Like most of the people I know, I’m spending Thanksgiving weekend pretty much like I’ve spent the past several weeks -- socially distanced but in contact with family and friends.
Gary downsized from turkey to turkey breast and we prepared the usual side dishes. We tried out a new sweet potato recipe that will become a holiday favorite for future Thanksgivings. Other than that, the basic menu was pretty much the same: my mother’s stuffing recipe, turkey -- brined, then baked, mashed potatoes, gravy, and pie for dessert.
The weekend will include conversations with son Eric in Mankato and daughter Jessy in Minot, all of us having chosen to stay at home, much as we would’ve loved to spend the time together. But, as my son put it, “It’s sad we won’t see each other for Thanksgiving, but I’d rather see you for the next 40 years.” Great expectations for our longevity.
Such is life in a pandemic. But at this time of thanks-giving, we still have so much for which to be grateful.
I worry about the health and safety of my family and friends, my neighbors near and far across the country and globe, about our ability to pull together as a community, a society, to keep this virus at bay, and the ability of small businesses just to survive while others thrive, but four things have helped me to keep my anxiety level low.
First, tuning out slanted news stories with minimal facts and mostly negative commentary. (Whether I agree with them or not, it’s the negativity I don’t need.)
Second, spending time outside every day -- walking the dogs, feeding the birds (and inadvertently the squirrels and deer), and finishing up yard work. Whether observing eagles riding wind currents over the lake or the not-so-timid nuthatches and chickadees waiting for feeder refills, the crisp air invigorates me, and the wildlife that visit the feeder connect me to the woods and lake.
Third, sleep is a priority. Being retired means no early alarms.
Fourth, communicating regularly with people I love and care about. Email, texting, phone calls, FaceTime, Zoom and even old fashioned letter-writing connect me to the people I most want to spend time with. I might be communicating more now with family and friends than I usually do.
Stepping away from negativity and focusing on the positives around me have resulted in occasions when I catch myself smiling for no other reason than that I’m happy.
I don’t shop often, but last week at Target, the checkout lines were long because we were spaced apart, but they moved quickly as Target-employees-turned-traffic-keepers guided us into open spots. Sanitizing of the self-checkouts between users was quick but efficient, and the clerks maintained a positivity that seemed contagious. People said please and thank you. No one complained about wearing a mask or distancing or being in a hurry. And even though their faces were covered from eyes to neck, their eyes were smiling.
As I left the store I wondered if my shopping experience was typical. With all the masking and distancing, I expected impatience and tiredness, but I had seen patience and genuine efforts to make one another’s experience positive.
If we could keep and spread that positivity and gratitude until the pandemic subsides and beyond, some really good habits might be formed -- like people with cold symptoms wearing masks in the future -- just to keep others safer. It’s really not a new thing. It was required in many places during the 1918 flu epidemic, but since then, people in Asian countries have frequently worn masks out of courtesy to others. Maybe we’ll get so used to being cautious that we’ll continue to wash our hands and sanitize our surfaces regularly, which could result in fewer cases of other viruses, like the common flu, which could result in fewer deaths each year from all viruses.
Maybe we’ll realize that regardless of our wealth or social status, we’re all vulnerable to health issues; maybe we’ll understand that every one of us needs not just life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, but also appreciation, courtesy, and affordable health care. Maybe we’ll continue to make each other’s lives a little easier by not complaining and by remembering to thank the people who serve us in hospitals, restaurants, stores and elsewhere.
Several years ago, I bought a little card that says, “Count your blessings, not your worries.” I put it in a small frame on my bed stand where it serves as a reminder as I start and end each day. On Thanksgiving morning, my daughter sent me a picture of her cat in a cardboard box with a caption that said, “Thankful for boxes.” I responded with a picture of our sleeping dogs and a caption that read, “Thankful for floor heat.” This started a photo/text series of thankfulness messages, some funny, some thoughtful -- but all of them grateful. I’m spending the rest of 2020 taking pics to add to the stream of messages.
I’ll run out of memory on my phone far before I run out of blessings to count.