Piglet noticed that even though he had a Very Small Heart, it could hold a rather large amount of Gratitude. ― A.A. Milne, Winnie the Pooh
It’s been nearly two weeks since I awakened in the middle of the night with a horrible sore throat, one that quickly turned into bronchitis. I was quick to baby myself, staying in bed, drinking fluids, resting and crossing my fingers that the deepening cough which had followed was nothing to worry about. Several days later, I began to feel better, but that was short-lived. The next night I began coughing so hard and often I could not lie down, and spent the weekend propped up in a sitting position in hopes I could get at least an hour or two of sleep. That didn’t work, and this past Monday, at the advice of my family doctor, I ended up in the Acute Ambulatory Care Unit at a downtown hospital for bloodwork, chest x-rays, a second COVID test (both negative) and\ doctor’s examination. Four and a half hours, I returned home, exhausted, grumpy, and with a prescription to help relieve the congestion in my left lung.
I haven’t been in the best of moods, weary of being sick and more housebound than ever with the combination of a chest cold and a serious second wave of the Corona virus. Yet I tried to write a much overdue post, deciding to write about the experience of waiting–something we’re all doing as the pandemic continues to take its toll and vaccines have not yet been made available. Thinking about waiting only made my mood worse, so I stopped writing. Frankly I’ve found it increasingly difficult to write anything as these many months of COVID-19 life have continued.
Yet, I’ve tried to keep my appointment with my muse despite her disappearance, and again early this morning, I sat staring out the window, notebook and pen in hand, watching the sun rise over Lake Ontario. “I’ve dumped the attempt of writing about waiting,” I wrote at the top of the page. “What on earth can I write about?”
I had no answer to the question, so I paused, remembering the long day spent at the hospital. What came to mind wasn’t the long period of waiting, rather, it was the kindness and care the hospital staff– from the health professional who drew my blood to the nurses at the unit desk, to the physician who conducted my physical examination. As the afternoon wore on, one nurse even brought me a warm meal of chicken cacciatore and vegetables, which I hungrily wolfed down.
Then I recalled the responsiveness of my family doctor during our telephone consultation early Monday morning. Not only that, but I’d received a call from the cardiac clinic and the nurse who monitors the daily reports of heart patients’ symptoms—recorded and sent virtually by the innovative app, “Medley.” On Monday, my reported symptoms included shortness of breath and greater fatigue. She made certain my cardiologist was informed, and that, too, was reassuring. At a time when our healthcare workers are again on the front lines, working hard to provide care and services to the rapidly increasing numbers of people infected with the Corona virus, experiencing such concern, care and kindness was humbling. I remembered then how lucky–and grateful–I am.
Somehow, in the many months of COVID, my daily practice of ending my daily writing time by focusing on gratitude had disappeared. Boredom, the blues, interminable periods of self-isolation and waiting for some sense of normality to resume have taken their toll. This morning I again began a gratitude list. On it, my doctors, my husband (who has been wonderfully caring), my little dog (following me evrywhere, quietly positioning herself closer to me whenever she can), and my daughters and friends who’ve checked in daily to see how I’m doing. Rembering each, I felt better—more positive and a lot less cranky.
According to Robert Emmons, PhD, professor of psychology at University of California, Davis, “Clinical trials indicate that the practice of gratitude can have dramatic and lasting effects in a person’s life.”Among its many benefits are lower blood pressure, improved immune function and even better sleep. But there’s more. A study conducted at UC San Diego’s School of Medicine found that grateful people actually had better heart health with less inflammation and healthier heart rhythms. Other university research studies have also found that gratitude boosts our immune systems, reduces stress hormones and may reduce the effects of aging to the brain. “Gratitude works,” says Dr. Emmons, “because…it recruits other positive emotions that have direct physical benefits.”
It is gratitude that I want to remember during these difficult and trying times. Some days it takes more effort to find it amid my crankiness, impatience, boredom in the “sameness” of our days, but the bottom line? I’m lucky to be feeling better, to be able to do all I do, even if, for the moment, those things are simpler than I sometimes like. It’s life, and I’m grateful I have mine.
This is what life does. It lets you walk up to
the store to buy breakfast and the paper…
Life lets you take the dog for a walk down to the
pond, where whole generations of biological
processes are boiling beneath the mud…
…And then life lets you go home to think
about all this. Which you do, for quite a long time.
Later, you wake up beside your old love, the one
who never had any conditions, the one who waited
you out. This is life’s way of letting you know that you are lucky…
“Starfish,” by Eleanor Lerman, in: Our Post-Soviet History Unfolds, 2005)
- Try developing—or re-igniting a practice of gratitude. Simply list 3 – 5 things you are grateful for each day. Do this for a week, faithfully. Do you notice any changes in yourself? Continue the practice for another week or two, then reflect on it in more depth. What changed? Did it help you be more aware of the life around you? Did you feel more positive? Calmer? Happier?
- Practice noticing and appreciating the ordinary. Find gratitude for the simple joys of living. Choose one small moment from any day, whether from nature, loved ones, your daily routine—a simple pleasure that sustains, inspires or offers you joy. Describe it in as much detail as you can; perhaps you’ll find a poem or a story lurking there.