Counting Our Blessings by Karen Shughart

Sometimes life sends us lemons, lots of them, maybe more than a bumper crop. We can make lemonade, lemon meringue pie, lemon sorbet… but still, sometimes there are too many bitter lemons to use them all up.

Without going into a ton of detail, this past year has been a tough one for me and my family. We’ve had several non-Covid-related deaths; some serious, life-threatening illnesses; surgeries; and other family challenges that at times seem unending. It’s been exhausting, emotionally draining and downright frightening. Then there’s been the pandemic, the terrifying weather events, and the general unrest on so many levels in our society and the world. I expect we are not alone.

How does one survive? Lately, when the stressful occurrences seem to be relentless, it’s been hard to think that any of it will get better. At times over the past many months, I’ll admit I’ve been depressed and angry and more than a little sad.

But then I take a couple big breaths, close my eyes, and remember to count my blessings. It’s a platitude, I know, but I tell myself we’ll get through it; we have the strength.

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I am married to a loving, caring man. We have wonderful children. We enjoy an incredible support system of family members and family of the heart, dear friends who’ve also been there to cheer us up as we’ve needed it. We live in a stunningly beautiful maritime village where we have a roof over our heads, our home is warm in winter and cool in summer. It’s a safe place to live, too, where we’re not scared to walk freely for fear of violence.  It could be so much worse.

 We have plenty of food, transportation to get us where we want to go and medical care. We may not be rich, but we have an abundance of what we need.  So many people don’t. Sometimes it’s easy to lose sight of that.

We adopted a Beagle during the earlier days of the pandemic. She had multiple health issues. With excellent medical care and lots of love, she’s fine now; a happy and healthy little dog who makes us laugh and gives us an immeasurable amount of joy. That’s too, is a blessing.

So, during the month when we are supposed to give thanks, I will. Sometimes it’s easy to lose perspective and dwell on all that’s going wrong, all that’s contriving to decenter us. I’m making a concerted effort to remember what I have and how much worse my life could be. We actually do have enough lemons to make tasty drinks and desserts and even enough to share with others during the darkest days.

Gratitude and Poetry by Karen Shughart

For many years the poetry books I collected, starting in my teens, sat on our bookshelves untouched. I have no idea why I stopped reading poetry, but I did.

Then, one cold and rainy afternoon last month, I made myself a cup of tea and after pulling several books off  a shelf, curled up on the loveseat in front of the fire and began to flip through the pages. I intended to find poems of gratitude to be used for this blog, but I got off track, delighting in rediscovering poems I had loved and admired regardless of topic.

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In high school,  I was introduced to the Romantic poets: Wordsworth, Coleridge, Keats, Shelly, Byron, and Blake; whose works beckoned me to understand the world through nature, imagination, revolution and those marginalized in society. I memorized stanzas that I can still recite because they so filled my heart.

Later, still in my teens, I was drawn to The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, a lyric poem that presents deep feelings and emotions on subjects such as life, death, love, and religion. Did it help clarify or shape my own identity? Probably not, as my own experiences and travels unfolded in their own unique way, but at the time, I was entranced by it.

As an English major in college, I read and discussed the works, both in and out of the classroom, of  contemporary poets like John Barth, who was in residence at my university; Laurence Ferlinghetti;  Karl Shapiro; Leonard Cohen; and  Wallace Stevens, who, in 1955, won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for his Collected Poems. To me, his poems resonate like verbal music and his perfect control of language evokes a myriad of complex feelings.

Throughout my college years and beyond, I discovered, read, and admired the works of many more poets, Walt Whitman and T.S. Eliot among those, but also the Welsh poet, Dylan Thomas.

My father, who was born in 1919, graduated college and then went to serve our country during World War II.  One of George Patton’s scouts, he received two bronze stars. He was a fierce man: in his morals, ethics, and values; his love for his family and for his country. Towards the end, his fierceness continued as he battled serious health issues that never seemed to daunt or derail him from living the remainder of his life to the fullest.

The eldest of his four children, I was the first to read a eulogy at his funeral. I never could have  expressed what I knew of my father’s spirit better than Thomas’ poem, “Do not go gentle into that good night”, written for his dying father in 1947, the year I was born.

So, I guess this blog really is about both poetry and gratitude. Gratitude that I had a family that encouraged education, an education that exposed me to poetry, and a family that embodied and still does today, the meaning and actions of love.