Searching for Gratitude in Dark Times

This has been a dark year, and with the switch to daylight savings time, we now find ourselves rapidly losing daylight. So our physical environment now matches the psychological and spiritual darkness we’ve been experiencing these many months. Now is the time to increase my Vitamin D intake, and find the happy light I purchased on Amazon last winter. The lack of light can have a big impact on mood, and this year it’s already hard enough to have a positive outlook.

I think it’s important to be able to name the things we’ve lost and grieve them. My children have lost 5 months of in-person school and counting. This includes my son’s last year with his preschool friends, and the beginning of kindergarten. We’ve lost birthday parties, playdates, sports, visits with relatives. My favorite special occasion restaurant in Eugene went out of business. I’ve had to take two months of leave from my job to help manage things at home.

But — I’m continuing to feel cautiously optimistic about the future. For all that’s been lost during this pandemic, it’s given me an opportunity to focus on the things I still have. Much has been lost, but perhaps some things have also been gained.

I’ve managed to fill almost an entire journal with gratitude lists since March, in an attempt to stay focused on the positive.

In July, my family and I took a weekend trip to Central Oregon to stay at a lakeside cabin. We’d been there a few years before, and had fun, but this time I was struck by just how beautiful the surroundings were. I hadn’t realized how beautiful it was the first time I’d visited — but after months of quarantine, it seemed spectacular.

As I write this, my daughter is doing online school at the kitchen table, and I’m thankful for how far we’ve come. My daughter and I both hated the online school experience in the spring — it was just a horrible experience for our family. Now I’m just filled with gratitude that it’s actually working for us on so many levels. I have the ability to be at home with her to help support and supervise. The district provided her with an iPad to do her work on so she has her own device. She’s actually learning and has in fact made fantastic progress in her reading since schools closed in March, and seems to be above grade level in math. Online school is even fulfilling some of her social needs, as they’re providing lots of quick opportunities for chatting.

I’m thankful for the opportunity I have right now to take leave from my job. I’d been trying to just keep going and try to make things work, and suddenly a few weeks ago I felt like I couldn’t do it anymore. I was getting chronic headaches, the kids were watching way too much TV, Paul has been sneaking sweets everytime I turn my back, and my house looked like a disaster zone. So I made a plan with my work to take November and December off (with partial pay). On my first official day off and I spent most of the day doing chores. I tackled the bathroom over the weekend, and am now working on a deep clean of the kids bedrooms (not a project for the faint of heart). I could devote the bulk of my time off to housework, but I’m hoping to be mindful of also taking time for myself for things I enjoy like exercise and writing.

As for my candy-sneaking son, he’s been spending a lot of time with Grandma, which is another thing I’m thankful for. I’m also thankful that he is enrolled in a low-tech, play-based kindergarten program. He only has three 15-minute Zoom meetings per week, compared to my 3rd grader, who spends about 5 hours per day completing schoolwork on her iPad. I think he’s a bit bored and understimulated, but I’m trying to make up for that in other ways. The kids are taking a PE class two afternoons a week this month, so hopefully that will be a positive experience for both of them. I’ve also discovered that Paul loves crafts! Part of his kindergarten curriculum involves a weekly sewing craft, and it is his favorite part of kindergarten. This month I also purchased a package of 16 craft projects for the month from our local children’s museum, and each of my kids will get to do eight of them. Paul and I had fun making a toy watch for daylight savings time and various other crafts over the past two weeks.

Yesterday was my birthday, and to kick off the day Spencer made me a special breakfast — cornmeal biscuits with shiitake mushroom gravy, topped with fried eggs. This was in remembrance of my favorite breakfast place in Portland, where we lived during our twenties. I had a sweet day with my family, and challenged myself to a long (for me) run of 3.5 miles. I also got some new books that I’m super excited to dig into. Caste, by Isabel Wilkerson, The Rosie Result by Graeme Simsion (the end of a hilarious trilogy), and The Once and Future Witches by Alix Harrow (loved her last book), and Freckled: A Memoir of Growing Up Wild in Hawaii by TW Neal. Dark and stormy days ahead means the perfect time for curling up with some good books.

Are you able to find gratitude in these dark times?

“People who have come to know the joy of God do not deny the darkness, but they choose not to live in it. They claim that the light that shines in the darkness can be trusted more than the darkness itself, and that a little bit of light can dispel a lot of darkness.” — Henri Nouwen

Bringing light to the darkness on a lantern walk this week. Lantern walks are part of the traditional celebration of the feast of St. Martin (Martinmas), and a precursor to modern-day jack-o-lanterns. We made lanterns in a Zoom meeting with my son’s kinder class. And — I learned that Martinmas happens on my birthday!

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