COVID – The Gift That Keeps Giving

All I got for Christmas was COVID. Needless to say, I hadn’t put it on my wish list. But per usual, Life has its own ideas about gift-giving. 

As an extreme rule-follower, and a self-described pandemic poster child, I thought I would escape 2020 unscathed. Silly human.  If this past year has taught us anything, it’s that our delusions of control are grossly misguided. Life isn’t a puppet for us to manipulate. 

Our egos would have us believe that if we are _______ enough, we will succeed in getting what we want. No matter our age, experience, or level of maturity, we never seem to shed the immature notion that we can bend fate in our favor. When we fail, the disappointment can be hard to swallow.

The mind is like a toddler who can’t sit still in a church pew. Constantly jumping from one thought to the next, future-past-future-past, it repeatedly asks ‘Why?’ and ‘What if?’ edging out any chance of being content with what comes to pass.

When I was carrying my 4th baby, after having lost my 3rd during pregnancy, anxiety ruled my existence.  By cutting and pasting the tragedy of the past into a possible future recurrence, I robbed myself of the opportunity to enjoy what turned out to be a healthy pregnancy. In truth, no amount of catastrophe practice would have saved me from suffering fresh pain had the outcome been negative. Instead of fearing and fretting, I could have chosen to been happy. 

Trying to impress this lesson upon my high school senior who awaits college acceptance letters is no easier than it was to appease the Christmas-morning anticipation she had as a child. We want to know outcomes and reasons so we can end the emotional war within. But it is this need to know that actually perpetuates the battle.

Eckhart Tolle advises, “Give up waiting as a state of mind….snap out of it. Just be and enjoy.” Letting go of anything should be easier than holding on. When I grasp a heavy object in my hand, it takes effort. When I release my effort and stop contracting my muscles, the burden of holding eases. 

The irony is that when it comes to letting go of our ideas about what should’ve happened or what we wish to happen, we find ourselves somewhat incapable of releasing our grip, no matter how much it pains us to hold on. 

Emerging on the other side of illness, I’m reminded that the fear of a thing is often worse than the thing. When one finds themselves face to face with something they dread, there’s no choice but to deal with it. Action brings relief from anticipation.

I’ve never welcomed any adversity I’ve encountered. And yet, I’ve also never met a challenge that I couldn’t shake hands with when we parted. Illness, loss, and struggle are simultaneously impersonal and bespoke, providing for each of us exactly what we need in order to practice making peace with life.

I find myself humbled by Life once again, and grateful for reminding me that I am vulnerable but not victimized. Even in 2020, Life is a place I’m glad to be.

Thanksgiving 2020

Of all the things that have provoked my anxiety in 2020, gravy-making holds an embarrassingly prominent spot on the list. Familiar readers will attest to my solid level of skill in the kitchen.  But the daunting task of creating this undeniably critical turkey-topping has negated any confidence gained from 25 years of culinary domestication.

For years I have left this intimidating aspect of Thanksgiving meal prep to the family matriarch.  But thanks to the pandemic, my pinch-hitter will be absent – safely ensconced in isolation where she will await a socially-distanced delivery of food made by yours truly.

If I’ve learned anything from the relentless ‘growth opportunities’ served up by 2020, it’s that I can do hard things, like surrendering my previously under-appreciated life to a virus, and separating pan drippings from fat to make gravy.

The invitation to rise above something as monumental as a pandemic (or a gravy recipe), has its appeal. A historical glance is enough to remind us that challenge and effort have a merit of their own, irrespective of outcome. If the figurative gravy over our lives doesn’t pan out this year, can we still enjoy the meal?

On one particularly memorable Thanksgiving, I thought I’d be fancy and cook a duck. One duck for twelve guests. Each ended up with a meager morsel of meat. By all accounts, it was the most delectable bite ever taken. Scarcity compelled us to savor.

Being thankful this holiday season may require more creativity than in previous years if viewed by its tremendous loss and hardship. Or it may be the most authentic expression of gratitude ever offered as a result of our whittled-down existence. Perspective will decide.

My offering this Thanksgiving Day is gratitude for all that has been given and taken, from every friend and foe. May our collective sentiments raise us up and remind us that Life, with or without gravy, holds something for us to savor.

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