Gratitude in the pandemic

At the time of writing this article, the students and staff at the Adams Ichinomiya Elementary School are enjoying fall break.  This week, we have happily traded our usual Covid-19 distance learning routine of online meetings and trips back and forth between our desks and the scanner to submit schoolwork online for days spent freely playing samurai in the backyard, splashing around in the river at Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park and digging for sand crabs at the beach.

Even as I recognize how fortunate we are to be in good health and living in a neighborhood that has not been threatened by the Hurricanes and wildfires that have impacted so many people across the country in recent weeks, I have to admit that there have been times when I have felt exhausted by all the precautions that we have had to adopt over the past eight months to prevent the spread of coronavirus.  When I think about a Halloween with no trick-or-treating, and a holiday season without the big gatherings of family and friends that we look forward to each year, at times it can be difficult to feel gratitude.

While many of my favorite activities are being severely curtailed this year in accordance with the guidelines provided by our public health officials, I receive my mail and packages, my garbage gets collected on schedule, my children’s education continues, crops are harvested, and the grocery stores remain open, all thanks to the dedication of essential workers who have continued to work long hours in challenging—and often hazardous—situations.  San Mateo County Health Officer Dr. Scott Morrow continues to highlight the sacrifices these workers are making for us in his public statements.  On July 20, he wrote:

A majority of people we are seeing infected now are front line workers (people who allow the rest of us to eat, and have electricity, and have our garbage picked up, etc.), live in crowded multigenerational conditions, live with lack of trust in, and in fact have downright fear of, government.  Remember to stem the spread of this very transmissible virus, people who are infected need to be separated from others (isolation and quarantine), not go out in public, and not go to work while they are infectious.  Try getting compliance with isolation and quarantine when the infected person is the breadwinner for the family and the family will be out on the street if they don’t go to work.

In this way, it is not only the front-line workers themselves, but also their families who are bearing the brunt of this pandemic in our community.

From the beginning of this Covid-19 pandemic, doctors, nurses, medical staff, and first responders have continued to courageously step up to provide care for those in need.  They have made great sacrifices working long hours at risk to their own health in order to treat patients and better understand this disease.  Dr. Li Wenliang, a doctor working at Wuhan Central Hospital and one of the first to sound the alarm about the serious threat posed by this new coronavirus, contracted the disease while battling the epidemic in the early days and crossed over to the Other Shore on February 7, 2020.

We can show our gratitude for the courage and sacrifice of those on the front lines by heeding their guidance and taking care not to further spread the virus through negligence and disregard.  Always remembering to wear a mask out in public and maintain at least six feet of social distance requires mindfulness, concentration and diligence.  The Buddha teaches that the way to deepen our practice of these virtues is to let go our attachments to “me” and “mine.” 

When my perspective shifts from “all these rules make my life inconvenient” to “so much is being done by others each day to support and preserve my life,” a window of gratitude opens in my mind as the light of the Buddha’s wisdom shines in and dispels the darkness of my ignorance.  In those moments, I reach for my mask and say Namo Amida Butsu in gratitude for the Buddha’s wisdom and the kindness of the many bodhisattvas who are hard at work supporting and guiding me through this life.

Namo Amida Butsu