I was in church a few weeks ago. It was the first time I’d been to mass since before COVID and it was a different experience, wearing masks and socially distancing, trying to come together as a church community when the very nature of this virus demands separation.

I started thinking about all COVID has taken from us, all the ways it’s demanded we stop doing the things that make us human. And, conversely, all the ways it’s encouraged us to be better, kinder, and stronger people. 2020 has been a crappy year (change my mind) and people across the globe are struggling. This Thursday is Thanksgiving. We are eight months into a pandemic whose curve we thought we could flatten in two weeks. I know I am not the only one struggling. It’s hard and while I could (and have) sit and focus on the variety of ways this virus has taken from us, I can’t do that anymore. This week, I want to push my brain to think about a few things I can be thankful for in the age of COVID:

Stronger Relationships with Family & Friends 

Whether it’s my husband, kiddos, friends, or family, my network has both opened wider and gotten tighter. My husband and I had to push past the discomfort and sheer annoyance of everyone being home all the time and needing to work and raise children and, it wasn’t always perfect, but we got better at listening to each other and working together. I feel like we had a crash course in building a stronger marriage and I love where we are now. With friends, we did Zoom happy hours (like the rest of the country!) but we also just got better about checking in, offering support, and being there for each other—in spirit or real life. Knowing everyone was struggling in their own way and no one was getting it just right allowed people the room to offer help and support but also to ask. I think that as we moved apart, physically, we opened up some more room to connect emotionally and I will always be grateful for that.

Giving Grace

More than anything else this year, I heard, “we need to give each other grace.” I think the pre-COVID world of constant motion, overscheduling, and inability to slow down blocked the extra room we often needed to give grace and patience to those around us. We’re only human: working hard, continuously learning, and frequently making mistakes. To be given the time and space to take a step back and offer grace to an employee, an employer, a friend, an acquaintance, or someone who simply bugs you is a generous gift. It costs nothing but can demand a lot. Grace has been extended to me and I’ve gratefully accepted; it’s been something I’ve struggled with when I needed to extend it to others. Having been on both sides of that fence, it’s not something I’ll take for granted again.

Embracing the Outdoors

I am a huge fan of open windows. Every spring when it warms, and every fall when the heat finally breaks, you’ll find my house coated in pollen and dust, echoing with birdsong, and open to the air. This was the first year I’ve heard and seen the neighborhood kids outside as well. As things slowly opened back up, the embrace of outdoor drinks, gatherings, and picnics is incredible. We pack up blankets and snacks and go find parks or cool public properties. The kids run and bask in the heat of the sun or the shade of a quiet afternoon. My kids thrive in sunlight and fresh air. As the weather cools, we wear jackets and jump in leaves but warm our faces in the sun. Being outside feels cleaner and safer and freer; I don’t want to lose that when we return to “normal,” whatever that might look like.

COVID may have snatched our usual way of doing things and this year may go down as one of the most challenging and frustrating times of the modern era; I hope it will also be remembered as one of the most human. 2020 has been angry and defiant and messy and heartbreaking. It’s also been inspiring and kind and revolutionary and strengthening. I want to end this year on a positive note and say, I hope 2020 makes us better. Stronger. Infinitely more grateful.