Let Me Not Forget

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.

 

The Big Ice Storm

Was it possible that their positive experiences had a lot less to do with attitude, and a lot more to do with just plain luck?

Some years ago I was part of an online New Age chat group. Most of our discussions centered on matters relating to our spiritual growth and understanding, interspersed with light chatter.

The group fostered some very real friendships, but there also arose spats and quarrels and misunderstandings. No emoji can really convey the intent and tone of written words, and misinterpretations occurred. Moderators did their best, but harsh words were sometimes exchanged while the spectators took sides. The group eventually dissolved due to these problems, but I had left it months previously. My departure was triggered by The Big Ice Storm.

Heavy sleet had begun to fall mid-afternoon on a weekday. In no time at all, roads, sidewalks, trees, shrubs—everything was encased in a thick glaze of ice. Office workers who could do so began heading out early, piling into their cars in a futile attempt to evade the worst of the storm. But the ice outran every effort people made to escape its freezing grasp.

My supervisor bailed hastily, and advised me to do so, also. Sadly, this meant only that I spent more time huddled in the glass-sided shelter house at my bus stop. Clustered together with other public transit sufferers, I stood for nearly three hours waiting for a delayed bus in plummeting temperatures, as frigid winds snaked about my ankles and froze my feet to pain.

After a terrifying journey on ice shrouded roads, I arrived home nearly four hours later than usual to an apartment that was dark and cold. I’d left no lights on, since most days I got in well before darkfall; I always thriftily turned the thermostat down for the hours when I wasn’t at home.  Power lines had collapsed all over the city, but I gratefully found that my electricity was working, and switched on the lights and furnace. When I’d finally stopped shivering, I checked on family members, discovering to my relief that everyone had arrived home safely. Finally, I sat down at my computer to read e-mail messages.

There, to my horror, I learned that the sister of a friend had been among those who died in a pileup on the icy interstate highway. Tears sliding down my cheeks, I dashed off a sober response expressing shock and sympathy; then turned to messages from the chat group, hoping to hear they were all safe.

They were. And their descriptions of their own journeys home bore, I found, very little resemblance to my experience. Some had not even needed to travel; the storm had fortunately coincided with their days off. One mentioned that, as a manager, she’d been able to leave her office before the first pellets of sleet cascaded from the sky. Her route home unencumbered by the traffic that would flood the streets only a short time later, she’d stopped at the grocery for a few items and enjoyed a warm chocolate chip cookie fresh from the bakery. Then she’d pulled into her driveway, where her teenage children had bounded out to schlep in her shopping bags.

She and other chat group members prattled on about how minimally they’d been affected by the storm, attributing their experiences to their positive attitudes. It was all in one’s expectation and mindset, they asserted. It was all about gratitude and belief.

I considered the differences of my own experience to theirs. I remembered, shaking with cold, yet grateful that I’d been able to claim a space huddled within the crowded bus shelter. I recalled my thankfulness as my bus evaded the accidents plaguing the roads. I thought about my relief and appreciation that the electricity had remained on at my apartment. I reflected on the tragedy of my friend’s sister, and a journey home that didn’t include warm chocolate chip cookies and happy children, but arriving to a lonely apartment that was both frigid and dark.

Then I put my fingers on the keyboard and called bullshit on their remarks.

My mindset had been, I pointed out, positive throughout. I was both grateful and appreciative; thankful for my own and others’ safety. But my experience was miserable nevertheless: freezing, fear, loneliness, and the terrible news of a death. Perhaps, I suggested, perhaps they could tell me how I could have effected any difference in these events by my attitude? Was it possible that their positive experiences had a lot less to do with mindset, and a lot more to do with just plain luck?

It wasn’t a popular position to take, as evidenced by the onslaught of shaming replies I received to my statements. Still, I refused to back down, despite reprimands from nearly every group member.

Shortly thereafter I quit the chat group, although I’d quite enjoyed it up to then.

Sometimes still, especially in on bad winter days, I think about that chat group and the Big Ice Storm. I think about the fact that, if I’d been angry and resentful, the misery I endured that day might well have been, at least emotionally, far worse. But all the positive attitude in the century would not have changed the actual outcome of the nasty events of that storm.

It’s not always only about one’s attitude. Truly, it isn’t. Often, it’s just the simple luck of the draw—or not.

If this essay appealed to you, you might also enjoy “My Be-Attitude”,
which can be found in the Archives dated April 17, 2019,
or “The Wrong Road”, from March 4, 2020.