Gratitude and Grace in 2020

Ashley Vanorny
8 min readNov 27, 2020


This Thanksgiving feels like a game of freeze-tag gone wrong. In the few days I ever get off of work throughout the year, I always look forward to being with friends and family. But today, it’s just me and Lady. I hung my Christmas decorations up earlier than normal because I needed the joy in my daily life visually representing what Christmas sparks within me. One less stocking to hang though, because my parrot, dear sweet Liberty passed away in May due to old age.

A quick aside about him — I never imagined to have a parrot, but rescued him when he wasn’t fitting in at my mother’s place. She had rescued him after he was returned 3 times to a local pet store that a student she was job coaching, was working at. I had convinced my late father to let me take him to his house. That became his forever home. Liberty was a small parrot, a conure. He was incredibly protective of me, quiet when I was home, squawking when he heard a new person or new sound. He was very emotionally intelligent too. I had him for twelve years, and will never forget how he inch-wormed down the ladder attached to his cage, and then chose to walk over to me (he could’ve flown) and then inch-wormed up the couch to comfort me when I had come back from the hospital the night my father passed away. I had cried myself to sleep and he was there preening strands of my hair when I woke up that evening.

I feel confidently that I received the real vaccine as part of the Pfizer vaccine trail I’m in, but won’t know for sure until the emergency use is approved. I had hoped I would find out before Thanksgiving to be able to last minute change plans and eat in person with my Babi (grandma in Czech). She was widowed last September and we have all been protecting her like she’s made of glass because we wouldn’t dare introduce her to COVID when she lives otherwise on a figurative island. Alas, I didn’t get this information yet, so we decided to split food this year. I made all of the sides, and my Babi cooked the Thanksgiving turkey that I brought her. We became the perfect Thanksgiving pair as she prefers dark meat and on the bone, and I stick to white and don’t like to eat meat on the bone. It wasn’t ideal, but I masked up, put my face shield on, and exchanged items we would collectively share together. I have often reminded myself that this pandemic doesn’t have to shut down life as we know it, but we have to be innovative with our creativity and vigilant against the dangers it presents. I recorded a video greeting from her that I would then later share, to send well wishes, to extended family who gathered for a zoom call. Not all is bad in 2020 — I hope these extended family zoom calls stay around. I grew up having 50+ people gathered any where a person could pull up a chair or a piece of floor at my great-grandmother’s house. She was a Babi too, and the hub of the wheel, with the various branches of descendants as the spokes. Sadly, when she passed away, everyone branched off on to their own, more immediate family gatherings. I miss those days — I loved getting to play with all of my cousins. I knew my second- and third-cousins pretty well too.

But back to gratitude and grace. I am grateful to have my health, to have been in yet another vaccine trial (I’ve done several) that will this time have global implications, to know that this vaccine is going to start a phased release soon (there is light at the end of the tunnel!). I am thankful for the many incredible neighbors and community members who appeared from every corner of my city during one of the worst natural disasters we saw just a few short months ago. I am grateful for all the people who organized in the recent election, and for amazing candidates who fell short but left it all out on the field trying to bring us all a better tomorrow. I am thankful for so many people who reached out to tell me if I raised my hand they’d be there for me in a heartbeat when I lost my job (furloughed) because of financial hardships my hospital was having because of the pandemic. I am grateful that I found a way to stay solvent, and work on bringing up my credit score, and bringing down my debt which was a huge goal of mine this year — to get financially healthy (I inherited a lot of debt when my father passed away). I am grateful to my I am thankful for all of the professors at my University who were beyond compassionate and rallied beside me when I need an incomplete and supported me in the emotional processing of not being able to complete the goal of completing my Master’s program this year as intended. I am grateful for all of my team members who are still considered essential who are still vigilantly fighting to keep this community safe and healthy on the frontlines during this pandemic, and that they are safe themselves and able to earn an income for their families.

I am truly filled with joy, that there have been so many resources poured into our community, even though we still don’t feel whole, to help with the rampant food insecurity this holiday season. I worked two events yesterday — and the line of cars lined up to received Thanksgiving meals courtesy of Hy-Vee and Urban Dreams at the first event, held in my district, was overwhelming. So many people are hurting, and yet— even though I am only able to recoup 26% of my salary through unemployment during my furlough because of the factoring in of my City Council income — I am still okay. I remember when I received the news of my furlough I physically felt like I was suffocating. I immediately drudged up some triggering feelings of being overwhelmed by the debt I had inherited, when I was on my own and made some of the lowest wages I ever had in my life. I couldn’t then, for the life of me, see any way out. I had to pay off taxing bodies, which somehow escaped probate, with the little cash I had, and had to live off of my credit cards. I was so terrified I would go back to this. Yet, I was able to make a plan and find my breath to see how I could make all the pieces fit. I made a plan financially, and for employment. I do feel confident that I will find a replacement job soon. I know all too well what that heavy feeling of hopelessness and fear feels like regarding economic insecurity. Job insecurity immediately yields to jeopardizing all aspects of one’s livelihood. So I felt so many things as I handed over kits for Thanksgiving to those in the cars pulling up — but I’m so thankful they raised their hands — it is not easy asking for help. It far too often feels like you have failed, when you are merely playing a never ending game of whack-a-mole against every other horrible thing coming our way this year. I have a love-hate relationship with the word resilient — I am proud when I survive something difficult I didn’t know if I could, but also hate that some challenges feel impossible to navigate and have pushed me into very dark headspaces. If you’re reading this, and are struggling with your own mental health, message me. I am serious. YOU are NOT a failure. Take a breath, and start breaking down your current situation to make it into manageable bits. You can do this — I believe in you!

The second event I worked yesterday was thrown by two untitled community members — but I’ll give them one — they’re beautiful souls. I have seen these two individuals time and time again fight to support their community — this time they were giving them a labor of love by feedings over 250+ households. So many people are in need. What gets me choked up too — is just how many new leaders have emerged from the difficulties of this year, to step up and lift up their community. My policy is, if I eat, we all eat. I gave what I could, even though I’m trying to be more fiscally conservative right now until I secure full-time employment or come off of furlough (this is the 7th week). I also provided sweat equity — chopping everything that needed to be chopped, washing potatoes alongside the cutest little girl putting in work, and opening cans. Hats off to this young child who was in her element, doing all odds and ends — I’m grateful for her. The fact that these two members in our community plotted to get as many people fed for Thanksgiving is breathtaking. God Bless people like this.

So this Thanksgiving is definitely not what I expected, or wanted. I miss people. I miss events. I miss concerts. I miss seeing, in person, my constituents who always bring great ideas to the table. I miss my brothers, my parents, my extended family. But, when I was working through the grief of my late father, I reminded myself that I was so lucky to have such an amazing father for as long as I did. It is challenging to find things to be grateful for on a holiday that is dedicated to giving thanks. I too want to shake a fist at the sky somedays. My father had a coffee mug that said “the difficult we do everyday, the impossible takes just a little longer.” We are all doing the best we can, dodging one bullet after another this year. We need to continue to work on being compassionate with one another, and have grace with ourselves, and pause to inventory the blessings we DO have. We may barely have a roof over our heads, but we still have a roof over our heads — some of my friends I met in the Derecho lost everything they owned and started over this Fall from scratch. We may not get to see our friends but we can find new ways to still connect with them. I am grateful to spend days with my niece Aspen — I can’t wait to get my vaccine results back and meet my new nephew. I think the first thing I’ll do when I know, is hug my Babi — I can hardly wait to hug my Babi again.

This year has been one long-sustained stress test for us all, and I’m in this together with you. I’m thankful for all of you wading through the weeds on this tough year alongside me. That’s how we are going to make it through — together. We can do this. Hang in there. Join me in counting the blessings we do have, and keep some room in your heart open to hope.