SMITH: Looking for gladness in a difficult time

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.

“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” 

— J.R.R. Tolkein, “The Fellowship of the Rings”


Every night at the dinner table, we play GLAD.

I’ve written about GLAD many times because it’s such a meaningful thread in the fabric of my family’s life. Each of us, in turn, shares something from the day that made us feel grateful, something we learned, something we accomplished and something that delighted us.

This well-worn mindfulness technique is a mindset shift, helping us focus on what is going right instead of focusing on what’s going wrong.

It’s a necessary practice because our brains are designed by evolution to have a negativity bias. We’re built to fixate on the inconveniences and disappointments of life.

We’re hardwired to take it all for granted.

We have to go looking for the gladness.

I’ve been thinking about the GLAD items that were so common to our game.

For David, gratitude always revolved around live heavy metal shows, great basketball games or our family #slowdownsundays, which often included brunch at Malone’s followed by a movie at Hamburg.

For Izzie, she repeatedly mentioned how much she loved her advanced math class, her mock trial group and her friends in KUNA; how Thursday guitar practice downtown followed by dinner at Loma’s or Wildcat Willy’s was her favorite day of the week.

Just a few short weeks ago, I remember sharing how grateful I was to meet Sharon for tacos and margaritas, to teach my Tuesday morning yoga class and to receive a great hug from Shannon.

It’s all too easy, in our quarantine, to feel like it’s all gone. No concerts, no games, no classes, no hugs.

Maybe the losing is the gift, an opportunity to remember what it means.

I once had plans to meet a friend at a restaurant where we’d waited weeks to get reservations.

But instead of a great night, a forgotten purse set off a comedy of errors.

The first tiny irritation arose when I realized I couldn’t listen to my favorite podcast. No phone.

Then I got lost and, with no GPS, couldn’t find the restaurant.

I couldn’t text my friend to say I’d be late. Couldn’t call David to talk me off the ledge of growing hysteria.

When my car beeped angrily at me to get gas immediately, I panicked. No wallet. No credit cards. No idea where I was.

I was lost and I was scared.

We’re all feeling lost and scared. Obviously, I made it home alive. And in the aftermath, I saw my life with a fresh perspective of gladness.

I felt grateful for the phone that I grouch about so much. I felt grateful for GPS and Apple pay and free podcasts. I felt grateful for the amazing gas mileage my aging Prius gets. And I felt overwhelmingly grateful for an understanding friend who was never irritated at being stood up but was instead panicked herself when I didn’t show. She valued my safety more than her inconvenience.

Life feels like we ran out of gas right now.

In the midst of an international emergency, we shouldn’t expect to feel normal or productive or super jazzed about all the annoyances and aggravations of being quarantined or sick.

But that doesn’t mean there are not moments to still champion.

This global deep breath is life’s gentle reminder not to take them for granted.

Find your GLAD where you can.

I’m following Gandalf’s directive to intentionally decide how to be right now, leaning into the beauty where I find it. In long, uninterrupted mornings on the couch with my cat and — admittedly — too much coffee.

In choreographing Broadway dances with Izzie.

In long, quiet, soul-filling meditations with David.

In my “Face Time Happy Hour” every other night with the jelly jar girls.

In keeping a quarantine journal for Izzie’s grandchildren.

In spending more time outside with the trees.

In a good jigsaw puzzle, a great meme, a dog snuggle.

In cleaning, in baking, in stillness, in movement, in books, in nature, in breathing. In existing.

In the hope that, when my normal emerges, it will be with less mindlessness and ignorance, and more purposeful gladness.

Erin Smith is the owner of the OM place in Winchester, the author of “Sensible Wellness” and the online host of the OM channel.