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Recently I have felt awash in an ocean of gratitude, which, to be honest, I have always been into. However, I had not realized it until I talked to some friends and family. On the one hand, working from home for over a year could be mentally and emotionally exhausting. On the other hand, it has also shed light on things I used to take for granted, such as walking, being free and independent, and lastly, being young.

Most of us take for granted walking, running, dancing, or even just moving in general. Almost everyone is born with the ability to walk, and it may not sound unique to you until you realize you cannot walk. Since I’ve undergone a hip surgery, been immobile, and stuck between hospital beds, wheelchairs, and crutches, I realized how special walking is and how joyful it is to walk anywhere I want by myself. Because walking gives me the feeling of freedom and independence. I honestly think that walking is one of the greatest things about being alive. I consider my legs “walking Ferraris,” and I am genuinely grateful for them.

There are times in which my legs fail, from either cramps or just muscular pain, and these times are essential to make me stop the “automatic mode” we all live in and realize that my body is like a forest: which is a living organism that can be devastated one day, but on the following day it will grow back again, each time stronger and more interconnected. Working from home made me realize how important walking is in my life these days. Now that I don’t commute to work, I walk in the morning before starting my routine; then, I walk, dance, or move at lunchtime and again once I finish my working day. Walking brings me the break and detachment I need between my personal and professional life, as well as the feeling of being free to choose where and how to walk.

Freedom and independence are two intertwined concepts that permeate our daily lives in the 21st century because most of us are free to express ourselves, vote and participate in the political decisions of our nations. Nelson Mandela defined freedom as “being not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” Whereas Maya Angelou sees independence as “a heady draft, and if you drink it in your youth, it can have the same effect on the brain as young wine does. It does not matter that its taste is not always appealing. It is addictive, and with each drink, you want more.” Being able to freely choose your clothing, speech, prayers, food, and even who to marry is a luxury for others that are restrained from such choices. Most of us are born with that freedom. So, it’s no wonder why we usually take this freedom of choice for granted. But imagine a life without being able to make those choices – a life where other people get to decide for you, and you don’t have a say in the matter. That would definitely change perspectives. Thus, being free and independent are two gifts to be thankful for on every single day of one’s existence.

I have been very fortunate being young and, therefore, traveling since the beginning of the pandemic and being able to communicate and adapt to technology quickly. I traveled overseas to be with my family, and then I came back home and started traveling with friends for weekend getaways. Recently, I talked on the phone with my 80-year-old dad while I was packing for another weekend getaway, and he suddenly interrupted me, saying: “Traveling again, this is something I truly miss because since the pandemic hit us, I have not been able to travel anywhere.” My dad’s comment felt like a flash of striking lightning into my heart. Being elderly with a few preexisting conditions, my dad’s life routine has been altered aggressively due to the pandemic. Thanks to my dad’s wake-up call, I realized how lucky I have been.

Another perk of being young is being born with technology. I literally transitioned from a typewriter to a computer, from Motorola Star Tech to an iPhone 12. Thus, working from home and using all types of technology has been quite easy. Instead, the elderly have been confined to their homes and limited to speaking to friends and loved ones via phone or video chat. But rather than alleviating the isolation, dealing with technology can be stressful to some elderly people. If only I could lend to my dad my walking Ferraris, my freedom and independence, or my youth, so he could come and go from one country to another.

If there’s one thing that this pandemic has made me appreciate is the ability to walk, be free and independent, and be young. Since some of us cannot travel as freely as we used to, we finally get a glimpse of how it feels to be stranded at home. For those that can travel, the next time you go off to some exotic place or even go on a weekend getaway, try to appreciate every moment and feel gratitude every step of the way. The pandemic has changed the lives of everyone by showing how unpredictable and sometimes dangerous the world can be. Thus, it seems like the perfect timing to start appreciating what you are and have by giving thanks. Reflecting on the small freedoms and pleasures in life is an excellent place to start.

Patricia Zanini Graca is a professional with a background in diplomacy, international relations, business, and marketing. She holds a Master's degree, an MBA and a postgraduate certificate in these fields. She is passionate about humans rights, DEI, gender equality, wellbeing and mental health. She works in the private sector and expresses her own views and opinions.