Something happens to me around this time every year. From early November until January, like a lot of other people, I find myself taking stock. Looking back at the year. Looking ahead to the next. What have I learned this year? What should I have avoided? What have I accomplished? What can I do to improve myself next year? What do I want to accomplish?
This is also what cements the past year into my memory. As I look back at the preceding 11 months or so, I decide how the time has shaped me—and how I’ll remember it. I decide what exactly I’ll take away from that particular year. 2017, for example, was the year of funerals (my wife and I lost 3 grandparents between us). 2018 brought one of the best vacations I’ve ever taken and a new job. 2019: Promotions and realizing my dream of visiting New Orleans.
And then came 2020.
So I’ve been thinking: When I look back at 2020, what will I remember? What’s going to stand out the most? Plague? Wildfires? Tiger King?
It’s always easy to remember the bad stuff…working an insane amount of hours in incredibly frustrating conditions. Not being able to travel, or see a game at Fenway, or drink at a bar, or throw parties. Anxiety. Depression. Hearing people I know have died because of COVID. A state of constant worry. Not seeing family or friends or even those familiar faces you would run into at local restaurants. More worry. Getting our debit cards hacked—thrice. Civil unrest. Contested elections. Worry about staying safe. Worry about staying healthy. Worry about our loved ones staying safe and healthy. Worry about money. Worry about China spying on me through TikTok. Worry about having enough toilet paper. Worry about murder hornets because why not. Worry about my wife losing her job. Worry when she did lose her job. Worry about keeping her spirits up, when I’m crumbling apart inside. Sad because I hate seeing those I care about the most all going through the same thing.
Really? That’s what I want to remember? All set to the soundtrack of WAP?
I think not.
On my commute home the other day, I heard a song that struck a chord with me for some reason. Normally, when I hear Joe Cocker’s version of With a Little Help from my Friends, my first thought is “Dang, I loved Winnie Cooper” because I’m normal, thank you very much. This time, though, was different. For reasons unknown, it made me reflect on the past year. But not on the bad stuff…only on how we made it. We actually fucking made it.
I thought of virtual dinner parties. Playing Cards Against Humanity through Facebook chat. Secretly dropping off homemade dinners on the front porches of friends’ houses. Delivering supplies to my in-laws. The honking and waving and shouting of birthday parade drive-bys. Late-season Al Fresco dining. Evening drives just to get out of the house. Streaming concerts at home.
How do you feel at the end of the day? Are you sad because you’re on your own?
I thought of creating things…people making masks, and hand sanitizer, and sourdough, and sweaters. I thought of the resurgence of board games, of puzzles, of drive-in theaters. I thought of the outpouring of care and small acts of kindness shown to folks in the medical field, to teachers, to first responders, to grocery workers, to restaurant owners and staff. Even to the guy at the liquor store.
I thought of Hamilton. Of Parasite. Of that glorious final night out before everything was locked down—a Dustbowl Revival concert followed by late night burgers at Harry’s.
I did not think of the President, whomever that is or will be, but I did think of our first female Vice President-Elect and the largest voter turnout in the history of our country.
I thought of what else the year has brought me…I redid my home office, which is now a sanctuary out of my dreams. I bought a new car. A new mattress (seriously a bigger deal than it sounds). New dining room chairs. New pots and pans. Paid off some debt. Started smoking a pipe. Was able to get away to New Hampshire for a bit. And oh, yeah…I published a fucking novel.
Would you believe in a love at first sight? I’m certain it happens all the time…
Looming above everything, I thought of my sister. Of her new, growing family. How she deserved nothing less than the absolute perfect wedding day, and how, despite everything, that’s what she got.
I played that song on repeat three more times before I pulled into my driveway, where I caught myself actually smiling. 2020 wasn’t at all good, but I guess it wasn’t all bad, either. So that’s how I’m choosing to remember it. The good parts.
It’s going to be a long winter. As I write this, we are seeing the biggest surge of COVID cases since the start of the whole pandemic, and if these shadows remain unchanged (as Dickens said), it appears another lockdown is all but imminent. 2021 is likely, at the beginning anyway, to be just as challenging as 2020.
But in this world where I hardly know anything for certain anymore, I do know this: We can do it. We can, and will, trudge through it. And we can make happy memories doing it. We’ve made it this far. We’ll get by.
With a little help from our friends.