Thanksgiving this year was different in a number of ways. Our very small gathering opted for baked salmon instead of roast turkey, we couldn’t visit Grandma because long-term care homes in Ontario are closed to visitors for the foreseeable future, and FaceTime kisses instead of in-person hugs were how we celebrated the First Birthday of wee Evelyn, the first great-grandchild in our family. Rather than dwell on what we missed, I’m mindful of what we received: A surprise delivery of freshly picked apples from a student and her family, homemade chile rellanos passed over the backyard fence by a thoughtful neighbour and time to curl up outside with a blanket, a cup of tea and a crossword – each one a small but meaningful moment that fills me with gratitude.
I am pretty sure that I am, by nature, a grateful person. Those who know me well might say I was born with a positivity bias, a steadfast willingness to see the glass as half full. It’s almost as if I have an inherent inability not to find the silver lining in the storm cloud – a trait that I realize can sometimes verge on annoying for my family. I am not a Pollyanna, mind you. I do not ignore hardship or push aside painful emotions. I am well aware that tragedy exists and experienced more than my fair share of hardship growing up. But I simply refuse to dwell in negativity. I acknowledge it, feel it, process it and then move on.
Gratitude gets talked about a lot these days as we face the personal and collective challenges of life during a pandemic. In this weekend’s Globe & Mail, journalist Erin Anderssen writes about the benefit but also the complexity of gratitude. The notion that “gratitude may do its best work when life is at its worst; to see the good, we need the bad,” resonates loudly at this time. It highlights the importance of finding moments to experience gratitude not as a way to deny that things are hard but as a source of strength in the face of adversity.
Gratitude cannot, however, erase all stress from life, and mental health challenges are a real thing during COVID, with women reporting more concerns about their mental health than men. The Canadian Mental Health Association provides excellent resources to support families, workers, children and seniors, and workplaces are increasingly aware of the need to address the negative impact of an isolated workforce. At the Castle, we’re also focused on mental health, recognizing the building pressures that arise from this period of uncertainty. Social distancing, the need to wear a mask, increased use of technology, constantly changing health recommendations, missing out on time with extended family and friends – all these things can erode the resolve of even the most resilient person.
It is because of these challenging times that we are focusing this year’s Mind Voice Heart Fund on mental health and wellness. The dollars donated by our community, including our many supportive alumnae, will go towards student programming, activities, resources and equipment to proactively support our collective wellbeing. In boarding, for example, working out in the gym isn’t an option this year so we are raising funds to create three small fitness rooms on the residence floors to allow the girls to exercise safely while preserving the social “bubbles” they live in. Outdoor equipment, such as snow shoes, will keep all our girls engaged, active and having fun during the chilly winter months. Guest speakers, interactive activities designed especially for our different age groups, outlets for creativity and resources to support our hard-working teachers are only a few ways we will address the mental and emotional wellbeing of our community throughout the year.
As we forge ahead and resolutely face the inevitable challenges to come, I encourage each of us to reflect on the words of seventeenth-century poet John Milton: “Gratitude bestows reverence, allowing us to encounter everyday epiphanies, those transcendent moments of awe that change forever how we experience life and the world.” Let’s work hard together to ensure that our world at the Castle transforms the bad into good, allowing each of us to feel gratitude that sustains us throughout this year.