“What have you been feeling grateful for this week?”
“We are in the middle of a fucking pandemic. I am not feeling grateful.” I refrained from saying that to the ten others on my, was it morning? or afternoon? entrepreneurs group call. One of the many Zoom social and business events I went to, to maintain a ”physically distant but still social” social life.
Gratitude. That had become the main topic of my busy 100% virtual social life. Sometimes I don’t want to feel grateful. I want to feel sad or angry or mad. I know I’m not on the frontlines. I know many people are, but if I don’t let myself feel awful when I really do, if I get guilty when I am honest that yes this really sucks for me too (even if less so than for others) then I am not gonna get through it. It is okay to feel horrible. It is okay to not always be able to feel grateful.
But I did not feel grateful. I felt angry, deprived, lonely, terrified, deeply sad, and very resentful. Anything but grateful.
I spewed out a platitude along the lines of something about either the clean air or my appreciation for the deepening conversations. While we can’t be physically together the conversations have become deeper than when we were physically together. And ok, in all honesty, there were moments over the past few weeks when I was grateful for both of those things, but overall, grateful was not the word I would use to define how I had been feeling since quarantine.
Have we become pathologically obsessed with gratitude? I first noticed this obsession after losing my dad a few years ago. “You should be grateful you had him as long as you did. I lost my dad in high school.” Or “Aren’t you thankful he is no longer suffering.” (despite the grammatical structure that was not actually a question. It was a correction.) No, I did not feel grateful. I felt devastated, shattered and deeply bereft.
There is a guilt in not feeling gratitude. What about the doctors and nurses, and the essential workers who go out everyday to deliver our mail and sell us our groceries? Shouldn’t those of us who get to stay home be grateful? Okay, I do logically know I am very fortunate. I just don’t feel the warm joy of gratitude. I feel so sad about what they are going through, which feels awful, and I don’t like the feeling of how sad I feel for them. I show my thanks by staying home, following strict quarantine standards and not even bringing a single friend into my quarantine circle. It is for others that I do this since I would most likely be okay if I did get it, but of course no one really knows.
Then there were the moments where I have been hit with genuine feelings of gratitude in a warm joyous way. The air really never has been clearer – I am able to see further out into the ocean than I ever have in LA. I have felt safe snuggled under my blankets, and when I went to my co-op and saw that while they didn’t have toilet paper, they were packed with tons of organic and fresh food, I felt such joy and relief I almost started crying. But now grocery shopping is uncomfortable and terrifying. My mask hurts, the lines outside are long. I miss the ease and lightness it used to have. I don’t want to lie to myself that I feel upset about this out of some obligation to feel gratitude.
That night I went to a Zoom dance party. This was probably the only time I have been to a dance party totally sober. Back in the day (before March 13th, 2020) I would usually enjoy a few buzzed and silly nights a month out late with friends. But since alcohol always makes me even more sociable than my already extraverted norm, I feared being drunk or even buzzed in quarantine would make me feel even more alone and trapped. So I had avoided drinking altogether since isolating. It was also the only time I went to a dance party alone, in my room, with a large group of people each alone in their rooms. It felt great to move. I hadn’t even realized how much I naturally walked and moved around in my normal life. With my lights dim and the music blaring from my laptop I felt a huge wave of joy and very connected to everyone else around the world. We are all in this, no matter what and no matter where we live, although of course to varying degrees. I also felt very connected to people from the past – people did this during the plague and the 1918 Flu Epidemic. They would have given anything to have the internet and be able to essentially continue their lives as normal – even if it was a virtual version.
That night as I cuddled into bed with my dog and cat, I thought of what I would normally be planning to do the next day – an early morning in person bar method class, the farmer’s market, coworking with a few friends, a walk on the now closed beach, and maybe meeting a group that evening for drinks. I thought of the conference I had been so excited to go to in June, and how I had no idea how long it would be until I could go to a group event again. And I felt horrible and resentful and not at all grateful. And I was totally okay with that.
By Elizabeth Entin
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