When I woke up this morning, I went right into gratitude. Letting my mind make a list of all the things I’m grateful for, starting with the most obvious. I’m grateful for my bed, for the sheets and blankets and pillows. Grateful for the water on the nightstand, and taking a long, cool drink. Grateful to put my feet on the floor, and stand and stretch. Grateful for the new day.
The current crisis, the scope of which is unprecedented in the history of humanity, has called me back to another point in time; almost five years ago, I spent a few weeks poised between a cancer diagnosis and a date for surgery. Now, when your doctor tells you that you have cancer, it’s a moment that is never forgotten. I was so entirely overwhelmed by the news, I recognized that I truly didn’t even take in anything he said after that. Like the muted-trumpet dialogue of Charlie Brown’s teacher, it was just a pattern of sound. After he stopped speaking, and then asked if I had any questions, I confessed I’d need him to start again – the word ‘cancer’ was where I stopped being able to hear anything he’d said.
Knowing that all my philosophy was going to have to come into practice, I began that night to focus on gratitude. Meticulously counting my blessings, starting with bed. The pillows, the sheets, the blankets, the mattress; I allowed myself a moment of gratitude for each element.
There have been times in life when I didn’t sleep in a bed. Futons, couches, floors, the occasional chair. I’ve never been homeless, but sometimes a move, or a breakup, or traveling takes away that essential and appreciated piece of furniture. I slept in my office for almost a year during my divorce. The coach seats on Amtrak are much better than the Greyhound bus. (I don’t ever sleep on airplanes – it’s too loud.) Joni Mitchell’s famous refrain – you don’t know what you got ’til it’s gone – echoes loudly.
I’m always aware that there are people sleeping on the sidewalk, and if this plague gives us the political will to change that, we will all be grateful.
Everyone is going through a kind of loss that is going to take time, and a deeper level of understanding. Whatever we have, whatever we are missing, feeling some gratitude can be a powerful antidote.
With the cancer, I had a few weeks before my surgery, and I see-sawed up and down from wanting to accomplish so much – because time was so precious – and wanting to just sit and watch the sunset, hold my daughters in my arms, and breathe as deeply as I could breathe. There were just so few pages until the next chapter. I counted my blessings every hour of every day. With the crisis, I find I’m in the same state – I want to work, and yet, I just want to be.
I had surgery, some difficult weeks of recovery, and I was back to ‘normal’ life.
Of course, we don’t have a date when we know the next chapter is going to begin.
Five years is considered to be an important meridian for cancer; past that point, one is statistically far less likely to have a recurrence. With America’s death toll from the virus topping 2,000 per day, and predicted to get higher, the point at which the risk decreases is absolutely unknown.
Normal is a word that we will probably stop using. It is being drained of meaning every day.
Gratitude increases. I’m grateful for the rain, grateful for the blue skies, grateful for birds singing and the new day. So grateful to have a bed to sleep in, to dream on, to rest. Optimism is something you can teach yourself, and for me, it’s been an important survival skill.
As you read this, you and I are over overcoming the ‘distancing’ and savoring just a small moment of human connection, and that is important for everyone’s health, and sanity, and happiness.