We would do well to dispense with the cliche of 2020 being a horrid year. This horror is real, and will be with us for decades. In my psychotherapy practice I’ve been flat out since late September, with a wave of tweens whose existing dis-ease has been slapped without regard into the skillet of virtual schooling, social distance, and diffuse, suppurating, omnipresent ambiguity. Just as with heights, every human fears the unknown, and our ability to manage such things is drawn equally from past strength and present comfort. For many COVID created direct distress, through death and loss. For many, many more, it has created indirect distress which has, after nine months, begun to stain the floor of daily practice. The resultant coping skills, maladaptive, appropriate, and in between, unearth the past of our own lives and those who came before us as surely as a flood cuts a new river channel; with an almost instant surety that is ruthlessly un-living.
Put another way, the pandemic has washed bare far more antecedent distress, individual, familial, and societal, than consequent tragedy. Ringing in the new year with another drink and a middle finger towards the virus that must not be named quickly passes from self care into denial.
It is therefore fitting that this was the summer of Black Lives Matter, of a renewed reckoning with the bedrock of structural inequality. It is equally fitting that it was the autumn of Trump and Johnson, pusillanimous and unselfaware dumplings of privilege. The patina of this year will endure for decades, be it Barret in Ginsbergs seat, figurehead of internalized toxic masculinity, or in the middle schoolers who, due to Autism or family trauma, will likely never have slack enough to catch back on, and will in years to come keep stretching the rope which links their childhood entitlement to infinite possibility with the adulthood of their future, and whose breakage will be seen as inevitable, and not the result of some virus at all.
COVID has shown us how all our lives are subject to history. 2020 marched, uniformitarian, turgid, stretched thin to unseeingness, through all of us. Everyone had their turn. Places like Montana, who came out of lockdown largely unrippled, had to merely wait. Those places who did better (New Zealand) or worse (USA) than average did so, in retrospect, for reasons set in motion centuries ago.
This sense of our own powerlessness is not all bad. My enduring memories of 2020 center around an especially crystalline start of spring here, and unstructured evening picnics with the boys on nights M was at work. I’d put the laptop away, commute downstairs to throw dinner, water, and layers in a backpack, and we’d go out into the woods, somewhere to gather rocks, paddle the packraft, cook sausages on a fire. Often we went for a walk. Rarely did we go further than a mile. One time we saw a mountain goat. My own ability to manage uncertainty, never especially extensive outside the most favored and cultivated areas of expertise, was in April worn ragged, and the sense of constancy those evenings gave still today lingers with a clarity that has rendered normal down to a single point of light.
The other most enduring memory of 2020 is all the things I let myself not do. I’ve written about the house we live in, and how it has started to mirror in me patience. This fall, after the rush to seal up the redone mudroom, I mostly let patience soak through me like a lemon drizzle. I made a bench, and finished up insulating the plumbing for the washer/dryer, and the half wall which hides it, but mostly I let things, like half empty backpacks from outings past, pile up, and soon enough my appreciation for what we had done, and our new ability to all four prepare to depart at once and without stepping on each other, make the crumbs of daily life more scrummy.
These are all things I intend to remember next year.