Stan's World - Practicing Gratitude
December 31, 2020
I am incredibly grateful that none of my immediate family has been infected by the coronavirus because so many families have lost so much. Because of that, I try not to use the word ‘loss’ when speaking or writing about the coronavirus, but there certainly are things I miss.
Like so many of you, what I’ve missed the most over the past year is not being able to see my whole family. We have a daughter in Los Angeles; who knows when either one of us gets on a plane to visit. And when our daughter, son-in-law, and grandchildren in Upstate New York went back to teaching and attending in-person school, that ended our ability to see them safely. My greatest joy is when we’re all together, and that dream continues to be pushed further into the future.
As with all of you, COVID disrupted more than family visits. This was, for example, the first Christmas in almost 20 years that I wasn’t carving up turkeys at a soup kitchen in Morristown, NJ. Though I volunteer there throughout the year, Christmas is always the main event, and it always starts with carving 17 turkeys.
Cutting boards are color-coded for various uses, and I invariably use the wrong color or put the wrong tray into the wrong oven. Miss Betty is always quick to ‘scold’ me for my failures. “Is this your first day?” “How many years do I have to tell you how to make egg salad?” “Pearl never taught you how to cut up a pepper?” After I discovered where the secret stash of donated Girl Scout cookies are hidden for the volunteers, Betty always threatens to tell Pearl about my Thin Mint addiction. I can’t begin to tell you how much I miss all of that.
I miss working in a food pantry in Elizabeth, NJ. I miss stocking the shelves and loudly bemoaning how my orderly work from my last visit had been undone in the interim. (That was the joke; the mission is to take the food off the shelves and give it away.) I miss trying to navigate a workspace that grew all too-small as we tried to stack the supplies that had been delivered for distribution. I miss filling bag after bag with provisions so the neediest could get by for a few more days.
I don’t know your definition for a life well-lived, but I hope it includes practicing gratitude. The coronavirus pandemic exposed vast disparities in American society, as evidenced by the extraordinary lines at food pantries. If you regret not doing more for others pre-COVID, perhaps you’ll have the opportunity to rectify that at some point post-COVID.
What we’ve been through collectively over the past year also presents the opportunity for self-reflection because there will be second chances as we begin a return to some semblance of normalcy. In that regard, have you given any thought as to whether or not you want to return to the same life you lived pre-COVID? Do you regret that you never got to travel, or didn’t travel enough? Do you regret that you never tried a different career? Any old friendships worth rekindling? What did you truly miss? Conversely, what did you learn you can live without?
As for me, aside from seeing my kids, both young and old, I can’t wait for Miss Betty to help me to see the errors of my ways. In my infinitesimally small way, practicing gratitude makes me part of the solution.