Gratitude from an unlikely source

After two days of hearing from loved ones who have suffered losses during this COVID-19 crisis, I was struck last night by a wave of . . . gratitude.

So many people — friends and family, strangers I’ll never meet — are hurting. And there I was, in my warm, safe home, wanting for nothing.

What prompted this thought?

The warmth and fresh smell of clean laundry as I stood next to the bed, folding towels.

As Michelle has observed many times, we are so fortunate. We have comfortable pillows to lay our heads on every night, clean water, an abundance of food from nearby first-world megastores. We have convenient appliances, modern technology that allows us to talk to — and even see — loved ones, no matter how far away.

I used the term “survivor guilt” several times in conversation yesterday. While others’ lives have been turned upside down by COVID-19, mine is pretty much the same.


For years I have raged against those who are comfortable and flaunt it, abuse it. If only, I say, if only they would embrace the message of social justice warrior Bryan Stevenson and become “proximate” to those who are suffering . . . perhaps some sense of empathy, of humanity, would take over.

Yesterday, keeping up with the news and using social media seemed more depressing than usual. I was restless, unsettled and couldn’t sit down to read or write.

All I could muster was a pathetic, snarky tweet: “I’m not discouraged, disgusted or infuriated enough today. I think I’ll head over to Twitter.”

And then I started folding laundry.

Maybe the feel of those warm towels brought all that gratitude to the surface, sublimating my anger and frustration.

My DNA summoned self-preservation reinforcements — I starting thinking of artistic influences of recent years, Oliver Sacks’ “Gratitude” (his final book of essays), Mary Oliver’s poems, Andrew Marlin’s music.

I reminded myself that I have the luxury of a comfortable life that allows me the time, energy and resources to appreciate such profound wisdom and prodigious talent.

As I stood over that laundry basket, I thought, “So many people have nothing like this . . . some have nothing.”

We must keep fighting for all of them. And that starts from a place of gratitude.

It’s clear that many of those in power are incapable of that emotion, but dwelling on that is unhealthy, maddening.

Don’t get me wrong, we absolutely need a certain amount of anger to right so many wrongs, to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.

But anger can wear you down, grate at your psyche until it’s raw.

We need the healing power of gratitude.

Semi-retired, thoroughly disgusted progressive grandfather.