In the middle of a pandemic, it would seem that our practice of gratefulness might be wearing a little thin. Job losses, financial strain, fear and uncertainty; these are realities for so many of our friends and neighbours. We know that the worse of the economic devastation has not yet been felt, and the threat of the pandemic spiraling out of control is always present. The pandemic marches on.
And yet, gratefulness washes so powerfully over me this weekend. I am so grateful to be sitting here in my kitchen writing this as I am surrounded by animal companions; their presence makes me happy. I am sitting across from the man I adore, and the depth of my love for him, literally moves me to tears.
My husband is an entrepreneur, and in the last eight months, he has seen all his locations shut down because of COVID. Unless you are a liquor store or a grocery store, COVID sucks for business owners. Yet, we count ourselves lucky as we have witnessed so many people’s work life shattered in a few short months.
How is it possible that gratefulness seems to be peaking in me and so many people I speak with, at a time, when so much has been lost?
In my life, I have had many experiences of loss. The loss of an Olympic dream of winning gold after I was smashed into by another boat ten weeks before the Barcelona Olympics. I have experienced a sudden end to a marriage. I have held a child I loved for hours, just days before he died of cancer; and I have been able to call that experience beautiful.
When life is stripped back by loss and pain, it is interesting how we are able to see what is also beautiful.
Crisis and loss create a clarity that we often lose in the busyness of everyday life. And in this clarity, we see that life is not about our stuff, or our list of accomplishments, or the approval of others. Life is so much deeper than all the things we have come to believe it entails. To be loved, how precious this is. Love trumps any other small or great triumph we experience. The love I have for my children, and the love I feel from my husband, even the soft doggy kisses of my new puppy, this is the stuff that matters. We often miss the love that we are offered. We don’t notice the love behind the invitation to dinner, we judge the call from our children because it comes infrequently, we forget that those that we love are imperfect; but their love is not.
COVID has stripped life down. We have been forced into our homes with our people. Our movement has been restricted. My travel case is no longer packed, my car is parked in the driveway, and I am home. Each evening I cook dinner, and we sit down to eat together. My kids come for meals on weekends, I walk the dog with my son on Wednesday, I Zoom with my dad on Sunday. There is a rhythm to my forced landing, and I find it comforting. Fears of the future arise, how will the business continue, will my children find jobs, will my family stay healthy? There is a tsunami of things to worry about, and yet, living amidst a pandemic, I find myself focusing on things I can do, things I have some agency over, I find myself focusing on what I want to create, rather than what I am afraid of losing. A friend of mine who suffers from terrible anxiety put it well. When I asked him how he was doing he replied, “the very thing I worried most about has happened and I am doing just fine.”
The world as we knew it, has literally ended, and most of us, are doing ok.
Humans are resilient, and it takes challenge to show us how strong we really are. Adversity does build strength, and that strength doesn’t just disappear when we are through the challenge. Last week I spoke to 800 first year students, and I told them that they would be known as the class that started university during the pandemic. They would be the class that learned how to be connected virtually, that found ways to combat loneliness and isolation, they are the ones that will. become the innovators of the future. Despite the real issues and losses they are experiencing today, the class of 2024 will excel because of the challenges they are facing today.
And that brings me back to gratefulness. As we count our losses, we also need to count our blessings. The things we are learning about ourselves, the ways in which we have been brought together in families, in neighbourhoods and in the world is profound. I use a program to indoor cycle called Zwift. Zwift is like a world-wide video game for athletes that connects us all while we are in the garage on our trainers. During the peak of the pandemic in Italy, Italian zwifters were in their apartment’s and the chat box was alive with words of encouragement from around the world. “we are thinking of you.” “you are not alone”, “I am so sorry for what you are going through”.
Suddenly, we knew we were connected by our humanity, not just our love of cycling.
And so, this thanksgiving, my gratefulness runs deep. I am grateful for my health and those I love in a way I have never felt as deeply. I am grateful for what we have, and even for what we have lost, because I know we are growing and deepening amidst that loss. I am grateful to the friends in my bubble, because our relationships have been strengthened, I feel that their love is perfect. Happy Thanksgiving.