From the President: Practicing Gratitude; Betting on Hope

According to Webster’s 1913 dictionary, gratitude is “the state of being grateful; warm and friendly feeling toward a benefactor; kindness awakened by a favor received; thankfulness.” 

In the last six months, I have found myself trying to practice gratitude almost daily. It has not always been easy, but it has helped me.   

Though we are united here at ACUI professionally, we all play many other roles in our lives. I find myself balancing the roles of mother, partner, daughter, sister, friend, and colleague, among others. There are moments every day where it feels challenging or even overwhelming, and this pandemic seems to take all stresses and multiply them. In some of these moments, I could just throw up my hands and collapse. I don’t, and you don’t.

When it all seems too much, I try and pause, take a breath, and focus on small joys: the kids laughing, my colleagues carrying on, our garden growing. This change of focus gives me an emotional break, however brief, to rediscover my footing.

Of course, now is an intense time in our profession as we try to adapt, grow, and overcome the moment without even the comfort of campus rituals to ground and connect our communities. As we struggle with challenges, new and ancient, the focus feels somehow locked in on the divisions in our nation. All this while we see the numbers grow: infections, hospitalizations, deaths.

Martin Luther King, Jr., reminded us that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” I believe this is not saying that good will always overcome, but it instead reminds us of our own knowledge that the return on struggle and effort is the hope of a better tomorrow and not an immediate change. 

So we need to trust! Not always easy, I know. In each of our many roles, we have colleagues, family, and friends, and they join us in our efforts, support us in our moments of doubt, and in turn, we strive to do the same for them. In this way, we build the strength of our community and strengthen our ability to adapt. It may not be true that adversity always builds strength, but it certainly can. I choose to see our growth and our strength as the challenges continue.

About a year ago my family adopted two beautiful dogs — Bailey, a female Black Labrador, and Parker, a yellow White Labrador. They joined our family with the sort of instant bonding that only babies and dogs can inspire. It has been and still is wonderful to see the smiles they bring to our family. Last December, 5-month-old Parker went to yet another of the endless puppy vet visits and while we were there we asked our beloved vet, BJ, about a small pink bump we had noticed on Parker’s left hip. We had not thought much about it, but in the end, it turned out to be an aggressive mast cell tumor. It was hard to accept such a diagnosis in such an active and loving 5-month-old puppy. Just the idea of it made a kind of hole in our hearts.

In the week between Christmas and New Year, BJ removed the tumor. It was a big surgery for such a little fellow. Unfortunately, despite successful surgery, the prognosis was not good either, with a one-year survival rate in the single digits. We had to decide what to do about chemotherapy. In the end, our love for him was strong enough that we had to bet on hope.

Parker loves everybody, but especially he loves his friends at the vet’s office. We have had many dogs; some hated going to the vet, some just accepted it, but Parker loves going to the vet. He wags his tail and runs to see his friends. I see this as him always enjoying the moment; it had to help. In the end, he was on chemotherapy for nearly seven months.

Now, he has been off chemotherapy for about three months, and so far, no sign of cancer returning. He does yeoman’s work bringing joy wherever he goes. As we wait for the first anniversary of his diagnosis, he is a constant reminder to bet on hope.

Practice gratitude!