The ship of my life may or may not be sailing on calm and amiable seas. The challenging days of my existence may or may not be bright and promising. Stormy or sunny days, glorious or lonely nights, I maintain an attitude of gratitude. If I insist on being pessimistic, there is always tomorrow. Today I am blessed. —Maya Angelou
This week, I decided to spend some time searching for gratitude. I tried to find some kind of silver lining to focus on during this time of crisis.
At first, I hesitated to do so. It felt wrong. There are so many people suffering right now – shouldn’t we be focusing on their plight? We should keep the severity in mind, and take whatever actions we can to support each other as best we can.
At the same time, it’s impossible to hold this crisis in our minds at all times. We all need a break. We need to breathe.
In particular, we have to make a conscious effort to try and restore some balance in our awareness. Just as negative thoughts compound in our minds, negative news compounds in our conversations.
My intention here is not to underplay the toll of this crisis. I believe its severity is overwhelmingly evident to all of us, regardless of my words. Further, I recognize the privilege I have to even be able to shelter in place, and to have the space and time to contemplate.
I’m writing this to share a few flickers of light I have glimpsed inside this seemingly endless tunnel. I hope it makes your journey a little less dark.
I’ve started going on walks around the neighborhood more often. On these walks, I find myself re-discovering familiar places as if they are brand new. The sidewalks and lawns are lined with the lush beauty of Spring bloom. The trees are filled with the the melody of birdsong. Without the cacophony of cars driving by at rapid pace, I felt like this was the first time I had ever truly heard them.
This effect is being seen around the world too. The canals of Venice are crystal clear for the first time in ages. The air quality in Los Angeles and other cities has gone from among the worst to the best in the world. These are of course a result of an extreme situation amid lockdowns and sheltering, but it does give us a glimpse of what’s possible when we limit our footprint on this planet.
There is a surprising comfort that arises from having this crisis be global, rather than regional. It gives us a sense of community, knowing that everyone around the world is struggling with this with us. For many, there has never been an event in our lifetimes that has united the global population in this way. Somewhere, hidden in the depths of cruelty in the scale of this crisis, there is beauty in the realization that we are all connected in this.
The more we pull on that thread, the more we come to realize we were always connected.
I think an important output is the general awareness of what remote work is all about. Many companies are now being thrust into it, and are figuring out how to adapt. I believe this is a long-term positive outcome, for a number of reasons.
Firstly, it’s worth noting that the lifestyles many are struggling with now are ones that working mothers have already been dealing with for a very long time. There is a kind of humble recognition of their struggles that will hopefully come out of this. I don’t expect their lives will suddenly get easier, but at the very minimum, I hope they are given more respect for their sacrifices (the same way we are now seeing “essential workers” receive), which may lead to more understanding and better support.
More broadly, I believe remote work allows for a number of lifestyle improvements. I won’t go into all the reasons why remote work is great (there are countless other resources on that) – instead I will simply say that it is good to know more people will have a choice. Companies can choose what balance of remote and in-person work makes sense, and individuals can do the same. Lastly, I am hopeful that by being forced to manage remote teams, managers will finally move on from the approach of measuring their teams based on how many hours they sit at a desk.
In general, rather than triggering major new changes, it’s likely that this crisis will accelerate trends that were already happening.
For many, life tends to be lived on automatic mode: The jobs we work, the food we eat, the shows we watch, the people we spend time with. It’s not uncommon for people to find themselves living a life they never chose.
In every crisis lies an opportunity, and this is no exception. The extra time at home comes with a chance to re-evaluate these decisions.
It may well be that after some contemplation, you still end up choosing the life you have today. Alternatively, you may decide you need to make some changes, but not right now.
Regardless of what the output of your reflection is, the key is intentionality. It’s not about what you do, it’s making sure you choose to do it.
If you made it this far, perhaps you’re motivated for a brief gratitude exercise of your own:
Close your eyes, and think about one thing you’re truly grateful for right now.
Take a few deep breaths.
The more you breathe, the more you’ll see.