As if it being a dreary and wet February isn’t enough to generate a bit of cabin fever, even in Virginia, we are still in the midst of Covid distancing nearly a year later. I’ve been trying to keep myself busy and distracted with DIY projects or other creative endeavors, but I’m running low on ideas and enthusiasm. Even online retail therapy has lost its luster. Fortunately, I have an Rx for the dullness, thanks to my daughter and my brother. About two years ago my daughter asked me to participate in a gratitude exchange with her for one month. Every day, we would text each other 3 things were grateful for. The idea is to refocus our thinking on the good things in life and break any negativity that is trying to take hold. We did it for that month and then stopped. Around the same time, I was provoked by a meme I read: What if you woke up tomorrow with only the things you expressed gratitude for today? So I doubled up my efforts to be grateful every night when I went to bed. And I think it helped me be at peace with some of the angst in the world, especially when I felt helpless with the politics of DC, or the canceled plans because of an unforeseen expense, or the COVID-19 pandemic. Late last summer, when the COVID scare was at its height, my brother expressed frustration over the restrictions on getting out and about. He has the bad luck to have retired in December of 2019, and COVID hit a few months later, so his dreams of a life of leisure…or at least of freedom…we’re being squashed. I suggested we try the gratitude exchange for a month. He wasn’t too keen but he didn’t say no, so I charged ahead. And I decided to include my daughter as well, since she was also having her freedom curtailed, having to be the homeroom monitor/teacher’s aide/full-time mommy to her two daughters. At the end of the month, I asked about continuing, and again, I didn’t get a No, so I took that as a Yes. Since August of 2020, which is 7 months now, with maybe only one slip up, I have found something to be grateful for each day and to share that. And I get a response every day, too. The obvious benefit is that I am consciously grateful for not just the physical things or the people in my life, but other kinds of grace and abundance I have received. Things like the warmth of sunshine, a safe place to sleep at night, the smell of coffee in the morning, a recovery from a medical mystery, the joy of having a cake experiment turn out to be tasty, getting to celebrate holidays and birthdays on Zoom, catching up with friends on the phone, the satisfaction of finding an author I like to read, or the challenge of repurposing a piece of furniture or completing a puzzle. My daughter is grateful for things like a meditation app to help her start her day with intention, and getting enough exercise, and that she is a person people reach out to for comfort. My brother has been grateful for things like leftovers, that an idea he had turned out to be workable, to know it would be 60 degrees warmer than a week ago (he lives in Minnesota!), and for a dream he had or enough firewood to allow him to keep working in his shed on a remodel project he has going on. It’s not always deep thinking for any of us. Some days I am grateful for my dogs, and she is grateful for a hardworking husband, and he is grateful for the plumber who fixed a frozen pipe. And we are grateful for being in touch with each other. for knowing someone doesn’t just care but is actively thinking of the other. There is a valuable side benefit, too, especially for those of us living solo. As it happens, a few years ago a friend fell in her home, and her son discovered her injury. He doesn’t live here but was stopping by on his way through town. That got me thinking. I am a fairly healthy person, not on any medications, but I am on the far side of middle-aged and have had my AARP card for several years. What if something like that happened to me? Who would know? What would I do? What about my dogs? My bedroom is on the second floor of my house, and some days I get to dodge three dogs going up and down. Plus, I have been known to fall off ladders and to tip over when trying to bend down and push or pull something in the yard. At that time, I contacted a sister of mine and set up a plan where I would text her every morning when I awoke. If she doesn’t hear from me by 8:00 a.m., she is supposed to try calling, and if she still can’t reach me, she is to contact a neighbor to have them come and check on me. My brother also lives alone. He is diabetic and has had to make the occasional visit to the ER when his blood sugars are out of whack or he isn’t as rigid in his testing/eating/activity cycles as he could be. Not only that, but he lives on a couple of acres at the end of a dead-end street. He could be in one of the outbuildings, and who would think to check on him? Our daily gratitude has morphed into a plan such that if I don’t get a text back from him in a reasonable time, I am to call. If he doesn’t pick up, I have a list of three contacts I can reach out to for them to physically check on him, before I resort to calling the cops for a welfare check. We both feel better having a plan. We may live over 1,000 miles apart, but we are only a phone call away, so neither of us has to feel like we are shipwrecked on individual desert islands. We have another benefit of just catching up and sharing our days. For example, I might include that I am grateful for sunshine and blue skies after 5″ of rain and several days of gloomy clouds, so he knows what is happening weather-wise. He might say he is grateful for the good deal his daughter got on her new-to-her car, and that opens a conversation about news from our kids. My daughter might be grateful for a bit of time to be alone and read a book, which means we can share titles of good books. Today I am grateful for a productive morning. I got my tax papers together for a meeting with my accountant this afternoon; I canceled an auto-renew setting for my roadside assistance; I contacted a dog-sitter; I organized my desk, and I wrote this blog post. It might be another cold and gray day outside, but I have a fireplace on, a fridge full of food, and friends who might read this and let me know they are still doing okay amid the continuing Covid restrictions. Have you thought about what you are grateful for today? Feel free to comment below, and we can share our stories.
by Patricia Duggan