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Bye, 2020: a reflection

No one will miss you. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out. Thanks for the memories, even though they absolutely sucked. And every other snide insult that comes to mind.

To address the obvious: This was a hell year. Not a “hell of a year,” but just plain “hell year.” The collective grief and suffering we have endured is truly difficult to comprehend. Most of us didn’t anticipate experiencing this level of compacted, global-scale pain and trauma in our lifetimes. (Not that anyone ever does — the feeling of living through history is, in reality, awful.)

I saw a tweet yesterday that asked, “What is the moment in 2020 broke you?” Each of us has our own list, with some moments exceptionally tragic. Relatively speaking, I got off fairly easy. The days it took to (mostly) recover from the New York Times front page when the U.S. reached 100,000 covid deaths. The horror of continued, unabashed violence executed upon people of color in this country. Waves of grief and fear, of loneliness and helplessness. Empathy so sharp it cut straight to the quick. Nights I cried until I had absolutely no energy left. Days it was all I could do to get up.

Each of those moments was real. But then, so were the moments of joy, and relief, and love. Watching a garden grow from seedlings to harvest. Every quiet breath when a hummingbird paused outside my window. Getting to see my creative work in print and getting paid for it for the first time. The long drives I took for a few deep moments in nature. The full delight in improving someone else’s day. The first hug in the evening after my spouse got home from work. Realizing that certain things are true, even if it took me a while to see them. The work I’ve done for my mental health that I am so proud of, even on the hardest days.

Next year will bring its own hardships, as it always does, but I cling fast to the hope that they may be a little less acute, a little less thunderous, a little less isolating. And I nurture the hope that each moment of good — a hug, a laugh, a warm meal, a deep breath — lasts a little longer and carries us a little further. That we may see beyond our own perspectives and pain, reach far enough toward our neighbor to offer comfort and work toward healing. That we may delight in our differences while striving toward equity and justice. That even in the dead dark of winter, we may remember that none of us is ever truly alone.

Nothing is guaranteed, of course. But we can hope.

So here’s to the new year.

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Survival

Yesterday I woke up with the worst chest pain I have personally experienced. It faded throughout the day, but didn’t fully go away for 24 hours. Thankfully (sort of) it was just due to anxiety, not any more serious health concerns.

But there’s a lesson in there — at least, that’s what I’m hoping.

In the last few years, my body has begun asserting (rather harshly) when I have pushed it beyond its limits. Which, unfortunately, I tend to do once or twice a year. I can no longer do standing room only concerts, I need more sleep than I used to, I have to be extra careful in hot weather. These things feel like limitations, but in reality it’s my body forcing me to get my act together when I have abused its resilience for so long.

I was recently reminded of the importance of asking one’s body what it needs. A nap? A snack? Water? To go for a walk? To curl up under a blanket and ignore the world for a little while? Any given item may not be possible in the moment, but it might be later. And even if not for a while, knowing where your body is at and what it could use provides an opportunity to offer empathy to the cells and sinews keeping you alive.

Because after all, that’s what it’s about, right?

My answer to people who ask how I’m doing lately is “surviving.” Because that really is what it feels like. This year has been positively grueling, and despite there being a number of good things, the difficult ones are a specter the likes of which many of us have never faced before. We grieve. We work long days. We are challenged by emotions. We find a little time for rest. We do it all over again.

I don’t know when things will be better. But I hold onto the hope that they will be, and in the meantime, that together we can keep surviving.