This past New Years’ Eve was like no other I have experienced in my long life. It felt to me like the rituals around welcoming the year ahead were unrealistic in their intentions. I witnessed many sighing with relief at the closure of 2020. Seeming to be full of joy and possibility for the 365 days ahead of us. I wondered what they knew that I didn’t.
This time a year ago we didn’t KNOW. Travel was being scheduled, escapes to special and unique parts of the world anticipated with excitement. Wedding plans were being finalized. Gatherings with friends and family, hugs, and going to movie theatres were so normal they were barely noticed. We made plans with confidence, set goals, and embraced the first year of the new decade with energy and optimism.
In early January of 2019, our daughter left on her annual buying trip to Hong Kong. Canceled only weeks before due to the pro-democracy protests that had become violent, things had settled. The trip was reinstated and off she went to a city that was looking and behaving more like southern China as freedoms were squelched. We were concerned for her safety. Corporate goals overrode individual security and off she went.
There were few signs of violent protests. Instead, there were cautious citizens and western visitors scurrying about wearing masks. A puzzling trend not witnessed in past visits. Bizarre stories were emerging of a fresh market in Wuhan China and bats. With minimal details, these morsels of information sounded more like a horror movie plot than reality. She returned and her spouse became very ill. A bad flu said the doctor.
The flu became a contagious virus for me on February 19th. Sitting around a dinner table with friends in a perfectly appointed dining room in midtown Toronto the host’s brother joined us for dessert. He was returning from a physician’s task force meeting established to examine and measure the truth and risks of the news and warnings from China. We leaned forward with questions. It is being called COVID- 19. Coronavirus infectious disease, 2019. His intelligent eyes and serious tone shifted the mood and energy in the room. He made it REAL.
We have just closed a year with nine months of fear, chaos, illness, death, baking bread, puzzles, toilet paper rations, home-cooking, homeschooling, social distancing, masks, and on-line purchasing of everything you need and don’t need, but want. The vaccines are approved and being administered. The pandemic rages and the numbers of infections and deaths are largely uncontrollable at this time. Forgive me for not sharing the jubilation over the arrival of 2021.
I am leading a movement to channel my attention to the present moment. I am leading a movement to be creative and intentional in connecting with family and friends. I am leading a movement to channel energy and courage into something that scares me. More than ever I need each day to have meaning and purpose. Making plans, goal setting, and relying on fitness and good eating to keep me healthy are all moot initiatives.
That brings me to our bonfire pit, built in the spring during Covid Wave #1. On the morning of December 31st, it was laden with snow and a crust of ice pellets. It sits next to the pole installed for the hammock. Situated with our spectacular valley views in mind. It needed to be unearthed and made functional. It needed to become our outdoor living room. Fire, light, and warmth draw people together, even in the frigid temperatures of our winter. We shoveled off the heavy snow to find wet and frozen branches abandoned in the base of the pit, dragged our 65-pound windproof chairs to surround the fire, and gathered every heavy wool blanket we owned. Dry wood and paper, along with a large draft of gasoline, and the fire was eventually roaring. The goose-down coats, hats with ear flaps, and clumsy thick gloves were now fashion wear. Wrapped in heavy wool blankets that covered our shoulders down to our feet, we chatted, sipped, and clawed potato chips from a bowl that wandered on the snowy ground around the fire. The sky darkened and the embers grew bright and threw warmth at our feet. Our New Year’s Eve bonfire and snowtails were pandemic appropriate.
There will be more outdoor gatherings around the bonfire. The tiny pieces of the puzzle in progress on the dining room table needn’t be moved for guests. The ingredients to construct gluten-free gnocchi are in the cupboard. My tubes of bright acrylics, brushes, and an easel are being shipped. Painting scares me. The writing workshop is paid for and in my calendar. Participating in a group of experienced authors and having to read out my prose, terrifies me. I am hopeful that that 2021 will be a year of firsts and lasts.
At least, that is my experience.