Nov 23

New trails, drive-by gatherings and small moments of grace: Gratitude in 2020

As we turn the corner into Thanksgiving week, always a favorite of mine, I’ve been thinking a lot about gratitude.

At first blush, there doesn’t seem a lot to be grateful for in this dumpster fire of a year. Nearly 58 million people around the globe sickened by COVID-19, which has left nearly 1.4 million dead – more than a quarter-million of them Americans. Our country more fractured and polarized than at any time I can recall. Anger and exhaustion alternating in equal measures after the presidential election, no matter what side of the aisle you may be on.

On the personal side, I lost my father-in-law in January – and the ability to visit my mother-in-law in person a few weeks later as her community went into lockdown. My younger brother has been recovering in a Grand Rapids rehab center since February, so our visits have been relegated to shouting through windows or connecting over Zoom. My husband lost his best childhood friend this fall. I’ve lost several friends and colleagues this year, writing more obituaries and memorials than in any other single year. The heartbreak of keeping those we love at arm’s length for fear of getting sick – or getting them sick – has been debilitating.

One is tempted to admit the only good thing about 2020 is it’s nearly over. Even the most pessimistic among us are holding out for the beacon of the New Year and its promise of a fresh start, an effective vaccine and an end to the seismic upheaval that has gripped our fever dreams.

Yet, as I pause for quiet reflection before the official start of the holidays, I see and feel gratitude in the midst of all the sadness, uncertainty and deprivation. I talked individually and collectively with my team last week about the act of feeling grateful and was, as I often am, both surprised and delighted by their responses.

Several apologized for what they were sure would be repetition with their peers. While there were several common themes – good health, strong relationships and continued employment chief among them – each had a unique take framed by his or her own experience.

One of our team said the pandemic has made them more aware of and grateful for the basics – a full fridge, reliable Internet access, the safety of working from home and a strong relationship with a spouse that “has only gotten stronger, affirming we are a great team.”

This was echoed by a colleague, who noted “this was a stark reminder we shouldn’t take any of these things for granted.” This colleague also shared they were grateful for the ability to support clients  who were “universally going through one of the toughest years of their careers – and ours.”

Another colleague said the reset prompted by the pandemic had helped them rebalance their life, resulting in being “happier, more settled and spend more time together” with their spouse. Another team member also appreciated the “rare opportunity” to spend more time together with their spouse – and without the usual summer visitors – at their lake house, giving them new trails to hike, new books to read and more time for phone calls with family and friends.

Two other colleagues addressed the ability to maintain connections with family, friends and colleagues despite the need to maintain physical distancing. Both applauded the “creative ways to keep in touch … whether that be through virtual happy hours, special packages or drive-bys.” Without that release, one acknowledged, they would have gone “completely off the rails.” The other added, “it really demonstrates our willingness to go the extra mile and find clever ways to raise a glass, share a meal and have a laugh.”

One of our team has long embraced the “little things others tend to take for granted.” Their north star in 2020 is captured beautifully by John Otterbacher appreciating “This only and abundant moment. This.” My colleague further muses on “this,” which holds the key, asking us “to focus on what you have presently, which requires a sense of mindfulness … seeing and feeling that which you can have and hold.”

Probably the most unexpected response came from a team member who shared they were most grateful their mom had raised them to value time alone. They had been encouraged as a child to approach boredom as a time to reinvent themselves, enabling them to delve into a number of new things and making the past eight months “not as dreadful as it could have been.”

Indeed. We’ve all found ways to find or make our own joy this year – as we need to be able to do every year. As I turn the lens to myself, I find much to be grateful for as we head into the homestretch of 2020. In addition to my husband-turned-office mate and our wonderful families, I am most grateful for:

  • Our incredible team: This year threw a lot at all of us at Sabo PR, and our amazing team did exceptional work with often impossible deadlines. Our team came through it with grace, creativity, determination and good humor, and I am beyond grateful for everything they did in this most extraordinary of years.
  • Our wonderful clients: There’s no playbook for how to handle a global pandemic, and yet our clients created one – and continue to do so. Their overriding concern for the health and safety of their employees was the starting point for every single discussion in this past year, which is testament to priorities being firmly in the right place. I’m grateful for the continued opportunity to serve our current clients and the ability to add new ones despite the uncertainty of the year.
  • Amazing technology: There’s a lot of fatigue with virtual everything, but I’m grateful for our Zoom subscription and the ability it gives us to connect, to engage, to share milestones and heartaches by pairing faces with voices that melt the distance a bit. I’ve also done more than my normal share of making calls and sending cards.
  • Moments of normal: On our way to a memorial in Oregon last month, I had a brief conversation with twin high schoolers who were returning from their grandmother’s funeral. After avoiding others for so long, that 10-minute conversation felt so good – and so very normal. I have truly missed those small daily interactions and am grateful for their occasional appearance.

In 38 days, we will bid farewell to 2020. While I can’t imagine summoning much nostalgia for this year, at least not for some time to come, I hope to remember, embrace and carry forward the lessons of gratitude this year has brought with it in unexpected ways.

8 thoughts on “New trails, drive-by gatherings and small moments of grace: Gratitude in 2020”

  1. Robin says:

    A wonderful post, Mary Ann. Well done.

    1. Mary Ann says:

      Thanks, Robin — this was therapeutic to write. Hope you and yours have a wonderful Thanksgiving ahead!

  2. Bud Liebler says:

    A great reminder that as difficult as it’s been, not all has been lost in 2020. Appreciate what you have. Be compassionate with those who have less. Be civil with each other, regardless of possibly competing or differing views. Look forward to the future and do whatever you can to make it better. Happy Thanksgiving!
    Bud L.

    1. Mary Ann says:

      So very true, Bud — thanks for taking the time to read and comment. Wishing you and your family a wonderful Thanksgiving!

  3. Mary Dixon says:

    Thanks Mary Ann, here’s to next year!!

    1. Mary Ann says:

      Amen, Mary — hope you and yours have wonderful set of holidays!

  4. Wallson Knack says:

    My dear Mary Ann, you once again hit the ball out of the park.
    So encouraging at this time!
    Big hugs, Wally

    1. Mary Ann says:

      Wally, thank you so much! Thinking of you and Becky this Thanksgiving season — I am grateful for our continued friendship and the opportunity to connect despite all the craziness. Much love to you both.

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