In the Jewish morning prayers, there’s a blessing, the asher yatzar, a thanks to God for forming the workings of the body. Here’s a loose translation from the Hebrew from the prayerbook Mishkan T’filah:

“Praise to You, Adonai our God, Sovereign of the universe,
with divine wisdom You have made our vital organs
into a finely balanced network.
Wondrous Maker and Sustainer of life,
were one of them to fail —
how well we are aware! —
we would lack the strength to stand in life before You.
Blessed are You, Adonai,
Source of our health and strength.

Baruch ata, Adonai, rofei chol basar umafli laasot.

The more traditional translation gives praise for God’s forming the human body with skill, “creating the body’s many pathways and openings,” recognizing that “if one of them be wrongly opened or closed, it would be impossible to endure and stand before You.”

This is earthy. It’s a blessing that’s also to be said upon going to the bathroom. I used to find this a bit strange and embarrassing, especially having been raised as a Catholic, in which spirit and body (“upper” and “lower” were separate.) But as a person with Crohn’s disease, who has known misery without those things working properly, I came to realize how totally appropriate is this bit of daily gratitude.

A recent opinion piece in the New York Times by a doctor of internal medicine opened my eyes to the marvelous construction of healthy lungs. (“What You Should Know Before You Need a Ventilator,” by Kathryn Dreger, April 4, 2020)

“The lining of each sac is so thin that air floats through them into the red blood cells. These millions of alveoli are so soft, so gentle, that a healthy lung has almost no substance. Touching it feels like reaching into a bowl of whipped cream.

Covid-19 wrecks those perfect workings, turning that billowy whipped cream into a “stale marshmallow,” and other major organs fail due to lack of oxygen.

So in the midst of this pandemic, I am grateful for what I’ve always taken for granted:

The ability to draw a full breath of air deep into my lungs.
The feeling of physical well-being right now, knowing it may not remain so: nothing hurting, no fever, no coughing.
My warm, safe apartment. What are the homeless doing? What hell is that? What will happen when this virus hits the poorest high-population countries? We don’t hear much about that.
A balcony from which to safely enjoy the outdoors as springs arrives, where I can safely breathe clean air. A balcony looking out onto a nature preserve, from which I have seen bald eagles, not to mention blue herons and white ones (or are those egrets?)
The tree full of birds outside my window and the jaunty woodpeckers at the feeder.
That we have the internet and Zoom.
Two cats to share this quarantine with. My little family.
People in life-saving careers, not just medical professionals but the low-paid unnoticed people that keep the gears running: grocery store workers, people who keep the utilities going, etc. People who work in public service.
Netflix and Amazon Prime, to transport me to other worlds and times, that engross me so that, for a while, I forget the pandemic. The series that’s most recently gotten me through: the Australian 6-season A Place to Call Home.
Six pounds of heirloom beans from Rancho Gordo. I’d been trying different varieties and accumulated them, not imagining how perfect they would be for this time.
The excitement of picking up two weeks’ worth of groceries at Cub yesterday. The kitchen looks like Santa Claus came to visit.