Yesterday afternoon, I plugged in the lights, put on the Brian Setzer Orchestra Christmas album (my favorite) and baked a pie for my neighbors. While I’ve eaten plenty of pie over the years, this was my first attempt at actually making one. Luckily, a dear friend (and source for the recipe) was available by phone to coach me through the tricky spots. Her familiar and ever so slight Texas drawl was the sweetest assurance. Outside it was windy and rainy. Inside, the tunes were swingin’ and the smell of baking pie filled the apartment. Everything felt cozy and right. For a few hours anyway, I experienced a wee bit of holiday cheer.
And this is my wish for all of us; to seize whatever moments of joy we can –no matter how small–and to find some measure of pleasure this season.
This period of uncertainty and loss has driven home the poignant value of day-to-day things: the smell of morning coffee, the background laughter of kids wrestling in another room, a perfectly frosted cupcake or a brisk walk with a friend on a winter afternoon. These ordinary things keep us tethered to life and accentuate the good that’s available in the here and now. They won’t necessarily resolve our lingering fears and certainly won’t deliver us from the collective nightmare we’re all living through. But they’re like tiny life rafts, offering a bit of respite, briefly restoring our hearts and giving us something to hang onto while we face the wretched darkness.
The good news is that we can create these experiences for ourselves. It’s just a matter of setting an intention and acting on it. It can be something as simple as cranking up the music and baking a pie. The heart and mind may offer resistance, and given our current reality, a strong case could be made for it. But if we can muscle through regardless, even for a little while, it’s well worth it.
A word about gratitude. I feel like it’s frequently suggested that practicing gratitude is the solution to all ills. This is a platitude of sorts that feels inauthentic and unrealistic to me. But I do believe that taking a pause to focus on what’s good in the world can have the same benefits on our brain chemistry that joy does. Gratitude is not a cure-all, but a helpful analgesic. Here’s what I see:
- The scientists who have been quietly kicking ass, working around the clock to fight the virus and lead us out of this pandemic. They’ve labored under extraordinary circumstance and at urgent speeds. Far too often, they’ve been unfairly discredited, always by lesser individuals. But still, they rock on.
- Medical professionals and frontline caregivers who show up, day after day, to care for the rest of us. They remain dedicated and focused; despite the crushing stress, the long hours and the unrelenting trauma of bearing witness to human suffering. They put themselves at risk and sacrifice everything to care for their patients, people they don’t know but who desperately need them. They’re compassionate warriors and a model for the rest of us.
- Nature. Mount Rainier still towers majestically in the winter sky. The sun still rises and sets with predictability. Despite the burdens we place on her, Mother Earth still graciously gifts us with enduring beauty.
- History. Generations before us have lived through the bleakest of periods. While not all of us will survive this pandemic, many of us will. And somehow, we will heal and move forward. History speaks to our durability and our wonder.
- The millions of everyday people who are organizing and serving in whatever capacity they can: food and clothing drives, mutual aid, fundraising. Their empathy and tenacity have eased the burdens of so many.
- All the people who’ve come up with creative ways to maintain a sense of normalcy- from small business owners modifying operations to keep their customers safe and teachers transforming Zoom calls into classrooms to innovative families reimagining Halloween celebrations for neighborhood kids and musicians streaming performances for the rest of us to enjoy. This adaptability makes these tough days easier and is also crucial to our survival.
This is just a partial list of the good I see out there. What do you see?
These are excruciatingly difficult days. We are all hurting. Much is still unknown. The sentiments expressed here are not meant to be a naive panacea but a gentle wish for light. So, do what you can, dear ones, to find some peace and pleasure this season. And if you can somehow extend this to others, consider it a blessing. Perfection is not the goal, nor is fixing every problem. The goal is to remember our humanity and to savor any and all indicators that it’s alive and well in each of us.