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Gratitude in a Time of Foolish

Last year, on January 1st, my daughter Sally, a Special Ed teacher in California, called to wish me a Happy New Year. Sally, just for background, is a walking, talking party. I’ve never known anyone else with her level on spontaneity.

“Let’s write down something every day that we are grateful for,” she said.

I rolled my eyes about the culturally popular “gratitude” thing.

“OK,” I sighed.

“And put them in a little jar or something to look at later,” she concluded.

I did that. Every day for months. Frankly, although I consider myself to be a grateful person, I did not feel a need to do it. But I had promised, so do it I did.

Every now and then, I would remember that I forgot to remember. Then I’d have to jar my aging brain, recall the previous day, and retrace my gratitude steps. Warm place to live, family, God, canasta

There were a couple of times when I forgot to do it for a week at a time. I’d get busy. Or sick. Or feel like crap for a day or two after my second Covid vaccine, for which I was truly grateful.

One day earlier in this month of December, I wrote: “Oops!” on a piece of note paper, putting “Dec. 8-12” as the date. I called Sally.

“I have a confession,” I said. “I’ve missed some days of writing what I’m grateful for.”

“Me, too,” she said.

“Actually,” I said, “I just missed a week.”

“I stopped in October,” she said.

We laughed and reassured ourselves that we were, indeed, grateful people nonetheless.

It got me thinking. I think a lot during these days of continued Covid. I remember how awful I felt after that second vaccine, alone in my apartment, too sick to pick up the phone to complain to anyone. But about how happy I was to finally feel freer in public places, even though I continued my mask-wearing. I could go into a store and feel delightfully safe. I could pick out the fruits and vegetables that made me happy. I could pick the exact kinds of products I like, without relying on someone to do the shopping for me. I felt like a kid at a really great amusement park. And believe me when I say I was truly grateful for the people who had provided curbside service during the worst of the pandemic, before vaccine availability.

Then came the booster. The 36 or so hours that followed the booster made me wonder if I even wanted to live through the temporary side effects. That’s how sick I felt. They say that most people can stand anything for 20 seconds. I couldn’t even count to 10 before moaning and starting again. But it passed, and I was – again – truly grateful. I felt a new reassurance.

Now we have the Omicron variant, because this tricky COVID-19 virus didn’t think Delta was enough, and maybe because a lot of people didn’t think the whole thing was real. Some chose not to get vaccinated, which has kept this thing going, even in the USA where vaccines are available – and viruses love that! They love to go from person to person, and when the joy of that runs out, they become sneaky little devils, outsmarting the human hosts-du-jour, and change just enough to win again.

When Omicron popped up, I revisited my old friend Gratitude. I am grateful for the continued and heroic work of scientists and healthcare workers. For cashiers. For my letter carrier. For teachers, including my Sally, and for my other adult daughter Cassie, who is starting her nursing school clinical rotations next month. For all the people who persevere through difficulty – the essential workers who keep putting one foot in front of another, risking their own health while others still, amazingly persist in seeing no need for vaccination.

And now, I am thinking back in history. I am thinking back to a time, just over a hundred years ago, when men and women watched their children and each other perish from Spanish flu, an influenza that ravaged our world, with nothing but ineffective basics to keep individuals going until death caught up and overtook an estimated 50 million worldwide. Families left without parents. Parents left without children, adding tiny gravestones to our cemeteries, still seen today.

I imagine what might have happened if there had been a vaccine back then. I picture people literally on their knees, thanking God, science, and the universe for a preventative that could save them.

Now, as I shake my head slowly at the collective, behavioral lack of gratitude in parts of our nation, I make a decision.

And get down on my knees.

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