Weekend Reading
January 3, 2021

Weekend Reading | The Full Helping

I vetoed It’s a Wonderful Life on Christmas eve.

My mom suggested watching it. Under normal circumstances, it’s a holiday movie that I enjoy. But I just wasn’t up for Frank Capra this year. I didn’t want to contend with the movie’s heartwarming notes or its dark ones.

I felt OK, but it took a lot of work to feel OK, to contain my underlying sadness about the year and the strange holiday season. I knew that if I took in any extra sip of emotion, all of the grief might start to spill over.

So we avoided nostalgic holiday movies. We watched a bunch of other random stuff after Christmas eve dinner instead. With the exception of a few random crying jags, I got through the holiday just fine.

The funny thing is that It’s a Wonderful Life kept visiting me, in spite of the fact that I’d avoided it. I kept thinking about that first scene in the heavens. “A man down on earth needs our help,” the senior angel says.

“Splendid,” replies Clarence. “Is he sick?”

“No, worse,” the senior angel replies. “He’s discouraged.”

Discouragement is a word that gets thrown around a lot. It can be applied to the most minor of setbacks or losses of self-confidence. But Capra understood how devastating discouragement can be when it’s at its most profound.

I get discouraged easily, and it’s not one of my best qualities. Sometimes it’s minor and short-lived; sometimes it feels more existential. I’ve gotten more resilient around it, but it takes a lot of effort and self-talk. When I spend too much time evaluating myself or my circumstances—which is an easy thing to do at the end of a calendar year—I become especially prone to it.

Not surprisingly, I had a tough week and was feeling down on myself. But one thing or another seemed to rescue me each time the discouragement started to fester.

Take NYE, for example. It’s a night I’ve spent by myself many times, but opting out of plans in order to take it easy at home feels a lot more fun when it’s a choice, rather than the only option. I tried to meditate, read, cook myself a nice dinner, do a little cleaning. All nice things for the start of a new year. But I was low.

As the day went by, though, it was hard to stay gloomy for very long. I heard from a lot of people I didn’t expect to talk to. I got a delayed Christmas card from one friend, a random phone call from another.

My yoga community had a happy hour open practice, and while I wasn’t up for practicing, I signed on just to see everybody and hear their voices. Spirits were high. One member of our community is in Europe, and she signed on after it was officially 2021 her time, giving us a preview of the new year.

Later that night, my closest friend in the city and I decided to motivate each other to stay awake till midnight (not exactly a routine occurrence around here). It involved three FaceTime calls, a drink or two, me falling asleep once on my sofa and waking myself back up, and some laughter. But we made it.

A few days later, once again beset by the blues, I got to talking to chatting on social media with a fellow plant-based foodie. We compared notes on some of the challenges of quarantine, especially as they impact mental health. She revealed that she’s a nurse who works in the mental health field. She invited me to reach out anytime if I needed to talk. “It takes a village,” she said.

I told her that the generous offer of connection couldn’t have come at a better time. “That’s divine intervention,” she said.

I believed it.

There’s another famous line in It’s a Wonderful Life. It’s when angel Clarence tells George Bailey, “You see, George, you’ve really had a wonderful life. Don’t you see what a mistake it would be to throw it away?”

I’ve never wanted to throw my own life away, but I often fail to see how wonderful it is. When I’m lucky, the universe conspires to remind me. It did that a lot this week, in the form of dear friends, new friends whom I’ve met through my work, moments of sweetness and laughter, and the gift of another year.

I decided against It’s a Wonderful Life this year, but the movie’s message found me in spite of myself. Joy found me, too. It wasn’t an easy holiday week, but it was wondrous in its own way, and I won’t forget it.

Happy Sunday, friends. Here are some recipes and reads.


I just love the idea of herbed roast potato stacks.

This lasagna stuffed spaghetti squash looks so good.

We could all use a little more peace, love and energy. In or outside of a yummy vegan dip.

Feeling this marinated tempeh taco platter.

Can’t wait to try Izy’s delectable two person, vegan sticky toffee pudding.


1. Lawrence Wright has written a harrowing account of the Covid tragedy in the US, with an eye on the moments when things might have gone differently.

2. A perspective on how biodiversity may help to prevent pandemics.

3. I thought this “ring theory” model of how to communicate with people in grief or in a state of crisis was interesting—at the least, a reminder to extend empathy and presence with as little projection or presumption as possible.

4. I like winter, but I’m not a big fan of being outside in winter. I’m learning to adjust, as everyone is this year, and NPR has some sweet ideas on making the most of outdoor winter socializing.

5. Finally, Cleo Wade’s “poem of validation” for 2020 really spoke to me.

On that note, I’m wishing everyone a good start to the first full week of 2021. I’ll be back with a simple new pasta dish and some other food highlights soon.


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. This really resonated, thank you for sharing. I needed the words for what I’ve been feeling lately (and think I’m really prone to feeling) and yes, it’s discouraged. And I appreciate so much how the universe managed to remind you of the beauty of this life. This post was a perfect reminder for me 🙂

  2. I don’t usually comment although I love your blog and ur thoughtful posts but I had to with this one. Ever since my sweet, kind and loving brother took his own life 14 years ago I stopped watching this amazing Xmas movie that I used to love watching with my mother. It just made me cry too much. Thank you for acknowledging the difficulty watching it during troubling times but also bringing out the good in that movie. Anyway this post resonated with me as does most of your words. Happy holidays and thank you for your insightful posts.

  3. Happy New Year Gena! I really resonated with your words about “It’s A Wonderful Life.” I could not watch it this year either. I love that after you remembered the part about the senior angel saying being discouraged is worse than being sick. Discouragement can crumple me too, and I’ve always loved that part of the movie. Thanks for reminding me of it even though I didn’t watch it this year either. Loved the image of you face timing with your friend, trying to stay up until midnight, falling asleep on the couch and then making it after all. I also need to go look into those roasted potato stacks! Much love to you and more divine intervention for both of us at just the right moments in the coming year!

You might also like

On Friday, I had the honor of presenting at the National Kidney Foundation’s Greater NY’s 2023 Symposium. The theme of the Symposium was “Exploring New Approaches in the Kidney Care Landscape.” My presentation was titled “Toward a New Understanding of Plant-Based Diet and CKD.” If your life has not been touched in some way by CKD—short for chronic kidney disease—then it likely will be. As of 2021, CKD affected more than 1 in 7 U.S. adults, or an estimated 37 million Americans. Because…

It’s been an unusually hectic week around here, the first in a long time that had me running around without a pause. That kind of pace was much more of a norm for me a few years ago, right before and during my post-bacc, and it’s something I took conscious steps to disentangle myself from when my anxiety got really bad. I’m glad I’ve distanced myself from that particular craziness, but life is life, and chaotic spells are inevitable. I do my best…

I’ve been trying to be structured with my work days, so that my job will bleed into nights and weekends less often than it does. Even so, I took a personal detour midday on Thursday, so that my mom and I could visit the Morgan Library. The Morgan is a museum and research library that was once the personal collection of Pierpont Morgan. It’s home to Medieval manuscripts, printed books, and a number of Old Master paintings. There’s currently an exhibition there of…

I saw a post by psychotherapist Helen Marie on Instagram this week that I loved. It’s titled “a little guide to glimmers.” Helen Marie writes, Glimmers are the opposite of triggers. She goes on to explain them this way: they are tiny moments of awe. they spark joy & evoke inner calm. they send cues of safety to our nervous system… our body responds with positive energy. they allow us to feel hope when lost… once we start embracing them it can become…