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Grasping At Gratitude: 'None Of This Is OK, But We're Going To Get Through It'

A "Thank You" sign for first responders stands as a fence across the street from Elmhurst Hospital in the Borough of Queens on March 31, 2020 in New York. (Bryan R. Smith/AFP via Getty Images)
A "Thank You" sign for first responders stands as a fence across the street from Elmhurst Hospital in the Borough of Queens on March 31, 2020 in New York. (Bryan R. Smith/AFP via Getty Images)

It can be difficult to muster gratitude during these hard times. Many people are grieving the loss of loved ones in 2020, and family members and friends are choosing to stay apart this Thanksgiving to help stop the spread of the coronavirus.

One of the reasons this has been such a tough year is the lack of community. Two interfaith leaders in Oklahoma have been publicly urging their communities to worship virtually and not in person because of COVID-19.

Aliye Shimi, executive director of the Tulsa Metropolitan Ministry, says it’s been especially hard within her faith traditions as a Muslim.

“Our worship is supposed to be standing shoulder to shoulder, side to side, and in a very physical prayer,” she says. “That’s what our services look like as Muslims every Friday.”

The pandemic has proved faith needs to be flexible, she says, so people can worship and stay safe at the same time. “God understands,” she says.

Rabbi Abby Jacobson, president of the Interfaith Alliance of Oklahoma, has been holding virtual services since March. Passover, a “tremendously communal holiday,” took place over Zoom this year, she says.

“I hate praying at my computer screen and I can’t wait until we can all be back together again,” she says.

Part of practicing gratitude for Jacobson is being able to acknowledge that things aren’t OK — internally and to others.

After that, find glimmers of hope, she suggests. Jacobson, who describes herself as having an attitude similar to Eeyore from Winnie-the-Pooh, advises not to waste time lamenting on the bad every day.

Observing pieces of positivity throughout the day is “worth the effort,” she says.

A snippet of gratitude she says she’s found in the pandemic: Folks have been eager as ever to physically return to their places of worship when only a year ago, houses of worship were anxious about filling seats.

Being optimistic isn’t always a walk in the park. Shimi says she knows this well as she searched for happiness within the darkest of places.

Before the pandemic hit the U.S., Shimi was diagnosed with late-stage cancer. After giving herself and her family time to grieve about the diagnosis, she put together a mental game plan.

“I need everybody to be hopeful around me if I’m going to beat this thing,” she recalls.

Her “interfaith family,” from rabbis and shamans to priests and imams, showed up for her during her hospital stay. They prayed with her and kept her company during grueling five and a half hour treatments.

“Yes, it was upsetting that I was diagnosed with cancer,” she says. “But you know what? It brought me closer together with my larger interfaith family.”

Her community rallying around her was “the silver lining,” she says.

Right now, Shimi’s father is at home with hospice as his final days near. Shimi says she just brought him home from the hospital where nurses and doctors took good care of him. Amid caring for her father, she knows three people who recently lost loved ones to COVID-19.

“I can’t pretend that it’s OK. It’s not OK. None of this is OK,” she says. “But we are going to get through it one way or another.”

As Shimi and Jacobson prepare to sit at their dinner tables for Thanksgiving, they both are finding ways to spark conversations about gratitude — and suggest we all try to do the same.

Jacobson says she’s going to remind her family of the “gold” time they’ve been able to spend together as a result of quarantining, and Shimi says she’s extending her appreciation to medical workers who have been on the frontlines for months.

Ashley Locke produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Tinku Ray. Serena McMahon adapted it for the web.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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