Gratitude Reflections

“Just To Be Alive”

Happy May! It’s a new month. It’s a new restart to my life (and yours). I didn’t plan to write a blog this week. Now in week 7 of working at home and sheltering, my life is lived small. I walk every morning at sunrise. I spend nine hours at work. I distract myself in the evening calling my family, working on a puzzle or reading a novel. Sounds like your life right?

My travel plans are completely erased. Trip to Greece in June? Canceled. Birthday trip to Spain? On hold. Business conference in Vancouver? Canceled.

But I can’t help to marvel at all the surprises in living small. I craft moments in my day intended solely to distract me. When I was little, I would go in the basement and work on puzzles with my dad and cat (Rusty). We would hunker down at a makeshift table and try to put together big puzzles—typically 1,000 or 1,500 pieces. They were hard (especially for a six-year-old). But it was addictive. I know there are a lot of closet puzzle players in the world because Amazon, Walmart and Target all ran out of stock by late March. I had to wait weeks to get new puzzles shipped to me.

I realize that living in COVID-19 right now is like putting together a puzzle. Hard. You are trying to find the right piece but somehow nothing fits right in the spot. So you scan the hundreds of puzzles of pieces that are literally blurring in from of your eyes and try again … and again … and finally it works. Locked in place.

I feel like the collective world is puzzling out our COVID-19 situation right now. How long will this last? Are we going to be staying six feet away from people through next spring 2021? Will putting a mask in your purse before you go out shopping seem as natural as bringing your shopping list? What does the new normal look like?

Last year in May, I finished organizing my spring business conference and then flew to Cancun, Mexico. I visited the island of Holbox which could only be reached by a two-hour trip from the airport and then a ferry ride (which drenched me with the waves). My journey ended at my AirBnb when I got out of my golf cart taxi. (No cars in Holbox.) Everyone of my readers who saw my posts about volunteering in the island’s animal refuge and discovering the island’s street art knows how much I enjoyed my getaway. I felt utterly disconnected from my hectic life back home.

Well, my life (and yours) is not hectic now. The routine is get up, walk to kitchen, sit at your desk computer and talk—endlessly with business colleagues and family and friends—on video. I am a huge fan of Microsoft Teams, Zoom, and FaceTime. But video talks wear me out. I have Zoom fatigue.

But getting back to the puzzle analogy, I think we are all trying to figure out how the pieces of life’s puzzle fit together—personally and collectively. This is a time in our lives that begs self-reflection. We are forced to slow down and detach ourselves from the frantic world. It can feel lonely. Even the introverts in my family are beginning to miss (every so slightly) interaction and activities.

Who knew taking a “trip” to your favorite neighborhood restaurant would be a Huge Adventure? Who appreciated just two months ago that you could cross state lines, attend concerts, watch movies in a theater or throw a backyard BBQ for 10+ people?

I keep coming back to the importance of gratitude. I am so grateful for the medical professionals who risk their lives to help care for the sick and help them die with dignity. I am so blessed to have family and friends who care for me. The little things in my life are now the BIG THINGS.

I know I won’t travel to Europe this year. I will relive those memories of hiking in Italy, Croatia and Portugal through my photos and videos. And I can dream about the amazing adventures ahead in 2021 (maybe forest bathing in Japan?)

So I leave you with this poem by one of my favorite modern poets, Mary Oliver. She died in 2019 but she left us such treasures. Focus on the verbs she uses in this poem—linger, drink and pause—all reminders that you have the time to stop your old pre-COVID 19 life and create your new normal post-COVID 19 life. Even in this time of great hardship, there is reason to be grateful in our busy and very important days to slow down and notice the glorious world outside our door step.

INVITATION by Mary Oliver

Oh do you have time
to linger
for just a little while
out of your busy

and very important day
for the goldfinches
that have gathered
in a field of thistles

for a musical battle,
to see who can sing
the highest note,
or the lowest,

or the most expressive of mirth,
or the most tender?
Their strong, blunt beaks
drink the air

as they strive
not for your sake
and not for mine

and not for the sake of winning
but for sheer delight and gratitude –
believe us, they say,
it is a serious thing

just to be alive
on this fresh morning
in the broken world.
I beg of you,

do not walk by
without pausing
to attend to this
rather ridiculous performance.

It could mean something.
It could mean everything.

“It could be what Rilke meant, when he wrote: You must change your life.”

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  • Lynn
    May 2, 2020 at 2:43 pm

    I like the poem a lot. The birds singing is something that’s caught my attention these past weeks. Cheerful, inquisitive, exuberant and continuous, the chirps pull me to focus on them, to forget all the frustrations in life right now. “We’re here” the birds seem to say. “We’re always here. Be happy like us.” Ahhhh.

    • Terri Markle
      May 3, 2020 at 11:56 am

      Lynn I absolutely agree with you. I have started to take off my ear buds during my walks at the U.S. Capitol grounds so I can concentrate on the birds singing, the wind blowing and nature calling us to be observant. In the moment. I think as English majors, we both know the solace from reading poetry. Mary Oliver is a treasure during these difficult times.

  • John
    May 4, 2020 at 11:15 am

    “Even the introverts in my family are beginning to miss (every so slightly) interaction and activities.” Yup, that’s me. So true.

  • Jean Farmer
    May 5, 2020 at 7:41 pm

    Terri, what a wonderful essay! Yes, it’s time for all of us to enjoy the slower pace, instead of being impatient. Thanks so much for this reminder. And Mary Oliver’s poem is spot-on.

    • Terri Markle
      May 10, 2020 at 12:47 pm

      Jean, thank you so much for leaving this comment. I am so glad that you connected with the essay. Please stay in touch!

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