Scrubs and Crumbs in a Car

Softening Life with Gratitude

Uncertainties and a feeling of powerlessness produce discomfort and unease. I often catch myself sinking, going down the path of self-pity. My past experience has taught me that succumbing to this keeps me stuck in a vicious cycle of negative thoughts and leaves me exhausted and drained, both emotionally and physically. I am now intentional to recognize self-pity and instead try to reflect, reframe and try to approach the challenges and the uncertainties with a positive attitude.

Reflection has made me realize that I am also sad at these times and I need to differentiate the emotion of self-pity from sadness. Allowing myself to be sad and even shed tears is cathartic and helps me turn to gratitude.

I vividly remember an experience I had when I was in the second grade. I went to my favorite teacher Miss Judy in tears complaining over a disagreement with a classmate. Without a word, she took pencil to paper, and then handed it to me. I read a mystery: I complained I had no shoes, till I saw a man with no feet. The words themselves held little meaning to my young mind, but I trusted my teacher enough for the paper to hold a place of honor taped to my bedroom mirror. This succinct Persian proverb was the first lesson in what would become a life-long practice of paying close attention to the wisdom of others. As I matured, I gradually peeled back the layers of the fruit my beloved teacher offered me that day: Be intentionally thankful for all your blessings. This reframing helps me face the challenges and uncertainties, whether personal or professional. It continues to help me cope, regaining positive energy to go on!

My colleague Leigh Anne’s reflection resonates with the same sentiment:


I need to get out. The air is crisp, the sun is shining, and if I stare at this screen, sitting in this chair, and have to log in to one more Zoom call, I think I will disintegrate into nothingness.

As I start to run my feet feel swift, my heart is free, and my mind is letting go. I head down the hill and then back up and suddenly I stop. I freeze and cannot take a step further nor can I avert my gaze.

In your car I see a car seat in the back with a blue bear perched beside it, a scrub top thrown on the front passenger seat, and an N-95 mask hung from your rear-view mirror. The realities here take my breath away. Your car is strewn with water bottles, crumbs, books, and journals. The outside is dirty and dusted with pollen. I wonder about you. Are you inside your home sleeping? Have you seen your baby and actually touched his precious skin or has it been days and days of seeing him thru a screen and only getting faint tidbits of the perfect giggle as the audio glitches or the screen turns away missing the moment? What about work today? I pray you were able to truly connect in some way with at least one heart so the sacrifice was made a bit more palatable. I wish rest for you. I hope joy is evident and pain is impressionable yet quickly passing. You are today’s hero.

COVID is visible. Much of the pain is seen and therefore easier for empathy to be shared amongst us all. I have lived enough life, though, to know that the other sorrow, hurt, and just hard does not stop to make room for a new one…even one as big as COVID.

The trying marriage, the difficult teenager, the job struggles, the hurting heart, or never-stopping mind. These are still present too.

I wonder what looking into these “cars” would portray? I search my soul and yearn to have the same empathy, grace, patience, and pause as this prior moment has instilled when these less visible moments are ever-present. I once heard it described as softening, and softening most certainly matters.

May empathy, grace, and patience remain long after COVID is contained. May we all soften as the endless hurts of this life are still discovered, transmitted, tested, treated, and hopefully also.

—Leigh Anne Pickup, MMSc, PA-C, DFAAPA
Assistant Professor, Director of Clinical Education—Non-Memphis Regions

University of Tennessee Health Science Center College of Medicine
Department of Physician Assistant Studies

“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today and creates a vision for tomorrow.” —Melody Beattie 

#REFLECT: What can you transform today with gratitude?


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.