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What can we learn from the greatest generation?

Suffice to say, I think we’d all agree, this is one strange year. Putting aside the obvious stressors of 2020, the weirdest side effect is a complete warping of my sense of time. I have been chronically a month behind since March, and there appears to be no end in sight for my complete and utter inaccurate sense of where we are in the calendar year. As much as I try to get on top of things, acknowledge the actual date (did we have Halloween?? I can’t even remember…), and plan accordingly, I seem to continue to struggle getting on top of what needs doing and what is coming up next. I’ve finally embraced my complete disorganization this year, and work with what comes day to day.

My grandmother was born in 1919 on a farm outside Des Moines, Iowa. When I think about her lifetime, I find comfort in the fact that our current dilemma of pandemic and isolation was a common occurrence for her generation, and for her children to some extent as well. In fact, my generation is the first in human history that did not have the specter of infectious disease looming over us for the majority of our lives, which is an absolutely unique experience. My grandmother really was from the greatest generation. They suffered two world wars (that touched nearly every family), an economic collapse, and two additional wars and civil unrest, not to mention the daily stressors that everyone experiences. That’s a lot for one lifetime – she had suffered more traumatic events before she had reached my age, then I will likely see in the entirety of my life. That’s a lot.

When I reflect on the experiences that shaped her generation, her optimism and radical acceptance of things as they were, not as she wished them to be, was always amazing to me. She took the world a day at a time and focused on what she could influence just that day. Her favorite saying, during times of calm and upset, was “we’re all just one breath away from eternity”. While some may find this a morbid sentiment, I look at it as a mindful reminder that all we are guaranteed is right now. That was true before coronavirus and it will be true after.

So, coming into the holiday season, my goal is to be present with what is, accepting my disorganization and disorder, and mindfully appreciating all that I have. From the very raucous squirrel who incessantly chirps at me through my kitchen window, to the utter indulgence of a good nap, being present with what is there with acceptance and appreciation.

If my grandmother was alive, I can guarantee she would tell me, with a smile, that this too shall pass. Some days that feels utterly unsatisfying even though it is true. In the meantime, my plan for the holidays is to reach out to family and friends and be present with them with all their struggles and joy, and be thankful and hopeful for all that remains in each moment.

May you be safe and encouraged this holiday season, basking in the glow of the current moment, and in the dreams of what is yet to come.

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