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Eric Frydenlund: Finding gratitude in a chaotic world

Eric Frydenlund: Finding gratitude in a chaotic world

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I have a cynical sense of humor. I once sent a sympathy card to a relative who was getting married. She did not appreciate my joke, with good reason. Gratitude is nothing if not sincere.

It seems blasphemous to be grateful during a pandemic that has claimed so many lives and caused so much hardship.

Yet there is a side to the pandemic that has taught us how connected we are to each other in ways that transcend social distancing. Gratitude for each other helps mitigate our righteous anger.

There is a lot to be angry about in the world around us, and gratitude is in short supply in the news and social media. But anger is an emotion, not a solution.

The source of our personal gratitude need not come from outside agitations we have no control over.

Gratitude comes from deep within — through appreciation for the people in our lives and our actions that we can control. Gratitude comes from the simple grace of being alive. In this moment.

In this moment of global pandemic, political upheaval and economic uncertainty, we can do more than clean out our closets and catch up on paperwork.

I have cleaned out my closet but have not caught up to my paperwork, which is about 20 miles ahead of me doing 80 on the interstate. But we can focus on what is important in the present.

We carry around the past and future like useless appendages, flailing away at regrets and fears we have no control over, save for the invention of a time machine. We can control only the present moment. For this we can be grateful.

My grandson was out exploring the wonders of the universe, so expansive to his innocent eyes and so diminutive to our cynical eyes, and found a bird feather lying in our driveway.

He gave it to me as though he were opening a window into a new world. I have it pinned to my bulletin board now, a small reminder of a large gift. This is important.

Joe Simpson, the noted mountain climber and author, wrote in “The Beckoning Silence” of “the unfailing child-like appetite for what is next, and the joy and game of life.” He was referring to enthusiasm, but it could just as well have been gratitude.

Gratitude shows us the way to enthusiasm. Muttering obscenities at the dog while reading the headlines invites bad news into our lives.

Showing appreciation for the good news that can be found if we occasionally look up from the newspaper, tablet or smartphone brings joy into our midst. Gratitude catches us smiling.

So thank you to my wife who has taught me humility. Thank you to my friends who have shown me loyalty. Thank you to my family who has shown that love is a time machine connecting generations.

Thank you to our veterans, living and dead, who taught me the meaning of sacrifice on a visit to Normandy Beach.

Thank you to society that in the midst of crisis has taught me that the forces of good can overcome calamity. Thank you for wearing a mask.

And thank you to my relative — who has been happily married for 40 years—for forgiving my misplaced sense of humor.

For this, and my bounty of good fortune, I am grateful.

Eric Frydenlund is a columnist who lives in Prairie du Chien and writes about nature, politics and social issues from a systems perspective.

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