When the Pandemic Ends, What Will You Throw Away? What Will You Keep?

The urge to say a daily prayer of gratitude is the one thing I don’t want to lose

When I fantasized about what I would do once the pandemic ends, I remembered the old TV commercial where NFL players who were asked what they’d do after wining the Super Bowl said, “I’m going to Disneyland!”

No, I will not go to Disneyland. Like most people, however, I will throw away my mask, surgical gloves, and hand sanitizer. I’ll lose (hopefully) my fear of travel so I can visit my grown daughter and son, and the rest of my family and friends. And, I’ll bury my nervousness about getting my hair cut.

Although I can’t wait to be rid of social distancing, online swim reservations, and calling my health providers from my car to say that I have arrived for my appointment, there is one thing that I don’t want to lose: my daily gratitude.

If the pandemic has given me anything, it is a newfound reverence for the freedom to see — and hug — my loved ones, shake a neighbor’s hand, mosey (in any direction) down crowded grocery store aisles, and enjoy the comfort of a warm home and plentiful nourishing food.

Never before have I considered these things sacred. I do now.

In me, contentment often breeds complacency. When life feels good — when work and income are steady, my joints don’t ache, my kids are well and my marriage, peaceful — my gratitude is fleeting; a nod to the happiness that moves me in the moment. It is reflexive, not reverent.

But losing the essentials of the life I once knew, including the ability to move about in my world safely and without fear, has made me count my blessings.

This gratitude is complicated, however. Because the blessings that I have lost, albeit temporarily, are the products of my white privilege. They have nothing to do with the “grace of God” and everything to do with the sins of my predecessors.

I am not religious. I attend formal worship, at a synagogue in my case, only when I am suffering. Although my Jewish tradition — like many others — urges me to be grateful regardless, I have struggled to say prayers of thanks when I’ve been in pain and feeling anything grateful. However, as the pandemic, which has exposed and exacerbated myriad racial injustices, has taught me, this is exactly when I should be digging into gratitude.

I’ve begun by saying “modeh ani,” the morning prayer that many Jews utter daily to express gratitude to God for restoring their soul, or in other words, for the gift of life.

Before the pandemic, I never questioned whether I’d wake up healthy if at all. Now I do. And so, I say (not always first thing in the morning, as tradition mandates), “I offer thanks to You, ever-living Sovereign, that You have restored my soul to me in mercy. How great is Your trust.”

Yet, it is not enough to thank God for all that I have. The power of my gratitude is in my actions, my commitment to fight against the racial and social inequities that have made this pandemic more cruel and deadly for people of color than for anyone.

Regularly saying prayers of thanks, especially when I don’t feel like it, makes me appreciate that I have more to celebrate than bemoan; more importantly, it makes me recognize those who don’t.

My daily gratitude must serve more than me; it must move me to do all I can to make this country more just. This truth is what I plan to hold onto, long after the pandemic ends.

Public health writer/editor and author of the memoir, “Salt on a Robin’s Tail: An Unlikely Jewish Journey Through Childhood, Forgiveness, and Hope.”

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