Gratitude in the Face of Challenges

2021 has continued to offer its challenges.  Just this past week, 3 people our family knew passed of COVID-19, plus several others that were friends of friends.  Through the continued pandemic, we’ve faced off with loneliness, frustration, anguish, and betrayal.  We’ve longed for light at the end of the tunnel, keeping our focus on each new day, one foot in front of the other.


It would be easy to focus on just the challenges and loss, but Thanksgiving urges us to renew our practice of gratitude, no matter which year it may be.  Abraham Lincoln renewed the national practice of Thanksgiving as a holiday in order to give thanks for the preservation of the Union after our country’s horrific Civil War.  We still keep the date he chose for that holiday to this day.


The practice of gratitude builds resiliency—a trait we can all cultivate during difficult times.  Focusing on what we don’t have or what we’ve lost creates self-feeding loops of mental negativity.  Over time, the negative becomes all we see, leading to cynicism and depression.  Cultivating gratitude helps us acknowledge what is good and meaningful, even in the darkest places.  It doesn’t mean that we ignore the painful or turbulent aspects of the situation, throwing on rosy glasses and carrying on as if these aren’t happening—it means that we allow the light into the darkness and celebrate it, no matter how small.


In preparation for Thanksgiving, spend some time cultivating gratitude, for yourself and those in your circle.  It’s a true element of happiness and an antidote for the ever-hungry pursuit of yet-out-of-reach materialistic attachment that is so rife in our modern culture.  Here are some of the things on my gratitude list for this week, as a starting place.


Health.  I am grateful to be healthy and alive, and that my family is healthy and alive through this pandemic.  I am grateful for good, wholesome food grown and raised on our farm to help us stay healthy and vibrant.  Raising and preserving your own food provides great peace of mind and a buffer from the pendulum swings of market shortages and hoarding.  We have not been for want of food and have been able to give food frequently to friends who suddenly faced food insecurity during the changes of these times.  I feel grateful to have enough bounty to be able to give freely.


The Internet.  I must admit, facing the ongoing pandemic situation without the internet would be incredibly more painful and hampering than the current situation.  I’d never heard of Zoom until COVID, and now I use it every week to connect with my fiber arts students across the country and even in Canada.  Zoom has allowed me to see my grandparents in Minnesota and to share the farm with them.  And the internet has supported our farm’s e-store that has allowed us to completely transform how we do business at Farmstead Creamery and connect our goods and services with our friends of the farm.  Without the internet, it would have surely felt like our world imploded.


Time.  Many things couldn’t happen this year because of the pandemic—hosting our summer music concerts, having dine-in service—but the lack of these events meant that time was freed up in ways we hadn’t experienced since opening Farmstead Creamery.  We were able to work projects on the farm that had languished because there just wasn’t time to get to them, and I could have a little more time for my art practice.  Because I didn’t have to drive several hours each way in order to teach (say at Duluth, Minneapolis, or Grand Marais), I could actually connect with more students via Zoom and only have to walk up the stairs to our fiber loft and turn on my ever-evolving technology booth.  Time is a most precious element, and time at home can be time very well spent.  We certainly never wondered what we were going to do with ourselves, not with a farm!


Empathy.  Yes, there was cruelty and rebuke and many other unsavory moments in this year’s mix, but the moments of empathic connection shine through.  Even the smallest conversation outside Farmstead as folks picked up their orders and we checked in with each other brought much-needed connections of shared concern.  For some, it’s easy to tear other people down, but empathy calls us to see in each other our shared humanness and be there for each other on the journey.  Sometimes the contrast of anger and hatred made the moments of empathy all the more savored and meaningful.  I hope that we can continue to build more of the practice of empathy together.


Where does your gratitude practice find you this Thanksgiving?  Don’t just save it up for this one day—spread out your gratitude practice throughout the year and see how it impacts your perspective and your resiliency.  Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family.  See you down on the farm sometime.