2020 has been a year like no other. As the holidays quickly approach and the door starts to close on some pretty dark times personally and collectively this year, I am making a conscious effort to catch the sliver of light that is shining through the crack of that door.
Admittedly, sometimes I can barely see it. Other times, it is bursting through like those first rays of sun through the trees on one of my morning runs. One of my dear friends recently asked me if I had ever tried the evidence-based practice of “Three Good Things” to help focus on gratitude in daily life. I have read about it and made a feeble “I'm gonna do that” response to someone else's suggestion earlier this year, but life just kept rolling and somehow I didn't put pen to my paper at the end of the cycle of long days that has been this season.
But here I am contemplating Thanksgiving and Christmas and all the uncertainties of the pandemic and the personal whirlwind that has been my life since March, and I feel compelled to do so not for today but for the year. Knowing that so many people have experienced loss this year, I hope to inspire you to do the same. My three good things for which I am grateful are Acceptance, Nature and Love.
Having grown up in church, I remember hearing the Serenity Prayer and gaining comfort from it. It reads, “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.” Whether you are religious or not, these words are solid advice but sometimes hard to follow. I feel in my heart that moving forward from loss or trauma does not negate what you have experienced but does allow you to take that experience that is a part of you and gain a new perspective from which strength can emerge. Acceptance means realizing that you are not always in control, recognizing that every person's burden is different, and understanding that to relate to someone else requires finding some part of them within yourself. It is meeting people where they are, whenever possible.
For me, a critical part of gaining perspective, and with that, acceptance, has been committing to spending time outside in Nature. I have spent more time outside at my house this year than the 12 years prior. I sit on my glider on my front porch with my husband. I sit on our back deck and stare at the trees. I listen. I watch my cats. I take a moment to not feel like I should be doing something else because that is what I need.
I have re-committed myself to running regularly and taken away the need for it to be more than what I can do. I've eliminated the pressure that it should be a certain number of miles or time. If I miss a day, I let it go without weight or guilt. By doing so, I enjoy it so much more. In the past two months, I've been running a trail around a lake with lots of rocks, roots and sometimes mud. I have to slow down, sometimes walk, and get my shoes muddy — all of which is an appropriate metaphor for this year. Even though I lace up my shoes half-asleep truly lacking motivation, as soon as I hit the trail I am uplifted. The trees, the sun, the leaves, the roots, the rocks — all of it grounds me and brings me back to my self. These short runs give me time to navigate my emotions. I always feel better afterwards.
In addition to running in nature, I have also become more intentional about getting out to see the spectacular views that are minutes from our house. I've packed up the car with at least one sleepy son and husband to catch the sunrise on the Parkway. I've driven with my son Joe to jam out to his music and watch the sun go down. We are unbelievably lucky to live where we do, and I don't want to ever take it for granted.
Finally, where would I or any of us be without Love? Love from my family and friends has been amazing this year. Admitting and accepting our emotional vulnerabilities can feel scary but what relief is found when those around us can identify with our feelings, provide a sounding board for our insecurities, and help us to see the good in ourselves and our lives. Our happiness is only partially self-driven — through support and relationships, it is fully realized. No one's true happiness should ever be mutually exclusive at home, work, or in life in general. In gaining perspective through reflection, I have been able to see what things I can let go of and what is truly important. Hugging my kids and letting them know my unshakable infinite love for them, spending time with my family, catching babies and striving to show love to other people in all that I do — these are things that drive me and fulfill me.
Loving our families does look different in 2020. Even as I ponder not seeing my extended family nearly enough because of the pandemic, I am grateful for virtual visits over the phone and when I do see people face to face. Holidays will look different as we all struggle to figure out how to responsibly share time with family and friends and avoid spread of a virus that has little mercy, particularly on the elderly but also sometimes on younger people with no risk factors. I hope that next year we will be able to return to larger family gatherings and celebrate in more traditional ways.
All in all, these three things — Acceptance, Nature and Love — keep me going when I find myself shaken or down. I once heard a woman named Auburn Sandstrom speak with a story called “A Phone Call” on The Moth radio hour. She was a former addict. I've never struggled with addiction, but know there are many people who do. Her story is inspiring and evocative. She spoke of a night when she was at the lowest of lows and called a number that her mom had given to her a long time prior for someone who was supposedly a Christian counselor. The person on the other end of the phone answered and spoke to this woman for several hours until dawn. He was not who she thought he was, but he helped her through that dark night and gave her hope to start moving toward a better path. She says at the end of her story the following words:
"I never learned his name. Never talked to him again... I need to tell you that the next day that I experienced something that I have heard called peace that passes understanding, because I had experienced that there was random love in the universe... and that some of it was unconditional... and that some of it was for me. And I can't tell you that I got my life totally together that day, but it became possible... This is what I know. In the deepest, blackest night of despair and anxiety, it only takes a pinhole of light and all of grace can come in."
So, as 2020's door shuts, I see the beauty in the random, unconditional love in our universe and grasp firmly to the fact that through that crevice of light, all of grace can come in. I hope you are able to see the same.