It’s far too easy to think of all the hardships and sacrifices that have come with COVID-19. They’re ubiquitous and abundant. They’re in our face the second we step outside our front door, turn on the TV or go online. A barrage of bad news. A surfeit of sadness. A plethora of pathogens. A deluge of disease. Stop me anytime.
It’s getting to be too much. But that’s beside the point. As Prime Minister Justin Trudeau keeps telling us, “moistly,” and with practised gravitas, “We are all in this together.” Sadly, that is no consolation. There is one thing that does help though: making a habit of feeling grateful. While some of you will shut me down right now as being a cliché, that’s where I’m coming from.
Every day or two, when I go for a short walk in my neighbourhood, I look around and wonder when spring happened. How is it that I missed seeing the nascent buds on the magnolia trees, which are now strutting their huge pink flowers like botanical catcher’s mitts? When did the hydrangeas arrive at the party? And when did everyone start walking around the local park in facemasks and latex gloves?
Nothing I have experienced in my 64 years comes close to this COVID-19 pandemic. Same goes for most of us, I’m sure. There is nothing to compare it to, thank G-d. I am at a loss for synonyms. Only antonyms hit the mark: normal, regular, run-of-the-mill. We will likely never return to what we knew as normal ever again. At least not the same variety. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Perhaps we will come to redefine normal in an even better light. I know one thing: most people have become kinder, more thoughtful, more aware. This is huge.
In the face of the overwhelming upheaval, illness and sadness we’ve been witness to, I choose to feel grateful. Because there are always gems among the dross, moments of pure beauty and holiness. I assure you, I’m not some Pollyanna who views life through rose-coloured glasses all the time. However, challenged by what’s going on around us, I need to believe that there is still much to be thankful for in this COVID-19 world. For my part, that includes my health, my husband, my family. As well as these sunny days. The last remnants of snow on our pristine mountains. Less traffic. Clear skies. A shocking dearth of commerce. My pension. Food in the freezer and enough pasta to last until I’m 90. I feel luckier than most.
I can’t begin to comprehend the suffering that’s going on around me. Not only the illness and death that’s affecting families and communities all over the world, but the sheer panic and anxiety from loss of jobs, loss of homes, not enough to eat, wondering what’s next. But I’m shored up knowing that there are still people out there who are putting themselves at risk to help others, by delivering food, picking up medications and, of course, all those frontline workers who turn up every day.
For now, I take comfort in the little things, which, I’m realizing have become the big things. Like a walk in fresh air, and hearing good news of any sort. It doesn’t take much. The drugstore has facemasks and latex gloves in stock – woo hoo! I can finally buy Lysol wipes again – victory! Oh, how perception has shifted. If I’ve learned one thing, it’s that this pandemic has taught us to reevaluate our priorities.
Time and a sense of accomplishment are a whole other story. At the beginning of the pandemic, the pattern of my days rotated around things instead of ideas and concepts. Back then, I thought a productive day was accomplishing this:
- Buying a box of disposable facemasks at Canadian Tire.
- Spending two hours and successfully finding a store that sells alcohol swabs.
- Making fried matzah with cinnamon and honey bananas for my husband.
- Ironing our laundry.
- Dusting (two rooms).
- Successfully (or not?) diagnosing myself with eczema from constant and somewhat obsessive handwashing.
Not much, but at least I did things instead of sitting around binge-watching Netflix all day. As the weeks passed, I began to tip the scales by attending online seminars throughout the day; some from the Rohr Jewish Learning Institute, some from Chabad, and others.
Between running around doing, and sitting and learning, I struggle to distinguish between wasted time and purpose. It seems almost counterintuitive, even ridiculous, to call anything purposeful right now. I mean, how much purpose can we have during a pandemic? Who can we influence for the good? What kind of mitzvot can we do?
Believe me – or don’t – but the answers to those questions are: lots, many, and endless. It takes scant energy to say hello to a stranger on your daily walk and ask how they’re doing. People just need to experience or see one good deed to carry it forward. There are countless ways to do a mitzvah – phone an elderly relative or friend; buy a few extra groceries and give them to someone in need; make a meal for your neighbour and deliver it to their doorstep. Simple. Simple. And simple. Just get outside yourself.
The world, and we humans, are not that complicated. It doesn’t take Herculean effort or huge sums of money to pull someone out of an emotional hole. It simply takes an open heart. We spend countless hours building our bodies so they can withstand the weight of the world. Now it’s time to build our hearts. In fact, there is no better time than right now. So go forth and be your best self – for yourself, and for others.
Shelley Civkin is a happily retired librarian and communications officer. For 17 years, she wrote a weekly book review column for the Richmond Review. She’s currently a freelance writer and volunteer.