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Poetry Friday: Gratitude During Crisis, 'Ode To Thanks'

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Georgia Wagner
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The uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic has a lot of people feeling anxious and fearful. Practicing gratitude can help. KNAU listener Georgia Wagner works with the Center for International Education at Northern Arizona University and teaches workshops in crisis management. She says gratitude is a critical part of self-care during difficult times. In this week’s Poetry Friday segment, Georgia shares what she’s grateful for, offers us a quick exercise to turn fear into gratitude, and reads a poem by Pablo Neruda called ‘Ode to Thanks.’ 

Georgia Wagner: Things have shifted a little bit recently, and so now I’ve really been able to focus on my gratitude for my basic needs being met; things like food, water, shelter, access to technology, and the ability to stay connected with my friends, my family, my colleagues, continuing to be able to do the work that we’re doing. I’m really grateful for where I live and the access to nature that we have here and the ability to be able to get out and be mobile when I need to be.

So, if you’re looking for a quick exercise to help you tune-in to something grateful and shift your focus a little bit away from fear, there’s something that you can do really quick. I do this if I’m starting to feel any anxiety or uncertainty. It really helps to get grounded.

So, one thing that I do is just focus on one thing that I’m grateful for. Focus on it really, really, really hard, and try to tune everything else out, and just visualize that one thing. I let myself feel the love and gratitude in my whole body towards that one thing, or one person, or one experience that I’m grateful for. Then I take some deep breaths and imagine that that gratitude and love is expanding and growing, and with practice, you can feel it cover your whole body and you’ll feel like it’s radiating out of you and the truth is, that it probably is.

Today, I’m going to read a poem called Ode to Thanks, by Pablo Neruda:

Thanks to the word

that says thanks!

Thanks to thanks,

word

that melts

iron and snow!

The world is a threatening place

until

thanks

makes the rounds

from one pair of lips to another,

soft as a bright

feather

and sweet as a petal of sugar,

filling the mouth with its sound

or else a mumbled

whisper.

Life becomes human again:

it’s no longer an open window.

A bit of brightness

strikes into the forest,

and we can sing again beneath the leaves.

Thanks, you’re the medicine we take

to save us from

the bite of scorn.

Your light brightens the altar of harshness.

Or maybe

a tapestry

known

to far distant peoples.

Travelers

fan out

into the wilds,

and in the jungle

of strangers,

merci

rings out

while the hustling train

changes countries,

sweeping away borders,

then spasibo

clinging to pointy

volcanoes, to fire and freezing cold,

or danke, yes! and gracias, and

the world turns into a table:

a single word has wiped it clean,

plates and glasses gleam,

silverware tinkles,

and the tablecloth is as broad as a plain.

Thank you, thanks,

for going out and returning,

for rising up

and settling down.

We know, thanks,

that you don’t fill every spaceyou’re only a wordbut

where your little petal

appears

the daggers of pride take cover,

and there’s a penny’s worth of smiles.

(Music: Anji, by Simon and Garfunkel)

Poetry Friday is produced by KNAU's Gillian Ferris. If you have an idea for a segment, drop her an email at Gillian.Ferris@nau.edu.

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Gillian came to KNAU in 2001 as a freelance reporter. Her first story won an Arizona Associated Press Award. Since then, Gillian has won more than a dozen Edward R. Murrow Awards for feature reporting, writing, editing and documentary work. She served as KNAU’s local Morning Edition anchor for many years before becoming News Director and Managing editor in 2013. When she’s not working, Gillian likes to spend time in the natural world with her dog, Gertie. She is an avid hiker, skier, swimmer, and reader.