It’s freezing tonight. A cold wind makes its way under the door, out of the swamp cooler vent and through every crack I normally don’t notice. A fire in the wood-stove feels good if you’re right next to it, but that warmth goes unnoticed once you step away. And yet, I can’t complain. Heat, house, fire, food, health. All is well right here, right now.
By the middle of December, I’ve normally begun thinking of my word for the coming year, but trying to predict or gauge anything ever again seems futile. I’ve been in a state of suspended presence for so long, it’s hard to imagine or plan for anything down the road. This forced presence has been a strange gift. I don’t find myself looking back on 2020 with anything less than awe and definitely not with any of my usual lists of boxes checked, places seen, things accomplished. I’ve just been.
Well, mostly. The year starts out at a pace that seems incomprehensible now and by the time February 2020 ends, I’ve already worked in LA for a month, been on a road trip to Las Vegas, and am on my way to South Africa and Zimbabwe because, way back then, we were told that as long as we weren’t traveling to China, Italy, Iran or South Korea, we should go about our lives and our travels.
On March 12th, just two weeks later, we fly back from Johannesburg through NYC and watch as, within 12 hours, the whole world shuts down.
Once home I buy vegetable seeds, a battery operated radio, and a bidet. I turn 41. I learn about Zoom. I bake bread. I buy beans. Just like everyone else. I think it will be over soon.
Then it is April. My boyfriend becomes obsessed with purchasing an escape vehicle. After one month in total lockdown, we drive to Colorado to buy a pop-top Eurovan in the parking lot of a Carl’s Junior. The interstate is deserted.
In May it starts to warm. Still on lockdown, everything is closed. I realize I should have bought more stock at thrift stores to sell on my vintage clothing site (http://knockaboutvintage.etsy.com) because who knows when they’ll reopen? Thousands of people continue to die from Covid-19. Then a man named George Floyd is killed in Minneapolis. He cries out for his mother. The lid is blown off.
A summer of protest. Millions of people take to the streets around the country and the world. Black Lives Matter. I am one of many to suddenly awaken to privilege taken for granted my entire life. I have never once worried about my boyfriend getting pulled over by the cops on the way to the grocery store or about my nephew wearing a hoodie. How fortunate I am. I can’t stop reading as I try to come to grips with the ways I have benefitted from years of systemic racism in my country. The book Caste- The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson lays it all bare, as does Between The World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, among others. Thousands continue to die from Covid-19, with black and brown communities disproportionately affected.
In August I am in a slump of depression and know I need to change something. I start to treat my vintage clothing store like a full time job and apply to be an Election Official for the upcoming Presidential election. I need to DO something. Both of these succeed in pulling me out and pushing me forward.
The fall is hot. California is on fire. Climate Change and Covid collide and give us a glimpse of what our future will look like should we continue as we are. My friends’ house burns down, reminding me that things can actually always get worse. Another friend loses her son. Sorrow and a year that won’t quit. Each loss serves as another brutal reminder of our powerlessness over everything other than our thoughts and actions in the present moment, in a year that has been one big reminder of this.
At a certain point, there is nowhere to go but the Spiritual. Because nothing is as it should be or as I want it to be, there is nothing to do but hand it (jobs, finances, remote learning, lack of social contact, fear, loss, isolation, health, everything) over to the Universe/God/ Higher Power and say, I don’t know. This acknowledgement helps me to keep things simple and small. What do I know? I know that reading before bed helps me sleep. I create a morning coffee ritual, finally buy a ceramic pour-over cone and I savor that morning cup more than I ever have a to-go cup from the cafe down the street. I buy bird seed and make sure to always fill my outdoor feeders because watching the birds makes me smile. I donate money to public radio stations and food banks because I can. What to ingest and who I support are two things I actually can control.
In October I begin working as an Election Official and it is so satisfying. I use skills from the Film Industry, namely directing large groups of people into the appropriate line, and savor watching democracy in action. And it feels good to be around people! Even if through the dirty lens of a face shield. The Election comes and finally, as of yesterday, goes. Our institutions stand and local government officials do their jobs. But, we are tested in ways we never have been before. Someone else will come along in the future, someone smarter, and for that we should consider ourselves warned. We made it through this run, but by the skin of our teeth. And now, all eyes on Georgia!
Thanksgiving is small. We make dinner for two and I miss my family. Thoughts of the future creep in and I begin to imagine trips and events once the Covid cloud lifts. On Saturday Night Live, one skit puts words to how I feel, “there is finally a light at the end of the tunnel but all that light does is illuminate how shitty the tunnel is.” Exactly. I make gratitude lists and am grateful for all that I have, including health and the inclination to imagine and create what comes next. But, I miss all that can’t be right now.
Two vaccines turn out to be 95% effective during trials and by the beginning of December are on their way to approval and then to hospitals. But, the promise of vaccines is dwarfed by the numbers of people dying. Hospitals are full and doctors exhausted. Everyone needs a break but that’s not how it works.
And here we are, coming to the end of a year in which we’ve been shown undeniably just how intertwined we all are. The year that will forever be synonymous with shitshow and awakening. The year that finally shed a light onto all of the muck we have tried so hard to ignore; overt and systemic racism, climate change, health inequities, health insurance tied to employment, the definition of essential, white privilege and supremacy, and the fact that WalMart and Amazon have made a combined $30,000,000,000 in profits since the beginning of the Pandemic while small businesses everywhere have closed for good. It’s overwhelming.
So, back to my Gratitude List-
We can now see all of the muck and therefor begin to fix it.
Scientists, doctors, and the fact that medical schools reported record enrollment for next year. Thank you!
Teeccino brand mushroom tea- delicious and good for immunity.
Music- I can’t stop listening to The Brothers and Sisters Dylan’s Gospel album from 1969 and John Lennon’s Imagine album.
Books- Commonwealth by Ann Patchett, when I needed to escape into some fiction.
My small $20 Christmas tree.
Mamba, the black lab puppy my boyfriend got in August who makes me laugh.
Trevor Noah and Stephen Colbert.
All of those I love and who love me.
We are all in this together and it is going to be ok. I have faith in us.
Onward to 2021…
Love and wishes for a safe and healthy holiday season.