Quietly Abundant Gratitude

This post was all Patrick Remer’s idea. Because what can anyone say at a time like this? Everything is just so heavy. And yet, to look outside at a pristine spring day, at a still, serene world that looks so beautiful and so ripe with possibility. The mountain is still green, deep into spring. All around us, our environment is all verdant and bursting forth, while we are sheltered in place, tethered to our immediate vicinity, distanced from each other.

This week, if life were normal, I would have been winding up a busy spring break with my son, juggling the work in two graduate school classes with launching the two-week Valhalla Elementary Read-a-thon fundraiser and literacy event. I planned for this event (my first time running it) for over a year, writing up a lengthy marketing proposal as a project for library school. Pleasant Hill Library’s amazing Patrick Remer was scheduled to perform two launch assemblies on Monday April 13, and the Friends of the Pleasant Hill Library and The Multicultural Children’s Book Store promised to supply our prizes: 10 bookstore gift certificates. The Multicultural Children’s Book Store was also going to host a Valhalla storytime and donate a percentage of the day’s profit to our school. I would’ve hung the first Read-a-thon banner outside of the school on March 21. I would right now be assembling press kits for the teachers, and I would be frantically adhering 578 stickers to 578 notebooks, one for every Valhalla Elementary student in which they could track their time spent reading.

Instead, I squirreled away that banner, those stickers and posters and I am instead posting to social media all the “would have beens” as a public gesture of gratitude to those willing to support my son’s school community. And those 578 students? They aren’t likely to see each other until the start of the next school year, if we are lucky.

In some ways, I knew balancing my April agenda would have been a challenge and so the unexpected closing of my son’s school for the rest of the academic year and the subsequent canceling of the Read-a-thon, I’ll admit, lifted a logistical puzzle from my shoulders. Instead we are all shouldering this unbearable weight of this global pandemic. Of people sheltering in place; of instability and uncertainty; of job loss and academic gains lost; of sickness; of death; of very real and very appropriate fear the likes of which most of us have never known. There is so much loss. And yet…

How can a global pandemic be both tragic and enriching?

Don’t get me wrong: the sickness and death toll that this virus is inflicting is beyond tragic. It is unfathomably heartbreaking. There is nothing that can sugar-coat or gloss over this part of the COVID-19 pandemic. And I cannot even imagine how those with sick or deceased loved ones must be feeling and experiencing, especially when held at social distancing’s length.

When I stop to think, with a dose of sobering humility, about my own set of circumstances, for which I am immeasurably grateful, I realize that it is possible for me to create the following light-hearted list at how losses and gains can balance each other out. Note the emphasis here is on light-hearted.

I know I am incredibly blessed and incredibly fortunate. And part of the reason I am humbled by my good fortune is because I have a daily gratitude practice, verbally with my family and journaled for myself, that changes how I see the world. It shifts my perspective toward the little glimmers of goodness in each and every day.

Oren Jay Sofer, a meditation teacher I have turned toward in this difficult time (check out his resources for COVID-19), pointed out in my meditation last night that “gratitude is a quiet kind of pleasure”, a “subtle enjoyment”. He points out that we only need to be open to allowing ourselves to “fully receive the nourishment of gratitude.” The meditation concludes with Oren explaining this:

You don’t have to do anything to feel gratitude. Simply bring your attention to a specific moment and let your attention dwell there and the heart will naturally find gratitude. Taking the time to practice gratitude in [a] very deliberate, intentional way helps our minds learn how to access the positive emotion of gratitude, and strengthen it.

If ever a time has called for a daily gratitude practice, it is now. We have done thankfuls with my son every night before bed for the past four years. Some days our lists are abundantly long: each other, our house, a full fridge, virtual piano lessons, holding hands, the rebroadcast of Klay Thompson’s 60-point game. Some days they are brief: each other, that it is bedtime. But at the end of the day there is always something for which to be grateful. Here is a sample of my ongoing COVID-19 thankfuls:

During this pandemic I am thankful for:
Essential service providers
My family’s health (and parents who reluctantly follow our requests to actually shelter in place and wear face masks)
A tri-level house, one floor for each person
That my mom’s house has enough room for all of us, should all else fall apart
Technology that enables us to see each other while we talk to each other
Social media that fosters connectivity
Bandwidth, like actual bandwidth
Reading and piano playing (and always and forever, Monica at Village Music for letting me get my son’s’ new lesson books hours before the shelter-in-place took effect)
Role models like Steph Curry with his Instagram interview with Dr. Fauci and his thanking nurses at Alta Bates (and giving us “Control your WABA”)
Our resilience and creativity
All the laughter in our family. So. Much. Laughter.
A heart that swells and opens over and over again
The fortitude to be still and cry as needed

I asked my son–after we rewatched for the bazillionth time the just-released Twenty One Pilots single called “Level of Concern”, a reflection of our current reality–what his favorite thing was about our day. He looked up pointed to our rainbow scavenger hunt artwork. I had needed a ploy to get him out of the house (he’s not much for exercise) and so I devised a rainbow scavenger hunt for us to collect at least one item for every color of the rainbow: we were taking a walk with good ole ROY G. BIV. He wailed in protest when I first mentioned it. I remained firm and agreed to his stipulation that if we found one thing that had all seven colors we could immediately return home. Armed with that quick escape, he hopped on his bike for our adventure.

We found all sorts of things: new vistas in our neighborhood that reminded us of the Big Island of Hawaii (there’s Mauna Loa behind that tree); where the sidewalk ends; new perspectives of the Gregory Gardens Reservoir & Pump Station (it’s so big and so little). My son tasted honeysuckle nectar for the first time, fell off his bike laughing at least three times, and split a rock just by dropping it. We managed to find all seven colors. And then some. Together, out in the still, quiet world of our immediate neighborhood, we collected so much beauty.

And so on this day, that is one of the main things we are thankful for: our rainbow scavenger hunt. And tomorrow it will be homemade brown sugar vanilla bean cookie dough ice cream (hopefully if things come together). And the next day? We’ll see. I know there will be at least one thing, if not many things.

We’ve got this, Pleasant Hill. Even when we don’t. Because we have each other. And because we have an unlimited capacity, if we allow it, for quietly abundant gratitude.

 

Originally published on April 13, 2020 on https://phlibraryfriends.org.