I recently received my first Covid19 vaccination; a sign that the Ordeal might be thinking about starting to wind itself down. As I waited in line, I saw that people were being polite, kind, and calm. It was not at all the Friday-Night WWE Smackdown crowd I expected. All in all, a very pleasant experience. The time spent with my fellow human beings allowed me to reflect on the year that was; perhaps for the first time. Seeing as how it’s February 2021, it’s past due.
Many people had a very rough 2020. Separated from family, sickness, death, fear, lost jobs, businesses closed, and houses foreclosed; the effects still linger. I don’t offer my perspective as counterweight or contrast, but as my own reflection. My own passing through the year was not without suffering the impacts of challenge, but mine were light. Still, I chose to set my sights on what I learned, how I grew, and what I was and am thankful for.
So here’s to the 8 things I’m thankful I did or learned in 2020.
I Relearned How to Live Small. Rachel and I live in a very small space. At our age (I’m almost 60), one might expect that our American Dream Bauble Bag is nearly filled with copious square footage and multiple monthly minimums. Our small space is enough for us (3-digit square feet; not gonna lie, it gets small sometimes), and it reminds me to be thankful for the basics; a good bed, a good pillow, heat, windows that allow sunlight, way more food than I need, and an oversized rain-style shower head. With the closing off of other places, 2020 taught me to revalue my needs and be thankful for a clean, bright, organized, well-decorated space.
I realized the Importance of Liking My Mate. It’s not uncommon to profess love for one’s mate. It can be another thing altogether to like that person; like who they are, what they bring, how they affect the space you share, and like being around them. In September, the Times reported that the number of people seeking divorces rose 34 percent from March through June compared to 2019 (Read: I loved you, now I can’t stand the sight of you). The irony here is that it probably wasn’t an overt act by either party, it was more about who they were. Long-term time spent together in small spaces, working from home with the kids, no alternatives, cut off from other family and friends; liking your mate is a big one.
I Called my Mom More. My folks are in their mid 80s. Dad doesn’t talk on the phone, and is now living his final days on hospice in a locked-down facility. Mom handles the updates and local weather reports. I’d estimate that I called 5 times per week this past year. I’d call in the mornings when mom was sharpest and least cynical (it’s a New England characteristic), and try to be the voice of optimism and calm. Many of the conversations were me listening to the same stories over and over, and I wasn’t always as successful as I would have liked in being able to highlight the positives, but the talks helped me verbalize all the good that was still taking place. We still talk just about every day and I’ll fly soon to see her. I’m glad I paved the way for routine conversations. They’re going to come in handy.
I Got Really Creative with My Exercise. I’m “somewhat” of a fitness enthusiast. When the gyms closed (I belonged to 3), I contemplated moving to a nation that might have open gyms. There were none. So I found an outdoor fitness station at the local park and was thankful to be able to use workout bands and outside equipment. Some grumpy voyeur caught me and narced me to the park cops, and they taped it off. So I found a huge cherry tree and was using it until the neighborhood national arborist witch saw me and again narced me. Not to be thwarted, I gathered up some rocks and my bands, bought a cheap exercise bike, and took to the garage, the living room, the home office, and the balcony (sorry neighbors). I got really good at figuring out cool and fun new ways to get my fix. It worked! And it set me on a path (Slam Balls!) to create all sorts of approaches to fitness that don’t involve heavy weights or gym machines. I now do a combination of bands, weights, machines, and am thinking of starting a Slam Ball! club.
I Got a Guy. The phrase, “I got a guy” can often be the answer when asked how you got something done with seemingly minimal effort. It hints at inside connections and people who have a particular set of skills. Near the end of 2020, Rachel and I finally found and hired a financial advisor: George. We met with George first online, and then in his office as conditions relaxed a bit. George is the guy. He helped us kick our debt-free lifestyle to the next level. Rachel loved playing with the available software, and we’re now leveraging the power of long-term investing. God willing and with some wise decisions, our retirement status looks very promising. It’s really fun to be optimistic about the future, and we’re already having fun making plans (Bahama Catamaran!) It’s several years off yet and that’s good; we’re having fun working from home and investing as much as we can.
I Got Better at Not Caring (still working on this one). We all have those things that set us off. Especially around the house. We like things the way we like things. And two people sometimes have differing but equally passionate and equally nonsensical ways they like things. I am a meticulous bed-maker. Rachel does not like dishes soaking (she bought cardboard bowls to break me of bad habits). I am highly anti-clutter, anti-horizontal-surface-stuff-put-on-er (?). Rachel is passionate about recycling (she bought another trash bin to break me of other bad habits). There is also a towel thing I’m still learning (kitchen floor spill cleaned up with a quick bathroom towel grab = death wish). Communication is key, but even the best communication can’t compete with an unmade bed (It’s like a fat uncle who sleeps on the couch all day). I learned (still learning) to know the important ones, and to let the non-important ones go.
I Got Better at Living in Community. I hate wearing a mask. Hate. I can’t get air. It’s probably some sort of leftover childhood thing. Even now I can’t sleep without the window partially (wide) open, even in winter, because closed windows equal no oxygen. I could asphyxiate in my sleep. I was also never really worried about contracting the virus. Even if I did contract it, I am a healthy, active, fit, 59 year old, which put me at the bottom of the risk column. Mask wearing took on a life of its own and seemed to become more of a moral issue than a scientific one. I was getting looks in parking lots 100 yards from the store. I realized that looking first to my own comfort created discomfort in others. I learned that people were genuinely scared, probably not evil. There’s a common ground between individuality and societal responsibility (like not Slam Balling on the 4th floor – sorry neighbors). I still hate wearing a mask, but I like living in community.
The Best Friday Night Special Gin Comes from Idaho. I started another new tradition in 2020: the Friday Night Special Gin Martini Reward. This is one drink, made with Special Gin, at the end of the work week, to celebrate and commemorate a week well-lived. The first sip is other-worldly; savored for a full 30-seconds before swallowing, in silence, eyes closed, as I reflect on the success of the past week (release, relax, visions, Handel, enlightenment). Of course, there can be only one Special Gin, which of course comes from right here in Boise, Idaho:
OK 1 More: People Are Still Good. I have restraint issues. I know. But I needed to add this one before publishing. Taking in media these days, in any form, can acidize the soul, corrode the spirit, and surreptitiously darken the lens through which we view the world. There’s lots of research on negative bias and why we’re drawn to it, on generalization bias and our tendency to make broad assumptions from specific events, and on what keeps us clicking, reading, and watching. Spend even minimal time taking in most media, and it becomes easier to conclude that we’re all descending into hatred, chaos, and disaster. But it’s still a true, if ancient adage: Please don’t believe everything you read (or watch) (emphasis mine). What I experience when I go outside, ride my bike, go to the gym, get on the elevator, shop, dine, take out the trash, and generally interact with humanity, is that people are kind, friendly, courteous, well-meaning, and a little bit freaked out and scared.
So there it is. Some of the more important things I learned in 2020 and will take into 2021.
It is and is going to be a great year.