A Lost Year

I was talking with a friend this week about case counts rising and it’s-anybody’s-guess vaccine timelines and the very real spectre that anything resembling “normal life” is many, many months (dare I say a year?) away and he sighed and said “yep, looks like 2020 is just going to be a lost year.”

A lost year.

That phrase stuck in my throat like swallowing a too-large piece of ice – I understand where he’s coming from but I just can’t accept that.  I don’t believe there is such a thing as a “lost” year.  A year that looks radically different than any of us thought?  Absolutely.  A year of pain and loss and grief, a year of dreams and plans and hopes deferred, of anxiety and uncertainty and fear for the future? Yes, yes and yes.

The thing is, no matter how hard and bizarre and exhausting and endless (don’t we all feel like we’ve lived 10 lifetimes since March??) this year is still a year of our lives, just as much as the “normal” ones are.

This year is still a year that’s going to make up the collection of memories of our lives.  (I’d wager it’s going to make up a disproportionate share of memories, actually.)  None of us know how many years we’re getting on this earth, but it’s certain that at the end of 2020 we’ll all have one fewer – so I refuse to chalk this year up as an “L” and plan to get back to the drawing board in 2021.

Life is too short and precious for that.

2020 has been….well there aren’t enough adjectives.  Bizarre, heartbreaking, scary, hopeful, heartbreaking all over again, a wake up call, unifying, divisive, isolating, community-building, simple, complex, freakin’ HARD.  My brilliant friend Liz’s catchphrase of this year puts it succinctly and well “2020 – Wow.”  

If I had a magic wand I’d change a hell of a lot of things about this year – but the truth is we’re still here. I’m still here. There is still breath in my lungs and I got out of bed this morning and even though I suck at remembering it 99.9% of the time that is a miracle worth celebrating in and of itself, even as I struggle to make sense of the suffering of the world and my own mixed bag of feelings.

I’ve been re-reading The Bright Hour, Nina Riggs hauntingly beautiful memoir about living with terminal cancer, and it’s reminding me of some of the most simple things to be grateful for.  The breath in my lungs, the warmth of the sun on my face, the ability to look at the faces of the people I love – even if it has to be on a screen or 6 feet away.  The breadth and depth of these blessings is something I always swear I won’t take for granted and I always, humanly, do.

I keep thinking of my life this year as a Christmas tree – it started off chock full of so many bright shiny objects – happy hours and dinners and social events and vacations.  Then all of a sudden ever shiny glittery thing was stripped away, which was painful and some of them I miss dearly.  But I’m starting to recognize the beauty of this bare, unadorned tree.  Because I get to choose now – mindfully, carefully, with great love and intentionality – what I add back on, what I place back in this one precious life.

Yesterday was the 4th of July and instead of BBQs and parties and fireworks (which is fine bc TBH my patriotism is flagging just a weee bit this year), I drove around the South Bay visiting my best friends and my mom.  Chrissy and I have been fast friends since we were 13 years old and we sat on her driveway catching up for so long that my mom called her to make sure I was ok (talk about a middle school throwback)).  I left with a full heart and I realized afterwards I don’t remember the last time we did that – just sat and talked, the two of us.  It kind of took my breath away –  the simplicity and the beauty of that.

I saw my mom and gave her a pandemic-friendly hug (following these guidelines in case anyone else misses hugging their loved ones) and was stuck at what a gift it is to hug my mom.  How many perfunctory hello and goodbye hugs have I given her without really being present and appreciating them? As someone who has lost a parent you’d think I’d have an A+ in savoring time with your loved ones but nope, I’m human and too often I forget that tomorrow isn’t promised to any of us – so this day, this hug, this moment is a gift.

I spent the rest of the night sitting on another friend-since-forever’s porch, jumping every time rogue fireworks went off (that we could hear but not see, so there wasn’t even any payoff), laughing at her cat, eating pie and talking about life with all its joys and all it’s heartbreaks.

I drove home with a full heart from quality time with the people I love, not even missing seeing fireworks even though I love them.  Then the whole drive home on 101, there were fireworks everywhere – brilliant sparks lighting up the sky, with families and strangers gathered on overpasses to gaze upwards. As I drove I knew I would never forget 4th of July 2020 – hardly a car on the road, a burst of light and color against the darkness of the night.  The stubbornness of hope, of joy and celebration even in the darkest of times.

Is 2020 the year I imagined it’d be? Um that would be a helllll no, not in a million trillion years.  But I know it’s one I’ll never forget – and I don’t want it to be memorable just for the suffering and the loss.

I want it to be memorable because for the first time in a long time I had no choice but to slow down and be still, to go deep and not wide in my life. To strip aways so many shiny things and be left with all that really matters.

I keep thinking about 2020 Christmas cards – what do I want mine to say? (If I sent one which I don’t but hey maybe this is the year – nothing but time after all :)).   I won’t have any trips or big life changes or glamorous news to share but I hope what I’ll be able to say is this.

I spent 2020 sitting in Chrissy’s driveway, watching Teddy play peek-a-boo with a tennis racket while Luke and Sadie rode their bikes and I tried to process how these babies I held in the hospital when they were born were full grown human beings.

I spent 2020 going on walks and drinking wine and eating ice cream with Stephanie, walking by Caleb’s school to say good morning and basking in Benjamino’s sweet smile.

I spent 2020 meeting Baby Girl Fraser, watching Calvin knock it out of the park as a big brother and marveling over the miracle of answered prayers and the hope of new life.  

I spent 2020 paying attention to my mind, body and spirit, and nourishing them with what they need – whether that’s a run or sea salt chocolate caramels or staring at the ocean.   

I spent 2020 being kind to myself and the people around me, extending an extra measure of compassion inward and outward.  

I spent 2020 paying attention and responding to the ways I can steward my privilege, my resources and my time to put more justice and love into this broken and beautiful world.

2020 – what a year.

2020 – Wow.