I return to the topic of gratitude partly because it feels like a “should.” Rafts of psychological research tell me that it’s good for my body, mind, and soul to practice gratitude. Once I slide into gratitude, I remember that it’s also a joy! Noticing the things for which I am grateful turns into a celebration of beauty, connection, and meaning.

Even amidst illness and disability, I find myself encircled with gratitude.

Anytime I encounter nature, my spirit lifts and I give thanks. In these COVID-19 days, I stay inside to stay safe. Still, outside my window, the leaves are bright orange against the new snow. Eagles fly above the river. Inside my window, the schefflera plants sprout new leaves. The living things around me sing songs of patience, strength, and beauty.

I see three people each day: my husband and two home health aides. I connect with many others by phone and on zoom. In conversations with others, I find creativity, humor, and comfort. I get to give and receive love and feel like I belong.

An introspective introvert, I love thinking about meaning. These days I find it in reading, writing, and attending Quaker meetings. Reminding myself that I have value, that there is good in the world and that the light outshines the darkness helps me carry on.

Living with chronic illness, pain and other symptoms sometimes flare up. It can be a challenge to be grateful. When things get tough, I give myself three bits of advice:

  1. Take time out. If I feel lousy, I let go of any ambitions or rules and let myself be. What do I need to feel comforted? If it’s back-to-back episodes of something on Netflix, so be it. No harm. No foul. No guilt.
  2. Dwell in the moment. If I narrow my focus to this breath and relax into it, pain and fear lessen.
  3. Look for the good. In this moment, there may be colors, sounds, tastes, textures and scents that delight or comfort me. Notice them! There may be people who care for me. Thank them!

Every blessed now and then, I find myself in a cascade of gratitude. Yesterday, I went to the clinic. The van started right away! (We’ve had a cranky battery.) Traffic was good! The autumn colors were beautiful! The waiting room was empty! The nurses were nice. The procedure was painless! We got home before it snowed! The symptom that brought me to the doctor went away (as I relaxed in front of the TV)! I will save those rivulets of gratitude to remember on a day less fortunate. Memory can invite gratitude.

Paying attention to the world around me, the people in it, and the meaning I find there leads me to be grateful. When it’s challenging, I give myself a break, relax, and notice the light in the darkness. There is beauty around us, between us.