology stepped up to meet the demand for social connections for the socially distanced; those who could did; those who couldn’t were comforted. Every single day, the citizens of our beloved country are rising to the challenges presented by unprecedented circumstances. We are a brave and resilient people. As horrendous and disconcerting as our experiences this year have been, we believe without a doubt that there are brighter days ahead, we hope deep in our hearts that they arrive sooner rather than later, and we plan to celebrate with abandon when they finally get here.
Our family is among the most fortunate. Alan and I are retired and financially secure; our son and his girlfriend remained steadily employed; our daughter endured several months of unemployment but had no expenses she couldn’t cover while still living at home. More importantly, all of us have remained safe and healthy, as have our families and our friends.
It’s easy to be grateful when life is good and living is easy. It’s so much more difficult during the dark days of despair. I am always grateful for Alan (my husband and best friend for over 40 years), our kids and bonus kid (Kyra, Ryan and Anya), our families and friends (you guys are the best!), a safe and secure home in which to live (along with its toasty warmth provided by our ever-so-dependable wood stove) and food on the table (well, except for those peas we had on Sunday night – what the heck happened there?!). But it has been during the last eight months of social isolation that I’ve gained an appreciation for some small, unpretentious objects and occurrences that are so much a part of my Life During COVID.
Photographs – Spending more time at home means I walk by the kitchen fridge and the entertainment center in the living room a lot more often so the photos displayed in these two places often catch my eye. Each time I glance at one, I’m blessed with a memory of someone or something close to my heart. My childhood friend’s wedding photo: Valerie is laughing and her new husband, Charles, is smiling at her. I’m sure he’s the one who made her laugh during the photo session, and they’ve been laughing together for 30 years. The photo of our daughter, Kyra, at North Cascades National Park: That was the last National Parks trip that either of our kids were able to enjoy with us. Her brother, Ryan, had aged out a few years prior, and I miss both of them when Alan and I travel now. When our kids were growing up, some of those days seemed so darn long, and yet the years somehow flew by while I was otherwise occupied. The kids (they will always be “the kids”) are young adults now, shaping their lives and living out dreams of their own. But that photo of Kyra always takes me back to our days on the road, and the many miles our family has traveled together. The pic of our son, Ryan, and his best friend, Jeff: The boys have been friends for years, and Jeff’s Mom and I take turns each year insisting they pose for a photo. They used to give us a difficult time and argue about it; now, they just laugh and get it over with as quickly and painlessly as possible. Being in the company of these two young men is like attending the performance of a major comedy headliner. They’re both quick witted and their repartee keeps us in stitches. It’s no wonder I smile whenever I see that photo. The photo I took at my brother and sister-in-law’s wedding of my mother, her two remaining sisters and their niece who was close in age to them: This is one of the most poignant photos in our collection. At the time it was taken, I believe their ages ranged from the mid-70’s to the mid-80’s. They were not looking at me; the official photographer had gathered them for a group photo and they were looking in that direction. Something the photographer said had obviously set them off. Three of them were laughing, one was trying not to laugh, and one of them wasn’t even looking at the camera, but they all had their arms around each other in the “Solidarity of the Matriarchs.” The photo is priceless, and every time I see it, I remember the legacy of love that runs in our family.
Books & Magazines – I’ve always loved to read, but I don’t think I’ve ever been as grateful for books as I have been this year. Even when our library was closed, I could easily access electronic versions of almost anything I wanted to read, thanks to my trusty Kindle and technology. Prior to the pandemic, when my monthly magazines appeared in the mail it was just, well, the mail. Now, it’s an event. It’s kind of amazing how much a colorful, thoughtfully produced and beautiful to behold magazine cover can brighten your day. It hasn’t just been the ability to read books for which I’m grateful; I also appreciate how they connect me to others. I’m too much of a social hermit to participate in book clubs, but I happily trade titles with friends and family members who enjoy reading – another way to maintain social connections while sheltering at home. I recently sent an article on Bruce Springsteen to a friend who’s a big fan, and a month or so ago a friend and former colleague assured me that her husband was enjoying the new series I had suggested. The basket of magazines in the living room will provide a fine accompaniment to a cup of coffee and a few minutes of pure contentment any time I want. Another basket in the bedroom keeps a supply of Lee Child novels handy so that I can easily get a dose of Jack Reacher whenever I’m in need of a hero who always nails the bad guys. A bookshelf holds my beloved travel guides which provide me with plenty of wonderful adventures even as I’m stuck at home. I’m grateful for libraries, books and the many authors who have proven to be very good friends to have during a pandemic.
Coffee – Whether it’s the first, most welcome sip of our standard cup of morning coffee or a McDonald’s McCafé when we’re on the go, a blessedly hot, fragrant and flavorful cup o’ joe is, perhaps, the simplest of pleasures. Alan and I sometimes meet at “The Cozy Café,” and linger over a cup of coffee mid-morning. The Café isn’t a hot spot in town. No, it’s a corner of the living room where the rocking chairs are turned to face the mountain view out the front windows. Management is never in a rush to kick us out and we've been known to dawdle well past the point where we've finished our coffee. I’ve had a cup of coffee at hand when I’ve been working on the computer or cleaning up the kitchen, but taking the time to savor “the elixir of life” and taking a break from whatever chores or projects I'm working on ensures that my day is not an endless hamster wheel of tasks. Think about your last cup of coffee or tea. Did you take a whiff of the aroma, feel the warmth of the mug in your hands and truly savor the flavor? A simple exercise in mindfulness, sure, but one that promotes a heartfelt gratitude for tiny blessings.
The Healing Power of the Natural World – Our family is extremely fortunate in that we don’t have to go far to connect with nature. Living on three rural acres of mostly forested land, all we need do is step out the front door for a view of the mountain opposite the one on which we live or walk among the towering trees behind the house that frame a blue sky canvas covered with racing white clouds. In fact, the photos that accompany this post were taken on a tiny country road about a quarter of a mile from our house – it’s my favorite place to walk. Sometimes, I can smell the pines; often I can hear the squirrels, birds and chipmunks chattering. Occasionally at night the coyotes will be howling or the barred owls will be calling to each other. These days, it’s a deeply colored, star-filled sky that greets me when I wake in the early morning hours. For those to whom the great outdoors is not so easily accessible, our State and National Parks and other public lands provide a respite from the stress, the people or the circumstances that tax our psyches and our energy. After having spring camping plans canceled on us because State Parks remained closed due to the pandemic, we were finally able to get out and enjoy camping adventures in four different State Parks, all of which had specific COVID restrictions in place to help ensure the safety and health of both staff and guests. When we were finally able to get back to camping, a huge sense of relief washed over me. To be out in the fresh air, biking, walking – even just sitting at the edge of the lake - allowed the calming effect of the great outdoors to work its magic. I have never taken the magnificent beauty of the natural world for granted but, this year, I’ve developed an even greater appreciation for just how completely it refreshes my spirit and how thoroughly its steadfast presence soothes my soul.
Certainly these are not the only things for which I’m grateful –
if I listed all of them you’d be reading a novel instead of a blog post. But, when life became so tumultuous,
it was better for me to step away from the big picture and things that I couldn’t
control and focus on my own environment and things I could control. That’s when I started noticing the tiny,
perhaps otherwise inconsequential aspects of my life which are just as
deserving of my appreciation as are the more common and obvious reasons for
gratitude. I hope you, too, have people, places and things in your life for which to be grateful this year despite these trying times.
My best wishes to each and every one of you and your families for a blessed Thanksgiving, easier roads to travel and brighter days ahead.
Alan learned something interesting today while talking with a member of the Board of Directors of our local food pantry that may be helpful to those of you who are supporting food pantries in your own areas. Because our local food pantry is a non-profit organization, its Board members are allowed to access the regional food bank and pay only 16 cents per pound for food. As you can imagine, this allows the food pantry to really stretch its “grocery money.” I can spend $5.00 and buy five extra one pound boxes of pasta for the food pantry – or I can make a cash donation of $5.00 which will allow the pantry to purchase THIRTY boxes of pasta. Since regulations may vary from region to region across the country, all food pantries may not be able to take advantage of this benefit. But it may be worthwhile to ask the question before deciding to donate in one way or the other.