It’s March. The weather is cold, gray and windy. But today on my walk I saw pussy willows and I remembered something my mother always said at this time of year: “We’ve broken the back of winter.”

My mom was born in the month of March, 99 years ago, and died almost two years ago. After her death, I realized I needed to change one of my core values. I happened to know exactly what these were because my family had recently taken part in an exercise to identify them. I’d printed out four sets (one for me, my husband, and our two daughters) of 100 values (thank you, internet), and each of us had chosen our top five. Mine were compassion, forgiveness, openness, humor and honesty.

But that was before I sat with my mother at her deathbed. She had gotten to the point where she was thirsty, but she couldn’t drink anymore. And every time I used that little pink sponge on a stick to moisten her lips, she said, “Thank you.” She was grateful. Full of gratitude.

“I’m changing my top values,” I told my family. “I’m moving honesty to No. 6 so I can put gratitude in the top five.”

“You can’t do that,” said my elder, kind-of-a-stickler daughter. “You can’t just change your values.”

I said that Yes, I could. I wasn’t just picking and choosing at random. I had experienced a major life event. It had changed me. That’s what life was, right? Changing and growing, after we experience something.

Now I am experiencing another major life event. Everyone is. The coronavirus pandemic that has been spreading across the world has arrived. Portland, where I live, is in the midst of “community transmission,” with cases almost doubling daily. I’m a homebody by nature, so I was surprised by how shook I felt when I heard that the mayor had issued a stay-at-home order. I was especially sad, realizing that upcoming trips to see our daughters, who live out of state, will need to be canceled. I usually talk with them about once a week, but for the last couple of weeks we’ve been connecting almost every day. We’re texting and “Zooming” and “hanging out” – using every tool in the digital toolbox to reach each other.

Which is how I realized that my values might need updating.

I’m hanging on to the one I got from my mom, gratitude. I’m keeping compassion and forgiveness from my original list. And I’m admitting that right about now, one of my husband’s values is looking pretty smart: ease with uncertainty. That’s going in my top five, too.

And the last one? I’ll call it connection for short. It’s reaching out to the people I love, trying to connect with them, however I can.


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