It’s okay, don’t let that title scare you. You’re reading this, so you’ve already made it through one of the toughest years the human species has had to face for decades. Take a moment to acknowledge that, if you can. Breathe in, breathe out. I’ve learned how immensely important it is to get serious about mindful gratitude these days, because life can be turned on its head in an instant.
It’s easy to get so wrapped up in the day-to-day details of life that we forget to appreciate the good parts. And it’s far too easy to find things to complain about this year, so let’s not do that today. I want to mention some things that I’ve been especially grateful for recently, in the hope that this will encourage you to do the same.
My gosh, where to start? For a couple decades of my life I lived a relatively unsocial lifestyle with few meaningful friendships. After making the scary decision to leave my former life six years ago and start over, I have felt like a new person. The change wasn’t instantaneous and it wasn’t easy, but I pushed myself to adopt new habits and new ways of interacting with the world. I dug deep and kept trying after each setback. And before I knew it, I’d built a life full of wonderful friends and meaningful relationships with colleagues in my nonprofit volunteer work. I sometimes couldn’t believe I’d been able to do it after having been trapped in the old patterns for so long. I finally felt needed and respected, and had as much social life as I could handle. Life was great.
Then the pandemic hit. After all the work I’d put in to build my new life, and when I’d realized that I really did need people, all of that important social interaction was taken from me virtually overnight. I wanted to pound my fists and scream, “No fair!” But, alas, life is what happens when you’re making other plans, right?
Of course the friendships remain, but we can’t spend time together now. No more game nights at my house with a kitchen full of laughter. No more meeting a friend for coffee or lunch. No more community theatre dates with my theatre buddy. I do meet a couple friends for walks occasionally, but it’s getting too cold for that to be fun anymore. I didn’t realize it was possible to feel this lonely. I’m normally so grateful that I can live alone, but some days I would give anything to have someone in my household “pandemic pod” so I could get a hug. I know things will eventually return to some kind of new normal in which we can be together again, but this forced separation has made me realize how important these people are to my life. Some friends teach me new things, others make me laugh, and yet others share those deep conversations about life that I love to engage in. I cannot wait for the day that it’s safe to grab every one of my friends in a huge bear hug — I may never want to let go again!
I’m very lucky that I don’t have to deal with a job and kids during the pandemic. So lucky that I feel guilty about it. I try to make up for that by donating to causes that help the people who are suffering more than me with more immediate physical or financial needs. Most days I have to myself now, with very few appointments or even reasons to leave the house except for groceries or a walk in the park. Despite the loneliness, I’m incredibly grateful for the mental space I’ve been able to reclaim with all this solitude. I see the benefits I’m reaping from being able to use my time to read and write.
The other day I finally took some time to remove all the books from my messy shelves and re-organize them. That process gave me the chance to rediscover some of them, and I’ve developed the new habit of just pulling a book from the shelf and reading a chapter at random. I’m focusing on my large collection of books about writing, mostly. I’ve long had a fascination with the processes of other writers: how they get ideas, how they organize their notes, and how they tell stories. I feel some momentum building toward my dream of writing my own book. I’m getting more confident that I have something to say that other people will be interested in reading. It’s scary, but I’ve always believed that doing the scary things is important in order to move yourself forward.
After my cat Mickey’s traumatic death during my divorce, I was determined not to have pets again because it hurt too much to lose them. And I managed not to look at any cute kittens for more than a year…until a colleague wore me down with her constant urgings for me to get a cat. I begged her to stop telling me about stray cats she’d found or people giving them up for adoption, but she persisted relentlessly. Eventually she wore me down, and I adopted two five-year-old cats from someone who was getting married to a guy with severe cat allergies.
That was five years ago. I’ve sometimes regretted that I allowed myself to be pushed into adopting them, especially when I had to deal with expensive pet sitting rates and when I found out that one of the cats is very demanding of my attention. But…and this is a major but…since the pandemic and the ensuing isolation, these cats have saved my sanity. I love them both and adore their little quirks. Sophie is my little brown and black tabby girl with the softest fur and loudest purr you’ve ever heard. Her legs are so short she has to try several times to get up on the bed. And the big orange one, Sam, sleeps curled up against my chest with his paw across my neck. It’s hard…really hard…to be alone in this time of such uncertainty about the future. And if I didn’t have these cats to keep me company, well, I just don’t want to imagine how much harder it would be.
And before I finish with this subject, I’ll mention the pets of my friends too. Two of my friends have graciously shared their dogs with me — isn’t it strange that dog walking is something new for me? I realized that I had never walked a dog in my life before the pandemic. And I discovered that I love it! When you can’t hug a friend, the next best thing is to hang out with their dogs. I’ve helped one friend train his rescued dogs to get socialized in the park, and the other friend has allowed her dogs to smother me with kisses and an occasional tackle.
So those are some of the things I’m especially grateful for these days. What are yours?
So now we move ahead into a new year. Sure, it’s just a number on a calendar, but we give it a great deal of symbolic significance. There are hopeful signs that life may get better soon: Vaccines are beginning to be administered, and the leadership of our government will be much more sane in just a few short weeks. I’m generally a cynic about New Year’s resolutions, but not this year. I resolve to hold on just a while longer. I’m so tired of wearing masks, but I’ll keep doing it a while longer. I miss my friends and family so much, but I can endure this separation just a while longer.
Show us what you’ve got, 2021. We’re ready.
Hi Kim, Your posts always put a smile on my face. I wanted to wish you a Happy New Year, we can only go up from here! Whew what a year. My cat and little dog is what kept me sane also.
I like this reflective post you have written. Believe me when I say you aren’t the only one dealing with these feelings of loneliness, isolation etc. It does seem like the world was turned upside down and shaken. I am so grateful for the people that have to deal with the sick of the pandemic every day. I can’t imagine the stress which you know would be on top of their own personal struggles which we all have. I am grateful for my partner in life, my dog who needs a walk daily and the garden that keeps us busy at least in the mind this time of year. When you sit down and think about it we have so much to be grateful for despite the conditions of life right now. I will be looking forward to reading more of your writing which I enjoy. If a book comes out of this isolated year I will sure look forward to that too. Cheers and best wishes for a more friends and family friendly 2021.
Lisa, thank you for sharing the things that you’re grateful for. And thank you for being a regular reader of the blog, I appreciate that .
Speaking of gardening in winter, my friend Kate and I just ordered a bunch of pussy toes to share, so I’m very excited about having a new species in my garden next year!
You all have had it so much worse than we have here in our isolated town of 27,000. The year has not been without its challenges and here’s the thing…none of our biggest challenges had anything to do with the pandemic! Only minutes ago I received the news that our ‘grand-dog’ who was here only a few days ago for Christmas, has survived surgery and will live to rip up a toy another day! We are definitely in the gratitude mode. I love your cute little ‘Grateful graphic’, it really looks like you and made me smile. I look forward to your posts Kim, so know that someone ‘out there’ is connecting with you. Very best of the new year to you. xx
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Oh Ardys, that’s wonderful news about your grand-dog! And yes, we’ve had it rough here in the States, and we’ve got a ways to go yet. I’m grateful to have connected with you, and thankful that you enjoy reading what I write. Happy New Year to you!
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I’m grateful to have made it through 2020 mostly in one piece & so looking forward to getting the vaccines & returning to “normal” life. Working in my garden, hiking & weekend camping getaways kept my sanity mostly intact. Now that it’s dark & cold, there is cooking, reading, podcasts & trying to get up the gumption for household repairs to keep moving forward. Thank goodness the days are starting to lengthen.
I bet your cats appreciated having you home all year, Kim.
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Hi Gail. It sounds like you’ve done pretty well so far. It’s funny that you say that about the cats. I’ve actually wondered if they would prefer me not to be here so much…they’re used to me being out most days, and I think my being here so much has upset their sleep patterns and made them cranky!
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Well said Kim. Here’s an early “Happy New Year!”
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Happy New Year to you too, Daryl!
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