The rat race and the fast-paced hustle and bustle of our typical, normal, everyday life were often exhausting. At the end of many days, I’d fall face first into bed at the end of the night, bone-tired, as they say. Not just sleepy, but exhausted to the core. I remember days when it felt like my hair was exhausted. I would think, such is the life of a solo parent of two active and busy boys, and I would also wonder how much longer I could keep up the pace. I would often wish for a break. I would think about how I’d give anything for a miraculous pause.
Then in February, there were murmurs of a pandemic. And in early March, there were whispers of a lockdown. And then, in March, the University at which I teach announced that spring break would be extended for an additional week, after which time we would begin teaching our classes remotely. And then, on Wednesday, March 11th, my kids came out of their respective schools, with their backpacks full of all of their belongings. They didn’t know how to feel. An unexpected vacation/break was a gift that could not be taken lightly, yet there was this kind of scary uncertainty because this was not just a holiday break; this was a global precaution that was necessary to save lives.
We have lost a lot in 2020. I think the most profound thing we lost is a sort of innocence we all had, which allowed us to take life for granted, in ways that we never even realized that we were taking it for granted.
Cheerful, right? Let me try to turn this around because I am a strong believer in hope, and this is the season of hope.
Our challenges need to be acknowledged. It is impossible, in 2020, to ignore the profound pain, fear, unrest, and uncertainty that have characterized this entire year in multiple ways and for so many people. We’ve taken an international, global, and universal pounding. And yet, I feel fortunate, to be able to find peace in this pause -- even as I remember and grieve my godmother, as I deal with the heartache of not being able to see my parents, as I struggle with not being able to meet my college students face to face, as I watch my children working remotely on their computers, missing their friends and their activities. Fortunate to have the time to reflect on, not just this moment in time, but on so many little things.
So much that I would have taken for granted, I find myself so deeply grateful for. I’m grateful for our home, which we have truly learned to appreciate, and which we painted this year; the sound of my boys’ laughter, which I am so lucky to be able to hear daily;
our wonderful neighbors, which have spilled into the street for numerous celebrations this year; the check-in calls from friends and family; learning to bake and growing confident enough to bake for friends and neighbors; text messages that have been replaced with actual phone calls; my Instagram community and the interactions and exchanges that we’ve had, which provide us with some of the human connection that we so need; and being introduced to the London Writers’ Salon and finally starting to identify as a writer, something I have always dreamed of becoming.
Maybe none of these things would have happened if we weren’t in this challenging place in time. Certainly, they would not have happened all at once. This pause has prompted a remarkable and concentrated growth, maturity, a new way of thinking and living. We will never be the same. And much of that is good.
I’ve come this far, in my reflections of 2020, and I have yet to mention my notebook. How can that be? I am not complete without my story, my pen, and paper. It has always been so much a part of who I am, and it is what brought me to Baum-kuchen six years ago. Back then, I was in search of grid refills for my then Midori Traveler’s Notebook. I filled so many TN Refill/ 002/ Grid refills with struggles and triumphs, joys and fears, tears and laughter, memories and observations, reflections and dreams.
I’ve had people tell me that they are struggling to write these days. We are doing less, going to fewer places, experiencing fewer adventures, so to speak. Most of us are simply not as busy, and so it would seem that there is less to reflect on. But the philosophical questions, defining beauty and love and joy and grappling with pain and heartbreak and death, do not change and still require much musing and pondering. We still cannot, with all certainty, settle on the answers. Busy days provide us with no better information than slower days. And so, in the pause, we get more time to write about ancient questions.
And then there is awe. We can, if we are intentional, find awe in the simplest of things, like poets do. My favorite poem, “The Summer Day,” by Mary Oliver has taught me this.
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean -
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down -
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
- Mary Oliver
And here we are, quickly approaching winter days. What can we write about those? Or perhaps we can think of Mary Oliver’s big question, “...what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?