If we ever get through all of this…
“What do you want to continue doing, to remember, from all you’ve learned during the pandemic?” An acquaintance of mine posed that question to several of us. “What’s the most important thing? And what have you done to take care of yourself through all of this?”
For me, the answers rose steadily and quickly: The most important lesson I have learned from months of plague and lockdown, the one thing that I want to remember always and to continue, is appreciation. And the one vital thing I’ve learned to do to take care of myself is to intentionally express gratitude.
Never again do I want to look at a calendar and say to myself, “Great. Five family and friend birthdays this month! I’m not going to have any money or any weekends!” Rather, I want to think joyously, “Time to be with the ones I love, gathered together, without masks, without fear; hugging, grabbing up the little ones to lift them high into the air, jubilant to be in one another’s company.” I no longer want my sense of astonished wonder and absolute delight to be invoked only by astounding sunsets or exquisite rainbows or rare astrological phenomena (although I certainly don’t want to relinquish those experiences, either). But I want to retain the lesson that we, all of us, have learned and sometimes still are learning from isolation: to value the most unpretentious enjoyments of daily life; all those things we had always taken for granted and then were suddenly denied.
I want to go to that restaurant a friend prefers, the one that I’m really not crazy about, and appreciate being out, having a meal together. I want to be humbled by the opportunity to hug my family members. And I want to know, in humility and gratitude, what it is to sit at the bedside of a sick friend, or to bring them meals or help with their housework, or to have the privilege of holding the hand of someone who is dying.
Put most simply, I never want to forget what it has been, still is, to not have these things.
And that is the crux of the matter, isn’t it? We humans forget so easily. Oh, we say we will remember—that history will not repeat itself, because we shall never forget, but we do. Life moves on; we place one foot ahead of the other and walk away from the sad, the bad, the painful and uncomfortable memories. We forget.
And it is for that reason that, every day that I am still privileged to go on walking this weary world, to breathe and live, I want to remember what it was to spend days in continual isolation while intentionally expressing gratitude.
I recall the long hours of lockdown, and the anguished, unbearable loneliness, as I recounted in “Surviving the Lockdown” (April 8, 2020). As I waited vainly for an occasional e-mail, text or phone call from friends and family who did not, as I do, live alone; who did not even comprehend how desperately I needed communication, human contact of any type, I realized I had to find some way to make myself care about whether I survived. And that way, it turned out to be, was not just to find, each day, something for which I was grateful, but to intentionally mark that gratitude in verbal or written form.
And so I found myself being grateful for all the time I had to catch up on long-neglected chores. Without the excuse of social interaction to distract me, many of the things I’d been meaning to do forever, such as washing all the crystal in my china cabinet—those things were done at last. On the rare occasions when I had to drive somewhere for necessary groceries or to care for an elderly family member, I was grateful for the lack of traffic. A nervous driver always, tooling along roads that were almost empty was heaven to me! I was grateful for my pets, as talking to and petting them sometimes kept me sane—and I told them so, sometimes weeping my loneliness into their furry coats. These and so many other aspects of my life during lockdown I learned not to merely think about with gratitude, but to speak that gratitude aloud, or write it down; note it, with intention. “I am grateful; I am grateful…” Gratitude, I discovered, was a bridge from depression and angst to acceptance and peace.
And now, almost daily, I remind myself: Let me not forget. Let me not forget appreciation and intentional gratitude. Let these be the lessons that I take from the long and fearful months of isolation and anxiety. Let me remember, always, what it has been and sometimes still it to not have the simplest pleasures of daily life; to not have contact and communication with other human beings. And let me now, having those things once more, be fully sensible of them, completely appreciative, and forever intentionally grateful.
If something in this post appealed to you, you might also enjoy “Three Things”, which you can locate by scrolling down to the Archives below. You find it listed May 20, 2020.