Next week it’s my birthday! I’m so grateful just anticipating that I’ll get to have another one! Dawn was going to come over for a birthday dinner and puzzle night. We had it planned for weeks. She was kind enough to agree to isolate for four days prior to our date, and we both planned to take rapid antigen tests shortly before she came over. But because of my high risk factors for Covid, and the Omicron surge, and the fact that we both were, unavoidably, around unmasked people in confined spaces four days ago, and the recent suggestion that the rapid tests may not be as reliable for Omicron, we adapted to a plan B.
I roasted a chicken with garden carrots and some sweet potatoes, and steam-sautéed some garden green beans from the freezer. She baked shortbread. She delivered the cookies and picked up a box of dinner and a new puzzle, and drove the couple miles back home. Then, we zoomed together for dinner, put away our dishes, and opened our puzzles. It was almost as good as being in the same space working on the same puzzle–not quite, but almost. The camaraderie was still there, the quiet focus on the puzzles interspersed with meaningful conversation.
The virus sucks. The ignorance that facilitated and perpetuates the Covid crisis sucks. I feel profound compassion for the healthcare workers who are overwhelmed because of the sheer stupidity of a staggering number of humans. It’s my patriotic duty to stay healthy and well. Given that this is the world we live in for now, I’m grateful for adaptability, and for the ongoing tolerance and acceptance my friends show for my super high risk threshold.
I’m going to tell you a horrible story, about a young man who sings on the subway to supplement his income. I know it’s true because I heard it from the relative he told it to. He makes a meager wage at a day job, and he’s talented. So he’s been singing on the subway for a few years. He tested positive for Covid the other day, and he kept on singing on the train.
“On the platform?” I asked, “or on the train?” As if one were better. Which it might be.
“On the train–in the cars!” she shrieked. My first thought was, You should turn him in! She went on to say that she told him, “That’s unconscionable! You should be arrested!”
And I went on to think, with snap judgment and barely a shred of equanimity (but notably, with some compassion): No wonder New York City cases have exploded. Because that one naive young man, pursuing his dreams oblivious to the stark reality of this ongoing pandemic, probably infected dozens if not hundreds of innocent subway riders, many of whom may have infected 3 or more others. Our busker was a super-spreader event all by himself. Like potentially thousands, or millions, of other people across the country, either oblivious to the truth or arrogantly “done with Covid,” as my cousin proclaimed he would be once ski season started.
Ski season started, and a week later he found himself symptomatic, awaiting results of a PCR test. Did he have it, or was it just a cold? (That’s another thorny existential worry these days, for another day.) I’ll probably never know; I doubt he’d admit it. And there’s fuckall I can do about any of this ignorance.
So that’s my rant for the day. Sleazeweasel wants me to give outrage and gratitude “equal consideration.” He worried when I seemed stuck in gratitude for a whole year. I don’t think he’s been paying attention! Brilliant though he is, he seems to have missed the essence of my personal gratitude challenge: I was mired in outrage and despair for most of my adult life. My personal gratitude epiphany saved me, gave me back the joy and meaning of my youth, when everything that happened was a new gift. Now I understand what Brother Steindl-Rast was talking about. Having practiced focusing on gratitude instead of humanity’s dark side, immersing myself in gratitude for an entire year, I brought some balance to my perceptions, gaining the capacity to hold light as well as dark, to see reality through a less distorted lens. Gratitude has helped me achieve the equanimity I’ve been seeking for decades.
Meanwhile, I’m grateful for SNOW! More than we’ve seen at one time in a couple of years, I think. I was grateful to wake up alive, and find deep snow at last; grateful to see sweet does bedded down under the junipers just beyond the patio. Grateful for good neighbors of any species, and greeting one gliding by on skis in the drifted driveway.
And finally, I’m grateful today for Queer Eye, a ‘season interrupted,’ now back on Netflix. The first episode was shot in March 2020, and lockdown prevented the final act, so that was filmed in May 2021. The featured mother’s father had died, as well as her daughter’s husband. (In a weird way, the pandemic has presented a global ‘Compassion Challenge’–let that take off on social media!)
The transformation of Terri was profound and complete. The Fab 5 had given the family tools to heal relationships and weather their own brutal challenges just in the nick of time. Yet another feel-good series from the loving heart of gay culture to lift everyone’s spirits. I’m grateful for satire, laughter, gay men, snow, compassion, equanimity, and seeing truth clearly, among many other things in this new year.
It sounds melodramatic on the surface. Why wouldn’t I have survived the day? Why bother to be grateful for something so mundane? Yet this was the first day I’ve driven beyond Crawford since witnessing that shocking wreck on the highway. I passed the scene twice, on my way to Hotchkiss and back. I ran some quotidian errands–gasoline, picking up cat fud at the vet, a few groceries at City Market–and drove home. That’s all. But I was tense and anxious, not only because of the wreck, but the Covid risk of going about in a county that largely never believed in the virus in the first place, flouted the original mask mandate (down to the Sheriff’s department which became an instant hot spot), and has concluded that it’s through with Covid now whether or not Covid is through with it. In the past couple of weeks the county has recorded roughly 1.1 deaths a day from the virus.
We tend to assume, each morning that we rise alive, that today is just another day to spend like any other day, that we’ll make it through this day without dying; and that’s just ridiculous. Lots of people die every day, many of them without pre-existing conditions and without any warning. Shit happens. I’m learning to take nothing for granted. I was grateful to wake up alive again this morning, and I’m grateful for surviving the day. Each night I try to fall asleep with my pulse pounding in my neck. Tomorrow, I’ll be grateful to make it to the hospital (and back) for some tests to try to determine what this sensation is about, and pinpoint the cause of other strange symptoms as well.
Or at least rule out some icky options. As Francisco said, “When you know what it is, it’s just pain.” When you don’t know what it is, it can grow into a menacing monster. Driving from town this afternoon, the thought of home beckoned like a lighthouse, as it will again tomorrow. If I can only make it there, and back again to safe harbour, then I can finally relax; then I will be happy. Ha! Each day, each breath, a new adventure.
I’m grateful for so many things today, but mostly for the fact that I came to the end of it still alive. I’m grateful for walking after rain with Stellar and Topaz, for their sweet friendship, for golden September light.
There was no particularly extra danger to my life today, except that I drove twenty miles to town and back, and went into the post office and the grocery store. Even pre-Covid I’d have been aware of the slight uptick in risk that entails: anyone can get killed in a car wreck a quarter mile from home. But since Covid, these minor everyday risks we all take without giving them much conscious headspace feel magnified a hundred times. Just going into the grocery store for half an hour feels like sticking my neck out way beyond comfort. There’s a somber air in the aisles these days, a fraught undertone. I’m not defiant like those who put us all at risk, but I feel equally defensive. The public fisticuffs of last fall lurk just beneath the surface in the silence as strangers pass without smiles. A sense of relief when you recognize and connect with someone you know.
So I was glad to get home this evening, and walk again in the woods, again after rain; grateful for another few tenths of an inch in a lovely intermittent drizzle over the past twenty-four hours. Grateful for no dramatic thunderstorm with lightning’s fires. Grateful that out of all possible random misfortunes that can befall a human life, my good fortune and my body held up for another day. My heart kept ticking, my lungs kept breathing, and beauty continued to stream past me. I’m grateful for this precious day.
I’m grateful for most surprises these days, as I can experience them as neutral at worst most of the time, and good, fascinating, or delightful at best in almost every case. I can imagine some surprises that would be distressing, but why? Why would I want to make myself suffer even more than everyday life itself demands?
I’m grateful to have most of my mother’s ancestral recipes. One I hadn’t made in at least forty years was Granny’s Fudge. Granny was my dad’s mother, but my mom adopted many of Granny’s wonderful traditional Tennessee recipes as her own signature dishes, and fudge was one that only came out at Christmas. Along with May’s sugar cookies that we’d decorated that day, these were the two things we left out for Santa on Christmas Eve. I don’t know how the fudge lasted til Santa came, honestly; I just made my second batch in a month and have already eaten so much my teeth hurt.
It seemed so complicated and time-consuming when I was a child. I’m grateful that years of experience have shifted my perspective on fudgemaking, as on so many other and more vital subjects. It’s pretty simple, but it requires close observation and finesse to do things like “cook to soft ball stage” and “beat until just right.” It requires attention and skill, just like living mindfully.
I modified the recipe just a bit. It calls for oleo. I’m sure this was my mother’s substitution because I’m sure Granny made this for decades before oleo existed, so I used butter, of course. You melt the butter in a heavy pan, and mix together the sweeteners and milk, then add this to the butter and bring to a boil. Gradually add the chocolate til it’s all melted, stirring the whole time. I remember as a little girl peering over the top of the pan and being cautioned. One splash of this molten candy, I realize now, would cause a serious burn. I’m grateful I’ve learned to back away from dangerous heat.
I made a couple of mistakes with the first batch, resulting in a tasty hard candy rather than the creamy fudge I was expecting. A perfect example of impact bias. Impact bias describes how “our mind consistently misjudges how much happiness or how much suffering (and its duration and intensity) a future event will bring us.” I expected a certain level of delight in the finished fudge. I was very particular, using a candy thermometer to take it up to 235º with constant stirring. Well, at high altitude, I figured out (too late), soft ball stage is at a lower temperature: It was pretty much hard ball when I dripped a drop into the ice water. Then I made the mistake of scooping it into a cold metal bowl to beat it, thinking that would make the beating process shorter, and it did: the fudge suddenly set as I was beating it and I barely managed to spread it in the pan before it was hard. Too hard. So this thing, that I though would taste so delicious, whose texture I craved, and I was sure would make me so happy… it let me down. I wasn’t nearly as happy as I expected to be as I stood there crunching on hard candy with the right taste and completely wrong texture.
The second batch, however, has made me happy all day! And I know it’s made some other people happy, too, since I sent some home with the Bad Dogs after they delivered groceries. I’m so grateful to these dear friends for continuing to deliver groceries and other necessities, long after many people may have given up on humoring my self-imposed isolation. Their consideration gives me a strong measure of peace in this fraught time. After ten minutes in the post office last Friday I was traumatized for the whole weekend. Out of five men who entered the tiny space while I was shipping packages, only one wore a mask. Three lingered and chatted right behind me, one of them huffing and puffing with forceful exhalations. I couldn’t find the words to simply turn around and say, “Excuse me, can you all please wait outside? I’m at high risk for the virus.”
I couldn’t find the words because I assumed them to be Covid deniers, based on the absence of masks. Unskillfully, I couldn’t give them the benefit of the doubt, nor trust my own voice. My head fills with static sometimes under stress. I couldn’t stay there another minute with the big bad wolf three feet behind me audibly spewing whatever microbes he was harboring into that tight little space. I wrapped up the transaction without mailing my last parcel, which required a customs form. Skillfully, I left. The grocery store’s not much better, with a pretty consistent rate of at least 50% of customers unmasked. I get that my risk threshold is extreme compared to most people’s. But so is my familiarity with devastating chronic illness. So I’m grateful for friends who will shop for me, and eager to reciprocate their generosity.
Yes, the second batch delivered, just solid enough with the perfect creamy texture. After looking up my hypothesis, I recalibrated the temperature and pulled the fudge off the heat at 225º, then “beat like hell until just right (thick and not glossy).” I got it poured into the buttered pan just barely in time to smooth the top before it started to harden. I had to leave more in the pan than I would have liked as it set so quickly. These timing and texture details are what makes it seem like a difficult recipe, I guess. You have very short, very specific windows in which to accomplish essential actions for a successful outcome, as one often does in threading a day. I gained just a wee bit more experience that will improve my next effort.
I’m grateful for this day that brought me kindness from friends, success in my culinary venture, and a mouthful of insights about how these human minds, with their expectations and biases, yank us around like a powerful untrained puppy straining at the leash. And then, outside for a work break, I cried out in wonder and delight as I spied the first crocus blooms! I shared that joy with a friend that I knew was also waiting for this harbinger in her yard, and she replied with a fitting quote:
"A single crocus blossom ought to be enough to convince our heart that springtime, no matter how predictable, is somehow a gift, gratuitous, gratis, a grace." ~ David Steindl-Rast
Granny's Fudge Recipe
3 squares unsweetened chocolate
1 ¼ cup white sugar
1 ¼ cup packed brown sugar
¼ cup white Karo
⅔ cup milk
½ stick butter
Melt the butter in a heavy pan. Mix sugars, Karo, and milk, and add to melted butter, stirring. When this boils, gradually add chocolate. Keep stirring. Cook to soft ball stage and remove from heat. Add one pinch salt. Beat like hell until just right (thick and not glossy). Pour in buttered pan, and cut before it hardens.