I’ll wrap up this year with an excerpt from this wonderful blog by Anna Johns, one of the many wonderful people I’ve met this past year. Here’s the intro from Anna’s story of gratitude:
In the mid-1970s, the girls of the Bethel Girls Orphanage in a remote village in the Indian state of Kerala, gathered in our Sunday-best to remember the generosity of American families for our Christmas. We had a plastic Christmas tree with ornaments from America, including my favorite: holly leaves with red berries. I had no idea these trees were real until I came to America. Our home in northern Virginia has one holly tree in front and one at the back of our house. I am grateful to these two trees for keeping me grounded and not letting a day go by without remembering how lucky I am to have gone from an orphanage in India to America–the land we all dreamed of–against all odds, coming from the family and background that I had.
Americans sent us a variety of chocolate (stores only had two types of candy that I only saw on my daily walk to school), colorful hair clips shaped like flowers or birds (we only had bobby pins) and once, a beautiful yellow dress with faux-pearl buttons. We celebrated America’s kindness and generosity annually—those are my earliest memories of practicing gratitude.
That special day we forgot about our impoverished existence, which started with a breakfast of plain cornmeal porridge, made from meal in sacks with an American flag on them. After traveling from the U. S. the meal was full of tiny black bugs, which gave it a bitter taste but we picked them out and devoured the porridge.
During mango season I would skip the porridge and wait under the mango tree for a ripe, juicy mango to fall. You have to be fast, because there were 199 other hungry girls with the same breakfast plan. But on that special day in December, I gazed at the beautiful shiny objects in my hands. Even the painful, infected sores from the lice in my hair that plagued me didn’t matter; someone cared about me enough to send these awesome things. Now, lucky enough to be living in America, I have to say, thank you America for everything.
A few days ago, I learned that my best friend from childhood passed away. We were inseparable growing up, but we grew apart over the years – we hadn’t seen each other over the past decade at all.
Still, as I’m sure you can imagine, his passing has made a big impact on me. When I did have one of those infrequent gatherings with Michael, it was like I was visiting a younger version of myself – for he was a part of me, a profound influence on who I became. Who I am. So losing that feels like losing a little piece of myself. You simply can’t replace old friends.
With this pandemic, there is death all around us. Here are two recent articles worth reading. This NYT article was written by a hospice doctor, a fascinating exploration of the topic. This article is from the New Yorker about the place many of us tend to go when we consider death, fantasizing about the choices we didn’t make and how those inform our life, the negative space in our self-portraits…
As the promise of Covid vaccines draws near, I’ve been pushing myself to remember what “pandemic times” were like – so that I might more fully appreciate the “normal” things, the small things, when they return. In my mind, I’ve been telling myself to “hold onto the bottom.”
Well, I googled “holding onto the bottom” – and of course, most folks feel like that’s not a good thing. Here’s a line from this blog: “It’s almost impossible to reach the top when you’re always holding onto the bottom.”
I still like my take on it. That by remembering the lessons I’ve learned during the pandemic, by reflecting back, I can enjoy things that I might have otherwise taken for granted…
If you’ve ridden the subway in NYC in recent years, you’ve likely seen the ads for a free 10-week course from the “School of Practical Philosophy.” The course is supposed to be a journey of self-discovery – mindfulness stuff. But this blog analyzing the course is not kind. Falling perhaps in the category of you get what you pay for.
My real point is that “mindfulness” is definitely enjoying a spike in popularity – certainly a good thing, particularly during a pandemic – but be careful to listen to your instincts, to your gut, about what is right for you…