Column: We’ve been given gifts, if we can recognize them

  • Mary Otto. Copyright (c) Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to

For the Valley News
Published: 4/11/2020 10:20:06 PM
Modified: 4/11/2020 10:20:03 PM

In today’s world, there is newly found time to enjoy the sun’s warmth on a spring afternoon. Time to consider the point of green tulip leaves pushing through brown dirt in the garden. Time to declare that walking in wind and rain is energizing and essential.

We have friends and neighbors who care; a wave from across the street as I walk my dog means more than usual. Our communities in the Upper Valley are sustaining. Grocery stores and restaurants have changed their ways of operating to be sure that we can get the supplies we need. Bookstores will mail us whatever we want.

New online offerings of art, plays and film, or music can help fill the void left by the necessary postponement of anticipated events. At home, we have found time in the kitchen. I’m making more bread and creating soups from ingredients available in the pantry. There is a lot to be thankful for, and it’s here for all of us.

Yes, the context for my gratitude is the world of the new coronavirus and COVID-19, which led to the closing down of life as we knew it. We stay close to home in the face of shuttered businesses, colleges and schools on hiatus, and the orders of a wise governor. Still, it is my deliberate decision right now to look at the brighter side.

Not everyone sees the situation as I do. Living in the shadow of the virus, I’ve also listened to unfortunate conversations that embarrass me. Entitlement is unbecoming. Trips had to be cancelled for the sake of safety; bans on out-of-state residents fleeing to second homes are vital, given limits on resources and fears of added exposure. In Of the Empire, poet Mary Oliver warns, “We will be known as a culture that feared death and adored power, that tried to vanquish insecurity for the few and cared little for the penury of the many.”

As fortunate bystanders in these early days of the pandemic, we need to renounce this kind of short-sightedness. True necessities remain available; we just need to recognize what they are. As a child growing up in the Midwest in the 1940s and ’50s, I knew farm families whose toilet paper in the outhouse was a page from last season’s Sears, Roebuck catalogue. No one complained.

And beyond the basic necessities we also have those vital gifts newly recognized — of nature, human connection, community resources, electronic access to culture, good food made at home, and so much more. Recently I’ve referred to these as “silver linings.” Like silver, they brighten my world.

On a solo walk one recent afternoon, however, I concluded that this isn’t the right term. Silver is shiny, glitzy, reserved for special occasions — and costly.

I’m choosing instead to dub these common treasures “pewter linings.” Pewter has always been for everyday use, with no maintenance required. It can represent the ordinary bounty available to us all in these challenging times. In its ordinariness, pewter is a beautiful shade of gray.

Mary K. Otto lives in Norwich.

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