I missed my Coda meeting last night. I picked up a respiratory virus of some sort that’s left me tired and listless. Covid 19 was ruled out, thank goodness. I’m trying to be grateful for this interlude of sickness as I drag my way through each day. Gratitude is easy when I am energetic and raring to go. Gratitude is easy when life flows smoothly. But when things get challenging? When I don’t feel good? When the world feels as if it’s going crazy? When I am discouraged and afraid? Maybe that’s why we are instructed to be grateful in and for all things.

I have been among the very fortunate. I have experienced little illness over my 80 plus years. Sure, I’ve had moments when I have been sick, but they have been few and far between. While unpleasant at the time, they have always been instructive, giving me a glimpse into the life many are forced to live co-existing with chronic and debilitating illnesses.

My interlude with the sniffles reminds me that in spite of what we may say, there is no way to get inside someone else’s skin or know what they think and feel. I am trapped within the physical and emotional boundaries of myself, just as we all are. John Donne may have said no man is an island, but truth be told, we are all islands. Those rare and special intimate moments when our barriers and boundaries come tumbling down are few and far between. In fact, they are so special we call them mountaintop experiences, so if this pandemic has done little else, it has shown us just how isolated we all are while simultaneously demonstrating just how interdependent we are. Evenings when I do handwork and listen to the news, I am reminded there’s no way for me to know what or why others feel as they do. I can no more get into a Trump devotee’s head than they can get in mine. Yet we are called to live together.

Buddhism’s basic premise is that all life is suffering. While that seems so negative, it really isn’t. Life can be really tough, and we need to be prepared. Think of all those living in war zones, extreme poverty, areas riddled with drought and famine. If we can accept all life is suffering, then we have nowhere to go but up. Against the backdrop of suffering and death life’s benefits stand out as amazing gifts. Today the sun is shining. The sky is blue. White clouds outline a giant maple towering over a neighbor’s house. Birds feed at the feeder while flowers dance in the breeze. Beauty is everywhere I look.

If the essence of life is suffering then gratitude becomes even more important. Given there is so much wrong in the world, it is good to know there is also much that is beautiful and good. Gratitude becomes a critical choice. I can focus on what I have or what I don’t have. I can seek out the good in others or look for the bad. I can be optimistic or pessimistic. I can look for the beautiful or the ugly. It’s my choice.

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. Living one day at a time, enjoying one moment at a time, accepting hardship as the pathway to peace. Amen

Joyce Shutt is the pastor emeritus of the Fairfield Mennonite.

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