In the November issue of O, Kate Bowler―the author of, most recently, The Preacher's Wife: The Precarious Power of Evangelical Women Celebrities―offered a lesson in the art of appreciation amid uncertainty, and O readers chime in to count their blessings.
My 6-year-old peers intently at the laptop screen, brow deeply furrowed. His grandfather, thousands of miles away, is showing off his vast collection of historical dolls. ("Action figures," he always protests. "They're action figures, not dolls.") Edgar Allan Poe, five inches tall, stares suspiciously at a plastic raven on his shoulder. A knitted Leonardo da Vinci flops at his easel. My father holds up a figure with a familiar gray bouffant, handbag dangling from one crooked elbow.

"Do you know who this is?" he asks. My son shakes his head, transfixed. "It's Queen Elizabeth II. Look at her sensible shoes and her teeny little hand waving. I'll show you how it's done." I watch as the pair of them royally wave to each other over Skype. Every night, this is our pre-bedtime ritual: I wash the dishes to the sounds of my son asking my dad, the professor, questions about historical minutiae. "Do pirates hate land?" "Who invented the holes in cheese?" "Have you ever seen a pyramid?"

No equation can render these pandemic days equal to the life we had before. Like many people around the world, in almost every measurable way, my family is faring worse. We are trapped in a country apart from our entire extended family in Canada. My little sister has a newborn baby I've never met. My son, an only child, has spent months playing on his own. I have a delicate immune system, which makes public spaces an obstacle course of anxiety. I can't enter a grocery store or risk sitting on an outdoor patio with friends. Taken one by one, these realities are almost bearable. But taken all together, they feel overwhelming as our world has grown smaller and our time is used up, day by day. The unspoken fear: Are we wasting our precious hours? In these long stretches of uncertainty, we're trapped by our fragile bodies, our commitments, our dependents, our financial resources, our geography. Life has shrunk to the size of the room we're in. But when the world is no longer wide, may it be deep.

There's something I learned four years ago during my first encounter with a life stripped to the studs, when I was diagnosed, at age 35, with stage IV colon cancer. It was a practice that started in waiting rooms and chemotherapy-infusion chairs. Through blurry days and nights, a little habit grew. I began to notice the bizarre beauty of small details: my son's eyelashes, so thick that I could count them one by one; the smell of the warm blanket the nurse brought while I sat in a chair being pumped full of chemicals; how frost on autumn leaves makes the perfect crunch; the shadows outside, beginning to lengthen, softening the long North Carolina day into a deeper night.

Gratitude is the child of attention. When we stop to take in what's before us, a single moment becomes suddenly divisible into thousands. As theologian and mental health nurse John Swinton writes, there is fast time and there is slow time. Fast time is deadlines and efficiency and workweeks. Slow time moves at the speed of love.

What's that my dad just said about cheese? I can hear the two of them now, cackling like schoolboys. My father has moved on to doing an impression of Friedrich Nietzsche, or maybe it's Yosemite Sam―there is a giant mustache involved. The counters are wiped, and for a second, the house almost looks clean. Now that I think of it, there is still ice cream left in the freezer. This moment. The more I linger, the deeper it grows.

O Readers on What They're Most Grateful For

"My hardships. Twenty years ago, I came to the U.S. from Uganda without much. I worked as an ER secretary and admissions clerk to save enough money for school, and now I'm a psychiatry and mental health nurse practitioner with a thriving private practice. To know I am one generation removed from child marriage is humbling, to say the least."

—Susan S. Wilkinson, Bolton, Massachusetts

"Forty-one years of sobriety."

—Kelley Loughrey, Golden Valley, Minnesota

"A life I couldn't have imagined a year ago. I went from a happy, zero-kid, big-city existence to living in a small town and being a loving, supportive presence to my six nieces and nephews, who lost their mom to breast cancer in December. Out of this tragedy has come so much meaning. I'm grateful to hold both its sadness and beauty in my heart."

—Annette James, Wenatchee, Washington

"Spanx and salt and pepper."

—Bernadette Barnes, Brooklyn

"The Chicago lakefront trail. Running there―feeling the wind on my face, watching the waves―makes everything okay. I'm particularly thankful for the geese. Their badass attitude inspires me to be more confident in myself."

—K. Aleisha Fetters, Chicago

"Plants and the planet, food and fungus, awakenings and awe, tea and tiny things."

—Jenny Cloutier, Kalispell, Montana

"My almost 19-year-old dog, Neo. He is nearly blind and limps with arthritis, but everyday he gets himself out of his bed and wags his tail and eats and runs. Everything I know about gratitude I learned from my warrior dog."

—Michele Scirocco, Manasquan, New Jersey

"Turning 94 years old. My neighbors' homegrown squash. Hearing 'I love you' at the end of a phone call. And Stephen Colbert's fluffy hair."

—Lois Tezza, Pittsboro, North Carolina

"Finding my daughter 35 years, 8 months, and 10 days after I surrendered her for adoption. She had her kit for 13 months before she finally turned it in on January 3 of this year; on January 4, I happened to look on the site, and there she was. Now I'm finally reconnecting with her and her birth father."

—Dana Gentry, Sacramento

"New York City parks. This year they were magical―hawks perching close by, the most extraordinary sunsets, everything in full bloom. Mother Nature truly transformed herself during this pandemic, and those of us who have taken this time as an opportunity to awaken have most certainly been transformed as well."

—Cadden Jones, New York City

"Technology. I'm a federal defender. In mid-March, federal jails stopped allowing lawyer visits, and our court went three months without holding in-person appearances. If this pandemic had come ten or even five years ago, I don’t know how I could have continued representing my clients. Covid has made representation more important than ever. In jail, conditions are crowded and unhygienic, which made it impossible to take proper measures to slow the spread of the virus. Instead, people were shut in their cells all day. No visits, no hot meals, and days without a shower. In April, one of my clients got very sick, likely with Covid. He was placed in even more restrictive quarantine and given little treatment. Later he told me he'd never felt so sick and feared he would die alone. With technology, at least I can let my clients know they have someone on their side, even during a pandemic, and we're still working to get them home."

—Jennifer Willis, South Orange, New Jersey

"The kidney I gave my husband on June 30, 2015."

—Charleen Finkel, Fullerton, California

"My grandmother Ziporah, a midwife in Poland during the 1918 pandemic. Because of her good health and safety practices, my entire family is alive today!

—Edythe Sydell Fine Cohen, Naples, Florida

"Insulin, a pump, and a blood sugar monitor. These three things help keep my 14-year-old daughter alive, and for that I am beyond grateful."

—Danielle Vialpando, Laramie, Wyoming


—Neil Ramnarain, Chicago

"A mom who could stretch a dollar bill and make six children think the dish she called "ooshedoshestewshe" was a delicacy, when in fact it was all she had in the refrigerator (onions, butter, potatoes, hot dogs). She died in May, but we carry on the ooshedoshestewshe legacy by sharing food with the hungry and with the family and friends who sit at our tables."

—Renita Burns, Atlanta

"Talking to the bush and flowers I planted outside my apartment window. At the end of the day, I have a glass of wine with them. They're like pets I don't have to walk."

—Paul Grimes, New York City

View the original story on Here's What O Readers Are Most Thankful for This Year .


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