Thanks to Life, originally Gracias a la Vida, is a famous folk song, written by Chilean author Violeta Parra and made famous across Latin-American by Mercedes Sosa. Its final paragraph says, “Gracias a la vida que me ha dado tanto, me ha dado la risa y me ha dado el llanto. Así yo distingo dicha de quebranto, los dos materiales que forman mi canto. Y el canto de ustedes que es el mismo canto. Y el canto de todos que es mi propio canto” In English, “Thanks to life, which has given me so much. It gave me laughter and it gave me longing. With them I distinguish happiness and pain, the two materials from which my songs are formed. And your song, as well, which is the same song. And everyone’s song, which is my very own song.“
As I navigate through the storm of the past 19 months, I oftentimes get lost in sorrow and in pain, even anger. I am sure many of you feel the same. We have suffered and continue to do so, victims of the direct and indirect effects of the pandemic. Some of them are tangible, such as the unprecedented need for food, job security, or cash assistance. Others run are deeper inside of us, such as the exacerbated social inequality or the need for something as simple as a hug from another human being to remind us that we are not alone.
Yet, as the song so beautifully states, life gave us the longing and the pain, but it also gave us the happiness and laughter. While it might not always be easy, I change the lens with which I look at our reality in order to embrace those other emotions. And, then I see beauty! I see a resilient community supporting each other. Teachers and youth workers adapting their skills to learn how to teach and engage youth virtually. Social workers working hours past their shifts to support each individual as best they can. Foundations, government agencies, and individuals giving their time and resources to support those in need. Agency leaders adapting their programs and staff on a regular basis to address the needs of the community. I see first responders attend the call of duty at the risk of their lives for us.
Thanks to life, which has given me so much!
At the Y of Washington Heights and Inwood, despite having multiple departments that deal with different age groups and services, we all agree on a set of monthly values that guide our programs and services. The Y’s value of the month for November is gratitude. In thinking about the laughter and the longing, the happiness and the pain, the choice of gratitude could not have been more timely. However, the biggest reason for which I am grateful this year can actually be found in the final sentences of the song, “And your song, as well, which is the same song. And everyone’s song, which is my very own song.“
If there is anything that COVID-19 reminded us all it’s just how interconnected and interdependent we are. At the end of the day, we can’t escape the fact that we are a common unity — a community. Because my health directly affects yours, the same way your resilience ignites mine; because your sorrow infects me as much as my laughter uplifts you. Because, if it was ever in doubt, it became crystal clear that isolation contradicts our most basic needs as human beings. In that realization, that your song and mine, their song and ours, is the same, I found consolation and a profound sense of gratitude.
Thanks to life, which has given me so much. It has given me a community to navigate the storm of the past 19 months; the same community with whom I am rebuilding; the same community whose song is my very own song.
By Martin Yafe, Y Chief Program Officer