A friend reached out after she received our Christmas photo card. “The moment I opened the mailbox and saw your annual Christmas card, I was ecstatic! However, I wouldn’t be a true friend if I didn’t tell you honestly how quickly it turned into a bittersweet disappointment when I realized the colorful animated story of your year wasn’t included…Truly praying next year that joy of writing you have returns. I love you and thank you for never forgetting about my little household.”
I had no idea that the short messages I craft to fit on the shipping label I affix to the back of my Christmas cards had this effect. I was touched and texted back, “I missed writing it, but since I’m working from home, I don’t have access to the printer I use to make my labels and I thought, our year is like everyone else’s: hunkered down to survive this thing. Sorry for the disappointment. I love you…How about I write the one I would have written and send it to you?”
My friend then suggested: “I think you should send it on the last day of the year to all your closest friends!”
Here’s the message I might have sent if I could have found a shipping label big enough!
I have cocooned myself in the safety of my home grateful for our new companion, Ivy Valentine, a Blue Tick Coonhound mix rescued exactly one month before the world shut down.
Cadence and I took the first real vacation together we’ve had since she was three and visited friends in Charleston, South Carolina, as the virus was shutting down life as we know it. We flew down, spent a glorious few days seeing the sights, standing at the shore with the Atlantic Ocean not far off. We listened to the news, and decided to cancel our flight home, rent a car, and drive back to Missouri. The trek through mountains, radio games we created, and the sense of adventure and empowerment in uncertain times will be highlights of an already amazing trip.
When I chose to not prepare a year-end message, I assumed I had nothing new or different to say, but with more reflection, I know that’s not true. I have come alive and blossomed from my time at home. I have had time to heal from long-term stresses of my office job. I have saved money by not eating out and not filling up my gas tank weekly. My nervous system has been on high alert for nine years and this time of quarantine offered it the chance to cool down and repair. I know that what I describe is not true for most people, and I share my experience with tenderness. I can only share the story that is mine, and hold space for others for whom this time at home has been devastating.
The days, weeks, and months after my divorce felt like pandemic-level isolation, but I didn’t know that then. I had no idea that those lonely days were preparing me to thrive alone now when isolation remains a key to health and safety.
I opened my home to our friend committed to her doctoral program despite the challenges the pandemic caused for higher education, and we sheltered in place together. I can’t tell you what a joy it was to listen to her teach her first undergraduate class from my dining room or kitchen. We brainstormed time management strategies and how she could give feedback to her students’ papers without taking up all her time. We laughed about the times when Ivy made appearances in her Zoom calls.
My confidence in the kitchen grew even more as I strived to have healthy meals ready at the end of the day, so that our friend could keep studying. She introduced me to the magic of sweet potatoes and a dumpling at Trader Joe’s I can never pronounce. (Is it Goya, A?)
I have also watched my daughter grow more independent. She’s baked and perfected her scrambled eggs. She’s brought home stories from school about standing up for friends who were being bullied. She and I also spoke about our love for The Little Bit Foundation to a local Rotary Club. I also watched her become a more skilled player on the softball field.
I set low expectations for the progress I could make in my backyard this summer, and then soon found myself part of a Zoom Garden Club that met with other colleagues. This weekly meeting was a lifeline and my garden pursuits flourished. We hosted a socially distant garden tour and my Fairy Garden Mother and another colleague gifted me with their time and humanpower to help me cut down some invasive trees on my hill.
A weekly Zoom call with college friends created a comforting rhythm and some routine in otherwise shapeless weeks. My siblings gifted me with a Zoom workshop with a favorite author who helped me transform the way I think about and will pursue my writing goals in the coming year.
I have been heartbroken watching how so many in our culture “got tired” of the requirements of getting through a global pandemic and how those actions have added to the stress of loved ones who are on the frontlines of battling the coronavirus. But I also believe that we find what we’re looking for, so I’ve kept my eyes open and seen kindnesses extended in my brief excursions to the grocery store and in stories shared online.
An anemia diagnosis took me out of my comfort zone and into the chair at an infusion center for daily, then weekly, and now monthly Vitamin B12 shots. My stamina is returning, and I am grateful for the compassionate care of the nursing staff I witness as they treat patients who enter for their next round of chemo. These trips have been humbling and great for gaining and keeping perspective.
I have a new favorite book, A Gentleman in Moscow, and have already read it twice in one year. I’ll close with this passage by author Amor Towles, who gave me language for how to think about loss and love—two things that have in so many ways shaped this longest, hardest of years, 2020:
“As these thoughts passed through the Count’s mind, was he concerned that Mishka still pined for Katerina? Was he concerned that his old friend was morbidly retracing the footsteps of a lapsed romance?
Concerned? Mishka would pine for Katerina the rest of his life! Never again would he walk Nevsky Prospekt, however they chose to rename it without feeling an unbearable sense of loss. And that is just how it should be. That sense of loss is exactly what we must anticipate, prepare for, and cherish to the last of our days; for it is only our heartbreak that finally refutes all that is ephemeral in love.” page 184
I am grateful for many things—this year and always—but especially the friendships that call me to be my best and ask me to offer my talents—no matter the conditions.
May 2021 be gentler to us all and may we keep finding ways to show up for each other no matter the difficulties presented, is my prayer.