Poignancy and Gratitude

When you are in your teens and 20s, life seems to extend into the future like an endless expanse of potential experiences. You can’t imagine not having the opportunity to visit places you love again or see friends and family regularly. As you grow older and encounter both loss and change, life takes on a quality of uncertainty, sweetness tinged with sorrow. A favorite uncle or a parent dies, friends move away, you yourself may move multiple times. The tapestry of life is always shifting, and we too shift with the changes. At a certain point, you may realize that the years ahead are possibly fewer than those behind. It may awaken a deep sense of appreciation for every moment you are given. This is how our lives teach us gratitude. Yet now, at this time on the planet, that lesson is coming up in unexpected ways.

We are living through a period of heightened sensitivity to life and death. The global COVID pandemic has made everything seem tenuous at times, transitory. The ancient Buddhist wisdom of “impermanence” is suddenly front and center in our daily lives. Will we get beyond the losses and emptiness, the holes in the infrastructure we took for granted? And what about health and life itself? There is a kind of poignancy in every memory and every present interaction. But there is also—if we are open to it—gratitude.

Toward the end of 2020, my partner Anne and I moved from Florida back to Massachusetts. We had spent two and a half years in Florida, but in considering where we wanted to be in the future, the choice became clear: where we felt most at home. And that would be Massachusetts. COVID intensified those feelings. As the years go by, and as I live through this pandemic, the assumption that I will do things an infinite number of times seems to fall away. I wonder: “Will I ever see that person or place again? Will I have that experience once more?” Every single day becomes extremely precious, never to be taken for granted.

So perhaps all of us now on this planet are being given the gift of treasuring each moment of life and each relationship, wherever we are and whomever we are with. When I wake up on a cold winter’s morning in New England, I can either question leaving the warmth of Florida behind, or I can look out the window at the scarlet sunrise and the wild geese flying overhead and smile in gratitude for another day of life. Timeless moments in which to experience the love of friends/family and the natural beauty in the world around me. Cardinals and chickadees calling. Tree silhouettes with tiny buds on the branches. Bulbs pushing up through the earth as spring approaches. Rebirth is a part of the cycle of life too, and in spite of our losses and tears, there is always a spark of life renewed.

All that we are experiencing now, whatever our age, can be challenging and cause us to dig deep within for inner stamina and courage. But we have those. Our strong hearts embody love. Our souls are a reservoir of peace and wisdom. We are nourished by the connections between us. What if loss is ultimately just change, renewal—the rebirth of our lives and our planet? No matter what is happening, we can feel grateful for the poignantly beautiful blessing of life itself. As Mary Oliver has written:

“I want to love this world
as though it’s the last chance I’m ever going to get
to be alive
and know it.”

4 thoughts on “Poignancy and Gratitude

  1. This is a graceful and reassuring reminder about the value/power/importance of gratitude. I particularly appreciate your reminder that “our souls are a reservoir of peace and wisdom.” Hurrah for cardinals singing and bulbs pushing green fingers up from the earth!

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