Academy of Fencing Masters Blog

Art of Fencing, Art of Life

Gratitude in the time of COVID

Gratitude in the time of COVID

It can feel like the last year has been nothing more than one long and impossible series of choices that are gut wrenching for us to make, yet they have to be made. Gratitude is not an easy sentiment to come by as the months drag on and on, especially when we realize that pandemic lockdowns are only going to get worse in the coming months. 

I miss fencing competitions. 

I miss the sound of swords clashing.

I miss hugging my family.

I miss the feel of getting on an airplane.

I miss my opponents.

I miss movie theaters.

I miss handshakes from my coach. 

I miss sitting over dinner with my friends.

I miss yells on the piste.

I miss not having to think about coronavirus all the time.

I miss feeling confident in the future.

Before this pandemic lockdown, we knew what was what. We planned for fencing competitions years in advance at times. We knew that Fencing Summer Nationals would happen every summer and that every four years we could count on the Olympics to give us a fresh infusion of inspiration and determination. High school seniors knew that they would go off to live in a dorm in the fall. Middle school fencers knew they would come to the club after school and practice. You could count on these things, just the same as the seasons turning or the sun rising in the morning. 

It is very much as though the sun isn’t rising the way it’s supposed to.

There’s no reason to deny the struggle that this time is. We can put a shine over it, try to dig harder to make it through, but that wears on us. It is wearing on us. The well of sunshine that we project is not endless, and it does no good to try to pretend it is. We are worried about our future, and also about our present. That makes our light dimmer, though it doesn’t put it out. 

Sometimes, I think we should allow it to be dim. It’s recharging, and most of all it’s honest. The toll that this long lockdown has taken on small businesses, including fencing clubs, is real and it is wearying. Will fencing still be here when everything reopens? Once the vaccine does come, and it will come, what will be left? Once lockdown is not our everyday life, can our everyday life be what it was before? The truth is that life will not be the same as it was before. 

These months have been demoralizing in many ways, for many different people and for a whole lot of different reasons. It activated a part of our brains that is focused on survival, something that most of us have not had to think about before. We are pushed to give more than we ever have before, and sometimes we don’t even know how to give it. 

But the sun does still rise. 

You cannot pour from an empty cup

Finding ways to feel grateful in the midst of all of this at times feels like another burden. We work so hard to stay afloat, must we also put on a face of false gratitude? No, we shouldn’t. Gratitude is not about what we show to the outside world, it’s about how we live within ourselves. It’s not a social media post or a blog, not a picture or a smile over zoom. 

Here’s where we come back to again and again – gratitude fills us up. There is the old saying “You cannot pour from an empty cup.” This is so, so true in these times. Our teachers and our fencing coaches are giving to their students. Our parents and our families are giving to their children. Our children are even giving to us, through fraying tensions and a world that they don’t understand. All of that has to come from somewhere. 

Gratitude is where it comes from. 

At this time of year when we are talking about what we are thankful for, it can be hard to think about being grateful for anything. How can things get worse? We know that they can, but that does not make this time any less hard to live through! There is no contest for who is struggling the most in the pandemic – everyone is in this together. 

How can we cultivate gratitude in a way that fills up our cup?

It’s simple, and it’s also revolutionary. All it takes is listing what you are grateful for. These things tend to go unnoticed, particularly when there are crises all around us. Those crises tend to get the most attention because they demand it and because they are such a significant drain on us. One way to find gratitude right now is to make a list of things that are frustrating, those things that are going on and on in your head. That’s what’s at the top of this post. Making that list allows us to vent it out, and it feels good to see it. That in and of itself is a first step. 

I encourage you to make that list right now. It doesn’t have to be as long as the list that’s up at the top, or it can be longer. Write it down or say it out loud. Type it or use a pen and paper. For some people, seeing it is incredibly cathartic. 

Now comes the revolutionary part. Take that list and turn everything on it into gratitude. It might sound a little rosy and a little trite, but it’s worth it. Keep in mind that this is not about anyone but you. Too often, these exercises become performative. It’s not about that! It’s about you and your own development. 

So for example, if we take our list above and make it about gratitude, let’s see what happens. 

I miss fencing competitions. 

I am thankful for my past experiences competing and know that I will compete again.

I miss the sound of swords clashing.

I am thankful for my online training and my socially distanced training, because I am still connected to fencing.

I miss hugging my family.

I am thankful that I can be a part of keeping my family safe. 

I miss the feel of getting on an airplane.

I am thankful for my past travel and know that there are more plane trips in my future.

I miss my opponents.

I am thankful for the chance to develop myself so that I can be ready for opponents in the future. 

I miss movie theaters.

I am thankful for a safe home where I can still enjoy movies, and for microwave popcorn that makes my house smell delicious.

I miss handshakes from my coach. 

I am thankful for new ways to learn from my coach and for going deeper with theory and practice in my fencing. 

I miss sitting over dinner with my friends.

I am thankful for zoom and facetime as ways to keep me connected to my friends, even if we are far away from each. 

I miss yells on the piste.

I am thankful for home fencing and new dimensions to my fencing. 

I miss not having to think about coronavirus all the time.

I am thankful that we have science and knowledge to guide us to being safe until the vaccine is ready. I am very thankful for frontline healthcare workers, and for scientists who are creating treatments and the vaccine. 

I miss feeling confident in the future.

I am thankful that there is hope for a reopening, even if it is still far away. I am thankful for my own strength, and I am thankful for all of the people who have helped me to keep moving forward towards the future. 

It’s personal thing, gratitude. In the time of COVID, it’s even more personal than before because we are so isolated from one another physically. In these dark and tough times, as we move towards a socially distanced holiday season and an increased need to lockdown for everyone’s safety through the winter, we can still find a light within ourselves. Hope is a gift we give ourselves in the darkest times. 

The sun does still come up each day. That has not changed. I am grateful for it, and I am grateful for the chance to connect with gratitude, even in the time of coronavirus. 

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2 Comments

  1. R

    I miss raising a glass with my ref colleagues at tournament’s day’s end. 🙂

    • Igor Chirashnya

      It will be back! And the fact that you are commenting again means you are fully safe, thanks God!

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