During the coronavirus I've been running on the same path every day. It’s close and not crowded. But one of the reasons why it’s not such a popular path is that the whole way out is uphill. And it’s not just a slight incline; it’s more like a ski slope level hill.

When I first began running it every day, I resisted every step much the way I was resisting the quarantine itself. This again? This is crazy. I can’t believe I am waking up and doing this again. But as the weeks went by, I noticed that while running uphill still wasn’t easy, it was getting easier. And as I became more and more used to the struggle, I began to lift my head more and notice the scenery. The stream glinting in the morning sun. The wooden bridge echoing beneath my feet. The pink cherry blossoms glowing against a clear, blue sky. The smell of freshly cut grass and the yellow flowers pushing through the ground like the hope of spring stubbornly finding its way through.

And then there was the feeling of the way down that began to overshadow the struggle. The way that I felt flying down the miles of hills back to my car. Like a bird set free. Like a child on a playground. Like a long exhale of gratitude after holding my breath for far too long.

One day after my run, I was standing behind an older man at Costco. He must have been in his mid-eighties and as I tried to breathe steadily behind my mask, I was feeling sorry for him. My brother and I had been shopping for our parents, who are far younger than this man, and I wondered what he was doing out in the middle of this crowded warehouse. Perhaps he didn’t have children or maybe they just lived far away.

But as he finished paying for his groceries and I was about to move beyond the six-foot tape between us, I noticed that he wasn’t moving forward. Above his mask, his eyes looked misty and though his voice was muffled, I could clearly hear him say to the cashier: “Thank you so much for working today. I am so grateful to you.” And then he turned to the person packing up his cart and repeated the same thing: “Thank you so much. I really appreciate that you are here working so that we can buy groceries. Stay safe, be healthy, thank you.”

As he slowly pushed his cart away, I noticed that he stopped by the customer service desk to thank that worker too. Stunned out of my pity for the older man, I knew I was witnessing a little piece of greatness. A greatness that can only come from him struggling up many hills through many stages of life practicing gratitude all the way. I’m sure this man did not think anything about what he was saying. It was clear that saying thank you and appreciating all the people around him was second nature to him. He was used to lifting his head up and noticing the beauty around him.

That night I saw a video clip of an 88-year-old man in Watertown being lifted in a bucket truck to be able to see his wife through the window of her nursing home. “They could have lifted me 10 stories and it would not have bothered me,” Nick Avtges said. “As long as I got to see her.”

Before the coronavirus pandemic, Nick used to visit his wife every day and stay by her side all day. But since he hasn't been able to see his wife of 61 years, he has been missing her so much that his children came up with a plan to help him see his wife face-to-face again. When he reached his wife’s room, he placed his hand up on the window and held up a sign that read “I love you sweetheart.” And I thought of all the hills this couple must have climbed over 61 years to get to the place where an 88-year-old man would climb into a bucket to be raised 30 feet into the air just to be able to look into his wife’s eyes again. Here too was a little piece of greatness. The greatness of years of love.

Sometimes greatness whispers.

These two embodiments of gratitude and love reminded me of a story I saw recently of a teacher asking her students to list the Seven Wonders of the World. Most of the students responded: Egypt’s Great Pyramids, the Taj Mahal, the Grand Canyon, the Panama Canal, the Empire State Building, St. Peter’s Basilica and China’s Great Wall. But the teacher noticed that one student hadn’t responded to her question and when the teacher asked her for her answer, she said she couldn’t make up her mind because there were just so many wonders. But the teacher pressed her to share what was on her list so far.

After hesitating she said, "I think the wonders of the world are: 1. To touch 2. To taste 3. To see 4. To hear. 5. To feel 6. To laugh 7. To love."

The teacher was surprised and the room was completely silent. And I think in that silence many of the students realized that we don’t have to travel across the world to see extraordinary things. Often the most beautiful and extraordinary sights are all around us. They are in front of us in the grocery store line. They are shining through the shaking hands pressed against nursing home windows. They are waiting for us as we climb our own hills. Quietly but stubbornly moving forward despite the struggle.

Sometimes greatness whispers. Sometimes beauty waits for us to lift our eyes from the ground. Sometimes running uphill is the only way to see the view.