In Other Words: Our Year of Living Dangerously

2020 is on its way out. Not soon enough. Most of us are scared. Just a little. Maybe a lot. We’re fed up, fatigued, and restless. Dare I say grumpy? Each of us has his or her own personal stories as to how this year played out. For those who struggle with COVID, or are no longer with us, our collective sadness knows no limitations. Boundaries have gotten crossed, and this virus is imposing and relentless. It doesn’t discriminate, and if you were in the wrong place with the wrong people at the wrong time, your story has probably not ended well.

Yet, in many ways, it has also been a year which introduced us to parts of ourselves we might have never before explored.

Looking back from March to December, the turning point in most of our lives has been daunting, mysterious and apocalyptic. Answers to when we can reemerge are enigmatic and, “like a miracle, the pandemic [did not] just disappear.” We’re still in it, full force, agonizingly so.

I look over my yearly planner when plans actually got made and anticipatory events were jotted down on each page. Since March, my daily itinerary has become deadly dull, the pages blank with boredom. I am mostly sequestered, and the best evidence that life does keep advancing is my hair, which has grown to mammoth proportions (let us not discuss hair, except to say I am now sporting a Katherine Hepburn-esque upsweep do. It looked great…on Kate).

My daily indulgent delight is my chocolate break every afternoon at 3. Such decadent detours have become tempting outlets that evoke an almost euphoric glow. Ply me with imported Lindt - dark and bittersweet - and I’m seduced and sated, a confession, which under normal circumstances would never get revealed. But these days nothing seems inappropriate or shameful, least of all chocolate.

But yet, in many ways, life has not changed and though our true identities are hidden behind masks, much remains the same.

The old familiar neighborhood is still intact and though I view nature’s landscape mostly from behind glass, the leaves still fall with annual regularity and Nick’s guys still come to blow them away. Dogs get walked and kids bike down the street. Babies get born, neighbors wave. Cynthia, across the street, is a constant reminder that exuberance and endurance exist. Dear Jesse continues to deliver my groceries with a smile that can brighten a day no matter the weather. Jesse: cook, ice hockey referee, and real estate whiz, also keeps me well-fed. Until he got COVID, which put him out of commission for a while.

My friends and I commiserate and Zoom workshops help obliterate gloom. My writers are enthusiastic and the pandemic has become an art form in which to purge their creative angst. If we can’t control this virus, we can at least write about it.

And so it goes. 2020 ends, and we yearn to begin a new year with some degree of cautious optimism — a coping mechanism, which makes us feel hopeful after hope has seemed remote for such a long time. But it’s all we have until a vaccine becomes readily available and can safely be administered. We are getting close to something that will lift us from the emotional and physical lethargy that we’ve lived with for more days than I care to count.

If I were to ascribe human qualities to 2020, I would say it was a reckless, mean-spirited, frightening bully-monster of the highest order. It’s now become a coined phrase to describe any adversity by saying “it’s just so 2020.”

The holidays are different this year. Sheltering-in-place does not lend itself well to frivolity. But the good news is 2021 is soon upon us, and who knows what’s in store? While I haven’t “stepped out” in any significant way, I am thinking that this could be the year when doors get flung open and we can breathe in the air without fear and trepidation of catching COVID.

I miss seeing and hugging the people I want to hug most. My grandchildren keep growing into fine adults, but their evolutions are witnessed mostly on FaceTime. Family gatherings are distanced Zoom events. Yet, I stay fulfilled by small intangible gifts that even a pandemic can’t quell. For fear of sounding too presumptuous, I take nothing for granted, though I am grateful for the ability to keep myself productive and amused.

Last week was especially resonant, and strange. Under normal circumstances, Thanksgiving signifies a coming together. At least that’s how the Mayflower gang saw it. This year, though, it was more about in absentia. And while carving turkeys over Zoom is not exactly the same — the culinary aromas are difficult to replicate — Zooming helps to bridge the gap. For those who face the holidays alone, it can evoke apathy or agony depending in which direction one chooses to go. Holidays are hard. Even the most resilient among us can’t help but feel just a slight tug of loss, that something meant to be ritualistically celebrated is missing.

Today, an early morning rainfall’s making us realize that even during a pandemic, nature is still intact, and that in the end, all is (almost) right with the world.

One day, in some not-too-distant future, we may have even realized we learned a thing or two, have become more tolerant of others — and of ourselves — and behaved with a certain amount of grace befitting this ungraceful and abysmal occasion.

For the moment then. A happy, healthy and safe New Year. Au revoir 2020, and now get out of our way.

Hey, where did I put that chocolate?

Westporter Judith Marks-White shares her humorous views monthly in the Westport News. She can be reached via email at joodth@snet.net or at judithmarks-white.com.