“So, what have you been up to?” I asked my neighbor when we happened to meet at the mailbox one misty afternoon last week. The rain had been falling most of the day, and it was a welcome break to venture out, even just fifty feet from the front door. After sharing the usual quarantine talk about playing Bingo on Zoom and cleaning out the garage—again, she said, “Oh, and I started a gratitude journal.” Well, she had one up on me. “It’s just the little things,” she said, “but I can’t believe how much I’m finding to be grateful for.” I nodded, skeptical, as I wasn’t feeling all too grateful at the moment.
A typically positive and upbeat person, I had found myself struggling. While trying to keep students engaged during distance learning, I felt devastated for my seniors missing out on graduation. When talking to a friend, I heard the lamentation in her voice over the loss of contact with her disabled brother, who had become despondent in his group home without her weekly visits. Like so many others, my family had suffered illness, job loss, missed milestones, and lost opportunities due to the pandemic, though I knew there were others facing far worse than we were. The countless little things that comprised the mundane yet beautiful life we had just months ago seemed so far out of reach.
But what did my neighbor say? “It’s just the little things…” While I was acknowledging all that we were missing, she focused on all that we weren’t—all that we had before our lives shifted so abruptly but still continue to have, the ones that don’t change in the midst of our suffering but are actually enhanced because of it.
Still thinking about her journal, I remembered a line from a Jane Kenyon poem about enjoying life’s moments that I often share with students: “I ate cereal, sweet milk, ripe, flawless peach. It might have been otherwise. . . . I took the dog uphill to the birch wood.” Though we don’t have a dog, the sight of our cat sleeping lazily by the front door in a sliver of sunshine makes me smile, as does my first sip of hot coffee each morning, the sounds of playful banter from my husband and daughters as they work on their “Star Wars” puzzle, the smell of lilacs blooming at last in the backyard. Such riches, such blessings.
I found myself thinking: When we look back on this season of challenges, what will we remember most? Though the difficulties we faced may linger, it is the gratitude that I hope endures. As our lives begin to recapture some normalcy, I want to embrace the way we notice what is often missed, the way we celebrate those “little things,” the way we pause to feel the goodness of God’s graces surrounding us, sometimes in the most unexpected moments, like the chance meeting of a next-door neighbor, who reminded me that even a quick trip to the mailbox can shift our perspective—with gratitude.