Gratitude in 2020: An Exercise in Healing

By Jack M. ’23

It is easy at the end of such a challenging year to feel despondent or mournful or exhausted, or at least tremendous compassion for those who have suffered and lost so much in such a short period of time, but something I have found to be both self-healing and empowering is the habit of expressing gratitude. As part of my personal journey of healing this year, after having lost a very beloved and extremely close family member, I thought I would take on the exercise of expressing year-end gratitude. 

Primarily, I am truly grateful for what my younger sister calls “the safety things” – food on the table, a roof over our heads, access to an extraordinary education, clean water, electricity and mostly reliable internet, and perhaps most important, our family, friends, teachers, coaches, and classmates. While this list may seem simplistic, the utter chaos of this year has brought things once easily taken for granted to the forefront.

Gratitude abounds for the scientists around the world who have made incredible breakthroughs by working tirelessly to develop numerous COVID-19 vaccines in truly historic time. The many sleepless nights taken to keep us all safe is true heroism. Some names among hundreds of deserving scientists who helped to keep us safe and prevent the spread of COVID-19 include Drs. Zhang Yongzhen, Ugur Sahin and Özlem Türeci, Derrick Rossi and Drew Weissman, and of course, the incomparable Dr. Anthony Fauci. In addition to these notable heroes are the essential frontline workers who have devoted their lives and risked their health to care for those in need. I’m also grateful for the gratitude shown to these heroes by fellow citizens around the world who demonstrated support by banging pots, honking horns, singing, clapping, and waving signs out of windows in day after day of moving tributes.

Out of my own window, I have formed a habit of looking skywards at night, often admiring the beauty of a full moon or the odd comfort of a dark, stormy sky. I often imagine my predecessors on this planet, from ancient civilizations to my grandparents, partaking in a similar exercise of admiring cosmic beauty, and this has allowed me some perspective on this year. While this year might have been turbulent, it was but a ripple in a long chain of time, and I am grateful for the comfort and connection this skygazing habit has brought me. 

Continuing on this galactic path, 2020 has been a truly remarkable year for galactic travel, even as national traffic is restricted. Cooperation between NASA and SpaceX has reached new frontiers, launching Robert Behnken, Douglas Hurley, and many others into orbit, while over a period of just eleven days three new Mars-aimed missions took flight. I am grateful that humanity has continued to shoot for the stars.  

I am also grateful for my mom’s evening tea with honey, Desmos and Wolfram Alpha, the smell of freshly baked sourdough bread, cozy sweatpants, holiday music, good internet, a cool breeze on a warm day, books to get lost in, a funny joke you haven’t heard before, mountain biking with my dad, the sound of rushing water, salty buttery popcorn, no-homework weekends, the cool side of the pillow, my sister’s always cheerful sense of humor, and that warm feeling of receiving an unexpected compliment. 

As our world has been truly hectic and overwhelming over the past year, I am especially grateful for the wonderful escapes that the magical worlds of George Lucas, J.K. Rowling, J.R.R. Tolkien, and many others have brought me. From The Mandolorian to Smeagol, this year has brought a stunning and diverse array of characters and worlds to get lost in, even if it is from the couch. 

Meanwhile, this year has also brought tremendous recuperation to our Mother Earth, with many dangerous climate trends slowing down. A massive ozone hole over the Arctic has recovered significantly, and pollution levels have decreased worldwide. Many more people have experienced and explored the joys of nature over the course of this year. While our hearts may be hurting, our earthly home is healing. 

In the world of politics, this fall brought incredible challenges to voting for hundreds of millions of Americans, and I am truly grateful that not only did a record 159 million Americans vote, but they voted safely and securely. To quote the late Congressman John Lewis, “The vote is precious. It is almost sacred. It is the most powerful nonviolent tool we have in a democracy.” All the election officials, poll workers, journalists, and voters agreed with Lewis and played an enormous role in protecting our democracy and ensuring that the 2020 election was the safest election ever, in spite of the obvious challenges brought by the pandemic and the divisive nature of politics this year.  

Finally, I am grateful to the Crystal Faculty, Staff, and Administration for continuing to provide us with an excellent education and for maintaining the positivity, sense of humor, generosity of spirit, intellectual curiosity, technological creativity, overall flexibility, and the pioneering attitude that is so “Crystal.” Thank you for persevering in what has been a truly tumultuous year, replete with transitions from in-person school to virtual classes and then to the 10:4 model in such a smooth, thoughtful, and caring manner.

As I reflect back on this year, and as time carries me further away from the grandfather I loved so much, I am grateful to feel even closer to him by the reflections, respect, humility, appreciation, and love brought about by this exercise of gratitude. As my Papa would say, “cherish every moment together, each one is a gift.” I wish the Crystal community many wonderful moments together, and all the best in 2021.

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