Gratitude, especially in difficult times

You may think I’m crazy, but I’ve decided to start a gratitude journal as part of my effort to mitigate my COVID-19-induced anxiety.

What, a gratitude journal, in times like this? What a thing of privilege, in a time when folks are getting laid off left and right and small businesses are shutting down and we don’t have enough tests to even see how much of a problem this thing is nor enough hospital equipment to protect the nurses and doctors caring for people…

But yes, a gratitude journal. I’m late to the bandwagon that has been gratitude journals. Every once in a while I remember to be grateful, but not consistently enough to make a difference in my “root cellar” store of gratitude. There is a reason we call such things “spiritual practices,” for we need to practice them regularly, like our piano scales or our multiplication tables or our squats or our meditation before they become part of us, and then if we stop we have to get back in the habit today.

I get a newsletter on wellness from the New York Times in my email inbox from time to time, and yesterday it too talked about gratitude as a spiritual practice for our current times. As the author, Tara Parker-Pope, writes,

“Every time I wash my hands, I focus on my feelings of gratitude. I start with the doctors, nurses, ambulance and hospital workers on the front lines of the pandemic. I think about the countless numbers of hourly workers who are restocking grocery store shelves, working at pharmacies and staffing checkout counters. These people are coming face-to-face with hundreds of people each day, putting themselves at risk so the rest of us have food and necessities. I think about sanitation workers collecting our trash. I think about the young man who provides maintenance and cleaning to my building, while grandparents care for his 9-year-old and 1-year-old children…A gratitude practice does not sound like much, but we know from research that a daily gratitude practice is good for us, helping us reduce stress, get better sleep and stay healthier. Thinking about the sacrifice of these people gives me a boost (and I also share my thanks in person when I check out at the grocery store).”

I’d add that being grateful also leads me to write to my congressional representatives to push for paid sick leave for all, for relief for those put out of work, for the closing of immigration detention centers,…

I will be going old school and doing a hand-written gratitude journal starting today, but I will share my first entry here: I am grateful that I am part of a faith community that is truly a community, caring for others and not just for themselves in this health crisis, and even amid this health scare still reaching out to the wider world seeking to love all our neighbors. Case in point: one of our members called me yesterday and wondered whether I had heard if a man from our church was going to be ok because he lived alone and relies on restaurant meals for his food and much of his social interaction, and most restaurants have closed to all but take out due to public health directives. The man on the phone knew about the other man and his habits because they had chatted often before Sunday services and then again afterward during Coffee Hour. That is one of the ways that a church can be a community – we are not alike, we may even come from different political viewpoints, but we get to know one another and care for one another.

That is what hurts so much with not being able to safely gather in person in community: we are missing those connections, and we are missing opportunities to help one another and to help others in our area and the world. (We are working on facilitating such connections remotely, so stay tuned for more info.) But I am grateful that I am part of a community where the hyper-individualism of our day is not the overriding ethos, where people care for one another, and we can offer peace and love to all.

And I know, a gratitude journal will not protect me and my loved ones from the coronavirus, and it won’t make masks and respirators magically appear in hospitals where needed, and it won’t get us back to where we were one month ago, but it will help me to remember and pray for that owner of my favorite local coffee shop, struggling to stay afloat, and the nurse working extra shifts , and first responders,…, and it will remind me that it is not all about me, and maybe that wisdom will help carry us through to a brighter day, a more loving world, and more unite world. Maybe. I live in hope.

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