We’re trying to think of something nice to say about 2020.
Okay, here goes: nobody got killed by murder hornets.
As far as we know. That’s pretty much it.
This weekend I ambled out to the beach to watch the (what I thought frankly was less than “stunning”) conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn and instead simply stood in awe of one of our usual (spectacular) sunsets. It was a quiet beach evening, not many people on the ocean side where Bay Avenue wanders into the sand, into the sea. One car was perched at the water’s edge between me and the setting sun — a fitting metaphor for these days of solitude and sheltering.
The world turned, the sun dropped, and I headed home, thankful I have a home. Thankful I have a community. That I can walk to the ocean or the bay and experience the beauty of our wild world. That my pantry is stocked. That my body carries me.
I like these cycles of turning at year’s end. They allow us, require us even, to take another look at what has passed and wonder and hope about what is to come. But what a year this has been!
At the beginning of 2020, I was visiting my beloved Southwest friends in Tucson and at nearby Rancho Linda Vista in Oracle. We were innocent babes at the time. We didn’t know that half a world away (and, in fact, already in our midst) there was a virus that would slam us up against a wall. That would shatter our daily lives, cause us to slam our doors, rearrange all our priorities, close down our economy, and separate us from one another. But the shock of it all soon became clear.
On Feb. 11, the World Health Organization announced the official name for this invisible disruptor: covid-19. The ‘co’ stands for corona (its crown shape) — the ‘vi’ for virus — the ‘d’ for disease — and ‘19’ for the year it started. (It broke out in November in Wuhan, China. There’s a complete timeline here: tinyurl.com/yddx3nby.) On Feb. 29, the first known covid death was reported in our very own state, at Evergreen Health Medical Center in Kirkland. (It was discovered later that the first U.S. death — unrecognized at the time — was actually Feb. 6.)
On March 9, and although he’d been told otherwise by medical experts, President Trump said that the virus was “very much under control,” was less deadly than influenza, and that the case count would soon approach zero. At this point there were 31 deaths nationwide, and Washington state had 24 of them. Around this same time, a Mercer Island teenager, 17-year-old Avi Schiffmann, created a world covid counter, www.ncov2019.live, which is still a good site for these ghastly numbers.
A National State of Emergency was declared on March 13 and because the White House still had no plan, officials state-by-state began to respond. Though we don’t yet know how this all ends, we do know now that one in every 1,000 Americans has died from covid, a grand total so far of nearly 350,000.
Meanwhile, back in Arizona in those early days when all of us were trying to understanding what the heck was happening, I outfitted my station wagon for sleeping, packed my ice chest, and hit the road. As much as I love the Southwest and my friends there, Washington is my home. My instinct was to go to ground in familiar territory. Looking back, I see that this decision signified the beginning of my shifting priorities, something we would all experience.
From what I can surmise, the pandemic has caused us to re-evaluate what is important to us, who is important to us, and how we want to be using our time. And not just our present time — this moment of ‘now’ we all float in — but our time on earth.
Despite the hardship, the deaths of national icons, friends and loved ones, the incredible sacrifice of both our essential and front line medical workers, there are positive changes the pandemic has catalyzed in our country.
Finding the good
Family first. Yep, it looks to me like we’ve all strengthened our bonds with family, both those in our immediate households and those at a distance. We’ve rediscovered who our closest friends are, some of us forming up small pods of safety. In almost daily Zoom calls, I hear from friends who have reconnected from afar. I talk to my sis in Yakima every evening, just for five or ten minutes to review what’s happened during the day — something we never did before.
I’ve reconnected with my best buds from college — four of us Penn Girls (’72) talk every month and a half or so, catching up on decades of living. I’ve Zoomed with my Paris friends, finding out about the neighborhood cat, a broken hip, who’s moved from where to where. I’ve taken a six-week Zoom class on editing poetry. Another friend started a painting workshop online. Now we meet in the comfort of our homes (with or without pants) — when the internet cooperates. (Even this difficulty may emphasize the need for more robust net coverage in rural areas.)
Some working at home now realize they don’t need to continue living in areas that suck up most of their salary for rent or mortgage payments. Our own Peninsula has benefited from this trend with rocketing homes sales as people seek a more beautiful, quieter, more humane place to nest.
We’ve all had to quiet down, slow our pace, think more about what we’re eating. Sourdough starters in the fridge, bread baking, tending the garden, cuddling with our intimates and our four-legged roommates — everything has shifted toward the pleasures of home. (Again, if one has a home.) And I don’t mean to play down the increased divide between those of us who’ve landed on our feet during this pandemic versus those who find themselves struggling so much more — those having to work in places that have not provided sufficient protective gear; those who received none of the (meager) government aid parsed out; or those who’ve lost their jobs or businesses entirely.
In some cases these struggles have revealed and even strengthened the way our community responds to challenges. I note the increased giving this year to food banks and non-profit organizations. (Though more is still needed: please don’t forget to visit the South Pacific County Community Foundation to see how you can help: spccf.org.)
Americans are nothing if not adaptable. I just hope that we can take these pandemic lessons into our hearts as we go forward to what I hope will be a reformed and transformed new year. What are these lessons?
Keep your friends and family close. Take care of your body and it will take care of you. Thoughts are not facts — be curious and seek out a broad range of information. Be kind — everyone has a story, everyone has a journey and a burden. Life is short — if you don’t experience moments of joy here and there, change something. Take note of the injustices around you — be the change. Appreciate what you have — it can disappear at any moment.
Some say hope is a discipline — I have high hopes for 2021!
Also of note: The inimitable Marlene Quillin, Girl Friday (and so much more) at the reception desk of the Chinook Observer, is semi-retiring this Wednesday, Dec. 30. Stop by to congratulate her on 18 and a half years of keeping our office squared away. And stay tuned for a profile of Marlene next week.