The COVID Pandemic Lesson We Should All Remember

I have hit the jackpot:   In my desperation for daily necessities, last week I reluctantly joined a grocery club where I found paper towels, toilet paper, and challah. And at our local supermarket, my husband snagged disinfectant wipes, bagels, and a bag of flour, albeit at four times the usual price.

Like others during this COVID-19 pandemic, I have found grocery shopping stressful, challenging, and expensive.  Common grocery items – from paper goods to fresh produce – are either out of stock or sold at outlandish prices, and my grocery bill has gone through the roof.

Coronavirus has disrupted our lives, forcing us to change long-time habits:  We can no longer expect to eat our favorite foods, enjoy regular social visits with friends and family, physically attend performances, graduations, and sporting events, or continue our habitual daily routines.

During this COVID-19 pandemic when our souls are broken, it can be difficult to feel grateful. After all, thousands of coronavirus victims have died worldwide, the economic situation is dire with 30 million Americans or 18 percent of the work force, and food insecurity has become a nationwide crisis with cars lined up for miles at foodbanks across America.

Nevertheless, because of the current global crisis, I have learned to become grateful for the little things I once took for granted. Like a well-stocked refrigerator, a comfortable home, a fast Internet connection, and the birds in my backyard – while appreciating more than ever the big stuff like friends and family.

Nor am I alone. I’ve heard chronic complainers express their appreciation for online grocery deliveries, Zoom classes, the kindness of friends and neighbors, and calls from distant relatives. And daily I read news accounts about the numerous individuals who go out of their way to thank grocery workers and delivery persons, sew masks for first responders, and provide childcare or meals for workers who perform critical services.

Yet, will we continue to behave this way and show appreciation for our blessings AFTER – after this crisis is over, after we are no longer sheltered in place, and after a vaccine or cure is finally available?

It’s been on my mind lately because we are in the midst of the period of counting of the Omer — the seven-week period that begins on the second night of Passover.  Like Jews around the world, I pause each evening to recite a blessing and count the Omer, the 49-day countdown that leads up to the festival of Shavuot which celebrates the spring harvest and the giving of the Torah at Sinai.

In ancient times, the Omer marked the beginning of the barley harvest when the Israelites brought the first sheaves (Omer means sheaf) to the Temple as a means of thanking God for the crops. In modern times, it has become an opportunity to reflect how to improve ourselves spiritually, drawing from the Jewish mystical tradition or kabbalah where each week of the Omer is associated with a Divine trait such as compassion or loving-kindness.

I have no idea what the future will bring and how this crisis will play out over the long term. But I do know how much these dark times have taught me to appreciate. That’s why when I pause to count the Omer, I focus on the trait of gratitude. Rather than quickly reciting the blessing as I once did, now I take a moment or two to reflect on all the good things in my life, big and small, that I have experienced on that day. And I remind myself that we should not wait for disruption to learn how to express gratitude for the ordinary aspects of our daily lives.

Now, as the world gradually begins to open up and the possibility of resuming our normal daily lives may eventually become a reality, it’s time to consider what life during a pandemic has taught us. I wonder whether we will continue to express gratitude and count our blessings.  Or… in a post-COVID-19 world, will we revert to old habits and ingrained behaviors or attitudes?

“Teach me my God: to bless and pray…to see, to feel, to breathe,” writes Leah Goldberg (1911 – 1970), a prolific Hebrew language poet, playwright, novelist, and author of children’s literature in her poem, “Teach Me My God (Lamdeni Elohay).”

Granted, COVID-19 has disrupted our lives in ways unimaginable. But I would like to hope that we can turn this disruption into something positive, become more mindful of even the ordinary stuff of life, and learn to count our blessings.  As Goldberg reminds us, “Teach my lips to bless and praise.”

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