Gratitude, the key to joy

By Sarah E. Reynolds | Nov 27, 2020

As 2020, the most maligned year since 2000, winds down, there is no lack of justifiable grumbles about what has been, to say the least, a tumultuous year.

But even -- or perhaps especially -- now, there is much to be thankful for. Despite the enormous strains put on our democratic institutions, they did not collapse, and delivered what federal election security experts termed "the most secure election in U.S. history."

Our country has been ravaged by COVID-19 and the many controversies, hardships and tragedies it has spawned, including a quarter-million deaths. But promising vaccines are nearing approval, and public health officials say they could be widely available by the second or third quarter of next year. We're not there yet, but there is light at the end of the tunnel, and it's not an oncoming train.

In much the same way that the Great Depression tested the adults and formed the youth of the 1930s, the pandemic is testing and forming us. Even once we have one or more effective, widely available vaccines, experts say, we will have to take precautions until at least three quarters of the population has been vaccinated, and until we know how long the vaccines work. Our old normal is gone, and we have not yet settled into a new normal, which is a major reason for the national malaise.

But we may hope that, as the testing of the Depression era yielded a society more committed to caring for all of its citizens, the same will be the ultimate result of this dark and difficult time. In trials, we learn more about our similarities than our differences. In suffering, we see that we are all in the same boat, and only by pulling together will we ever reach the shore. It is my heartfelt hope that this crisis will lead to a renewed sense of community, that the pandemic will teach us again the importance of kindness, compassion and concern for others, values I have often seen embodied by Mainers.

I'll miss seeing family and friends at Thanksgiving and Christmas -- that is perhaps the best part of the holidays. But I trust that by keeping visits virtual for now I'll be protecting my health and theirs, and also hastening the day when I can see them in person and hug them.

It has been a long and difficult slog this year, and with winter closing in, it's easy to feel bleak. I hope you won't. I hope you'll call a friend, video-chat with a family member, drop off a gift on a neighbor's front porch and remember that love is what this time of year is all about -- and love is always accessible to us. Not only that, it is the one thing that multiplies when it is given away.

I'll close with a quote from author and monk Br. David Steindl-Rast, "joy is the happiness that doesn't depend on what happens."

I wish you joy.

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