A Grandmother's Handwritten Note

Surviving and Thriving in Style

My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.

—Maya Angelou 

Prepare yourself for a marathon not a sprint!  This is what the pandemic conversation has changed to. 

The COVID-19 pandemic still has its uncertainties, its unknowns, its mystery, leaving a sense of fear and anxiety. How do we prepare for the ongoing unknowns? How do we prepare for our lives to go on with this uncertainty? What do we hold on to? How do we survive this? 

I reflect on these questions for myself and invite conversations to continue to build community of hope and strength. I have these conversations with my parents. We draw inspiration from the words written in books of survivors. A reminder how much history defines the present. Confirmation of this came from one of my third-year medical students. Mikaela wrote:

Dr. Panda,

I wanted to pass this along to you—my grandmother Hilde came across a piece of paper that she believes she wrote on over 50 years ago, by the looks of the page’s yellow discoloration. She doesn’t remember writing the original but supposes it was a random list of sayings she either quoted from others or that she came up with herself. Either way, they resonated with her, so she wrote them down. The picture I’ve attached is a copy she re-wrote to me and mailed to my house. I feel like these sayings are well suitable for the current times!

  • Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year.

  • Life is an occasion, rise to it.

  • Yesterday’s errors are today’s power.

  • Take only memories, leave only footprints.

  • Kind is loving people more than they deserve.

  • It almost seems impossible until it’s done.

  • Gratitude is the most exquisite form of courtesy.

  • Time brings all things to pass. (I remember my Mom always saying, “This, too, shall pass.”)

  • Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change.

  • Beauty is being in harmony with what you are. (Wow! I love that one.)

  • Silence is refreshment for the soul.

  • One beautiful heart is better than a hundred beautiful faces.

  • Keep calm and think positively.

A backstory on my grandmother—she has experienced more than I could imagine, and I admire her dearly for it. She is 95 years old and was raised in Germany during WWII under Hitler’s authority. She was the oldest of 4 siblings, and she helped her mother raise them during war, devastation, hunger and controversy. Sadly, her father passed away when she was young. She met my grandfather, who served in the U.S. Air Force, while she was working in Germany at an American Air Force base. Her move to America was somewhat difficult because my grandfather and his family were quite poor and tension was still very high coming from Germany to the U.S. directly after WWII. In 2010 she laid him to rest, and in 2018 she laid my Mom to rest. EVEN STILL she is probably the most upbeat and positive person I know! She is one amazing woman, and I just had to share this with you!

—Mikaela Holland, M3 UTHSC COM

What a beautiful reminder that all that really matters are the simple basic virtues of humanity and human relationships. What we have to start with is our attitude to survive in spite of our odds. I find myself turning to her grandmother’s words many times these days.

Which of those sayings do you resonate with? Have you received some hand-me-down sayings from your elders?

#REFLECT: What makes it possible to thrive in these times and not just survive?

How is the coronavirus changing the way you think of self-care, community and resilience? As this challenging time unfolds, I am posting a daily quote on this blog with a reflection prompt. Please join in the conversation here or on Twitter with your thoughts or about what you are doing for self-care and care of others. My new book explores these ideas too: Resilient Threads: Weaving Joy and Meaning into Well-Being.