Parents Talk Back by Aisha Sultan

Finding Gratitude in Difficult Times

Since I was a child, I’ve insisted everyone at the table share what they were thankful for at Thanksgiving dinner. Even though the answers were often predictable, I still loved hearing my family say them aloud.

Once we started staying in town and having Thanksgiving with friends, I thought I hadn’t forced this tradition on anyone else, but my husband and children reminded me that I have indeed taken it outside family circles. Old habits are hard to break, I guess.

This year, our pared-down holiday went back to the basics.

We celebrated with a few friends in early November, when the weather was warm enough to host a small, socially distant meal outside. On Thanksgiving itself, because of spiking COVID-19 rates, we kept our in-person celebration to our immediate family and Zoomed with people we love.

It’s a weird time to be listing gratitudes. We’ve dealt with some serious illness and inconvenient injuries recently. I’m generally a positive and happy person, but this year made me angrier for longer than I’ve ever been. I’ve struggled not to fester in anger over the selfishness, ignorance, incompetence and outright callousness we’ve seen in America’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Maybe it’s in these moments it’s most valuable to say aloud what we are thankful for.

Those of us who are gainfully employed and able to pay our bills while in reasonably good health, and as part of a loving family with caring friends -- well, it’s like we won the lottery in 2020. That’s not to minimize how hard it’s been to have kids at home instead of in schools, to miss seeing extended family, to cancel or postpone special life events and give up so many small joys that enrich our lives.

But I’m going to drill down on the specifics of the good we’ve seen.

The tireless selflessness of health care workers during this pandemic deserves more than lip service. Too many have worked in unacceptable conditions to try to save people’s lives and ease the suffering of those who have died alone. They deserve access to therapy to process the horrors they’ve seen, and a great deal of rest -- along with our eternal gratitude and respect.

This year offered a reminder of how our economy depends on essential workers who are not valued as they should be: grocery store clerks, day care employees, nursing home aides and delivery workers. They deserve livable wages, paid sick leave and workplace protections.

It’s hard not to feel overwhelmed with gratitude for our nation’s teachers -- some who have risked their lives to educate students in person, and others who have significantly increased their workload to teach virtually.

Speaking of demanding workloads, how about the scientists and public health officials who have been working around the clock in the war against COVID? I don’t have words enough to say how grateful I am for them.

It’s hard not to feel inspired by all the people who made masks and PPE for those who needed them, by business owners who have tried their best to take care of their employees, and by artists who kept making art. Such bright rays of light in dark times.

I’m usually quick to criticize media companies when I see them falling short of our mission, and there are plenty of legitimate criticisms of my profession. But I’m just as grateful for all the hardworking journalists -- many of whom work far more hours than they are paid for, take a fair amount of public abuse and care deeply about their work to inform us. I’m even more grateful for those who subscribe to and pay for local journalism.

On a personal note, I’ve known nearly a dozen people who have been hospitalized because of COVID. All but two have survived, and some have already made complete recoveries. My beloved uncle spent six weeks in a hospital and in rehab. A few times, doctors thought he wouldn’t survive the night.

He’s home now.

I had to drive my husband to the hospital in September when he was critically sick with COVID and struggling to breathe. I had to leave him there, alone, not sure if he would recover.

He was able to come home, and has been on supplemental oxygen ever since. His doctors are optimistic he will be able to fully recover by early next year.

Maybe I didn’t have to say what I was grateful for this year.

I could look across the dinner table and see him.