The idea of writing a 2020 retrospective makes me giggle, and generally brings out my most cussedly optimistic spirit, so here we go.
I wrote one of these last year, and found that doing so speaks to my almost-nonsensically intense urge to save and keep track of all things important to me, large and small, to gather them all up into one tiny pile and wrap them up in ribbons of meaning. This year has been hard and harder for many, and while I wouldn’t choose to live it again, I’ve realized that to me it has also been precious.
When I look back at my little day-journal it says that the first thing I did this year was take down the Christmas tree. It also tells me that a few days later, when I left my family at a hotel in Minneapolis after a cousin’s wedding to fly back to Vancouver I cried on the early morning airport shuttle. I had forgotten that. But I must have noted it down because it’s unusual for me to be sentimental or clingy about goodbyes. I began this year so tired, and spent the first couple months a little disoriented, sometimes relying on those around me for rides and lunches and patient listening.
But despite my strange, needy state in January and February my life was busy and full before a pandemic flipped the world wrong way round. I made chili that was not really chili at all for new incoming students, I took three evening classes, I had beer and tacos on Tuesdays. I drove to Montana with friends, went cross-country skiing and was reminded how good I am at falling. I formed a committee, I allowed people to feed me, and I went to an Anabaptist party (whatever that is.)
Then as the world descended blindly into what we now communally view as the beast which has been 2020, I walked a lot. I walked alone and then with friends. I occasionally walked with a dog. I walked up hills in my neighborhood, along the seawall, in Pacific Spirit Park, on the beach and more and more I walked in the rain. I drove through Stanley Park a lot and talked on the phone so much. Two dear friends each miscarried and got pregnant again, and we were reminded that hope is precious, but perhaps frightening. I worried more about money than usual. (But I generally worried more about everything than usual. I had more time for it.) I cried less than usual, and when I did it was often because I was happy. I tried to eat more cheese, but found that writing a novel was a cheaper and more accessible (if not particularly comparable) goal. I woke up angry a lot and went to sleep grateful a lot. I rewatched all of Mad Men. I got new tires and didn’t go anywhere on them.
Softly, painfully, things deep in me began to mend. I took the last classes of my life, thought about friendship a lot, and realized I was feeling more of other people all the time. I wrote a few short stories and a few poems, but mostly as gifts. I graded a whole passel of fifth graders’ essays on Covid around the same time I reread all of Narnia and watched Hamilton.
I finished reading Corrie Ten Boom’s Hiding Place aloud to my housemate after beginning it over two years ago. I cried twice, at the most hopeful parts. Hope and eternity are the realest things in that book. Despite the fact that it’s the story of so many atrocities, of the greatest attempt at inhumanity of the twentieth century, it’s somehow bursting with Easter-new-life. As these oddly-shaped months have slunk by, my best days, my sweetest relationships and conversations, have nearly always been both fiercely hopeful and steadfastly gentle. So in what has sometimes been a year of fear and reflexive vindictiveness and vitriol, I’ve found myself praying for the triumph of quietness, of thoughtfulness, perhaps even of fragility.
I worked at a long-term care home this summer as recreation staff, organizing garden visits between frail old folks and the anxious family members they sometimes could not remember. I worked to hold a lot of names in my head like I did when I was teaching. When I left my co-workers gifted me a notebook, a notebook for writing in. I planned two trips to Galiano that were cancelled, but one that wasn’t. I celebrated Canada Day, decided to move to Wisconsin, and took the Seabus to the North Shore. I read my work aloud over Zoom more than once, got paid to help a couple people with their writing, and cried before beginning my first September library shift because I was so happy to be back in the Regent building. We had such a beautiful spring and fall that I wondered if I had just never paid proper attention to the world around me before. I got flowers upon flowers for my birthday in April, and in October spiders built broad, glistening webs across every alley path. Smoke filled our sky for a week in September and reminded me of the day two years before that I’d moved to Vancouver, sleepy and unsure.
I’ve stayed tethered so closely to the same place and people recently, but am somehow bursting with superfluous (and likely bad) short story ideas. I’m happy about it. This year has been a year of having very little, of living with empty, open hands, of trusting that when I wake up on this small floating island, it will be in the place that God intended for me. I say that every year, but perhaps every year it is more true. Undeserved, unexpected, and often unasked for abundance has fallen into my lap this year, over and over, brighter because of the darkness that surrounds it, its goodness painful for eyes used to the dim grey. I cried over it just this morning, on the corner of my parents’ couch.
For it is worth saying that I missed home this year. I don’t usually, but this year I did. I missed my parents’ living room and real, sloppy, wet rain and people who often interrupt each other but only apologize for it a quarter of the time. So I came home to North Carolina for Christmas, and sang around the piano. Last week, we spent a few days up along the Blue Ridge in a cabin decorated with scythes and arrowheads and two-man saws and a picture of a Gold-Rush-era man in a bathtub. From our windows, we could see hill upon hill of half-grown Christmas trees against the sky, ready and waiting for next year.