Just so you know where my head is while I write this, I’m waiting for news that a very dear friend has passed from this world to the next. From COVID, of course. While I still plan to post my usual New Year’s book list, right now I’m feeling pretty somber. I certainly have a great deal of empathy for people who have already traveled this tough journey—or have yet to travel it.
Where to start? This time last year, we were celebrating the New Year with my husband’s parents and getting ready to embark on a three-day trip to Disney World with my parents. Other than some murmurs of a few cases of COVID from across the country, everything was status quo in Florida. Singing with the community chorale (the director of which is the good friend mentioned above). Church in the sanctuary with a full choir and no masks. In person piano lessons and a judged festival for my kids. Baseball practices—and my husband’s first opportunity ever to actually coach on one of the kids’ teams. School with all the kids in the classroom. Fill in the blank. At the chaperone meeting for my son’s school trip to Washington, D.C., someone asked if there was a contingency plan for a COVID outbreak (this was getting toward the end of February). We laughed it off. Within a few weeks, COVID had touched everyone in the country—whether it was because you or someone you knew had it, you found yourself suddenly having to open your own one-room schoolhouse in your kitchen, you lost your job or were furloughed, or you were busier than you’d ever been in your life because of your line of work. Most likely, you experienced a combination of the above with a few other morsels sprinkled in, like being cut off from loved ones in long-term care or having to drastically change wedding plans.
There have been times over the past year when I’ve felt like my life isn’t my own anymore, that I’m somehow living in limbo. “When all this is over” is the theme of the day. The problem is that when it is over (if it is), we’ll be so changed that we might not recognize our old lives. Will we ever be able to go places like the zoo on a whim, or will we forever be required to get a reservation in advance? And it’s not as if we get these months back, reclaim missed graduations and the births of grandbabies. It’s not as if loved ones will return to us. The hopelessness of this situation is enough to suck the life out of you if you’re not careful. And knowing that we’re all going through it in some capacity doesn’t really help much when you’re living it.
I don’t mean to paint a bleak picture of the whole year. 2020 was also a really productive—and often a good—year for me. Even though I haven’t posted many blogs, I’ve written more this year than I have since I went back to work full-time five years ago. I’ve read a lot of great books, too. I’ve seen both of my kids blossom in ways that they might not have in normal times because they’ve been forced to deal with situations beyond what we ever expected. And since we’re pretty much homebodies anyway, we’ve enjoyed much of our time at home together.
But there’s also that reminder—sometimes so far in the background that I almost miss it, sometimes so much in my face that I can hardly see anything else—that life is precious and fragile, and any one of us could go at any time. My family has faced sudden, tragic death on more occasions than I would wish on my worst enemy—and recently enough that my kids have experienced it, too. So why does it feel so different this year? I guess, in part, because many, many people have had COVID and survived. My husband even had a pretty bad exposure—and he didn’t get it. When you dodge a metaphorical bullet, you begin to feel bulletproof.
Since my friend’s downward spiral with COVID began, I have prayed harder for him and his family than I’ve ever prayed in my life. It truly has been a fight for his body, even now when he’s sedated. Every morning, the first thing I do is check my phone for an update, praying for a miracle. I’ve begged and pleaded with God, knowing that many other people have also begged and pleaded for the lives of their loved ones… to no avail. My prayer has been that he still has so much good he can do here, if only given the chance to live. Maybe I’m wrong, but I believe that when someone dies, God simultaneously welcomes a son or daughter home with joy, while also comforting those left to mourn. I just cannot believe (as ancient Greeks did, with their Fates) that our lives simply end when our Earthly work is done, whether that’s at birth or age 30 or age 90.
When I started my current job in my school’s business office several years ago, a co-worker gave me some words of encouragement when I commented that my workload was so different than when I was in the classroom. In the classroom, there were projects that each child needed to finish at a particular time. If not, they would never happen. When you’re done with the letter A, you move on to the letter B. Period. She reassured me that it’s normal to have something left to do in your inbox. You come back the next day and continue where you left off. While that may sound daunting to some—like the work never stops (it doesn’t)—it sounds like job security to me. There’s always something left to do.
In the same way, isn’t there always life left to live? Turn it around the other way and think of how bleak life would be if we didn’t have something left to do. (In fact, I think many people do feel this—as have I before my thyroid disease was diagnosed—but depression is a whole different post.) So while I might not understand why good people with so much life ahead of them die, it is somewhat of a comfort to know that those who leave full inboxes are in good company. But those inboxes—unfinished projects, unchecked lists, trips not taken, words not said—aren’t the only things left behind. There are also wonderful memories, incredible legacies, and small kindnesses that make life worth living to begin with. May 2021 be filled with such moments for you.