December 31, 2020

Looking back on parts of 2020

A friend of mine recently posted this on Facebook:

Name a good thing that happened during 2020.

For me I made a bunch of new friends that I would have never known were it not for this year.

I drew a blank when trying to answer this seemingly easy question. After reading through the many responses, small and good things that had happened to people I didn't know, my comment to the post was simply, "this thread" because I appreciated so much the question and the answers. 

Our memories seemed pre-disposed to remember our struggles more than our victories, the bad over the good. On top of that, my memory is chronically poor so 2020 (maybe more so than other years) is all just a haze. But on this last day of the year I sat down and tried to remember some of the more positive things that happened this year among all the general suffering. Since my memory is terrible, this is by no means a complete list, and I look forward to people reminding me of things I forgot. 

  • When the shelter-in-place orders came in, so many were stuck at home. Some were fortunate to be able to work from home and thus keep their jobs. However, cabin fever still exists and with few places open and many outlets restricted, many took to walking around the neighborhood. Many seemed to adopt dogs to give them an excuse to get outdoors. Since they were now home more than ever, it was also a great time to help the new pups adjust. While walking around the neighborhood, most everyone was more friendly, exchanging waves and greetings from a distance, deftly maneuvering off and onto the sidewalks to give each other space. The neighborhood felt more neighborly this year.

  • The neighborly feeling also extended beyond the neighborhood. There are obviously endless stories of how people are not taking Covid seriously, and just generally behaving as if providing even the smallest amount of concern for their fellow man is beyond them. However, I have seen so many small gestures of kindness that made me see the care in other people. All the small things that said that though were are not all in the same boat, that we see that we are all weathering the same storm. That we are all in this together. 

  • This was to be a huge fitness year for me. My 2020 schedule included Ramrod, two Half Ironman events, and my first full Ironman. All were ultimately postponed to 2021. As I have mentioned here previously, having an event on the calendar provides the motivation to get out there running, biking and now swimming. The literal finish line gives me something to shoot for, and a proper deadline to make sure the workouts happen. Without the deadlines this year, it was easier to stay on the couch, but various virtual challenges helped keep me from falling too far off the wagon. My regular Thursday night running group the North Bend Beer Runners stuck together all year online. People posted pictures and stories of their runs, as well as pictures of them toasting each other, now at a distance instead of gathered in local pub or brewery. Northwest Trails also held a trail running challenge over the summer. Each week there were new routes and scavenger hunts that kept us outdoors and engaged. Even the silly challenges on Strava (workout four days a week, run a solo 5k or half marathon, etc.) helped keep me moving forward. While I definitely missed the atmosphere and comradery of in-person events, the virtual version definitely did some good.

  • And speaking of virtual communities, it was the year of Zoom and the like. For a number of weeks in the summer, several long time friends from the Keg Restaurant would have a weekly Zoom gathering on Fridays. It was nice to see all the faces and hear their stories once a week. My biking group also "gathered" somewhat less formally on the Marco Polo app. The app lets you send short video messages to individuals and groups. Sometimes we would send random clips of what we were doing, but there would also be semi-regular gatherings with Jenica kicking things off with a "Roll call, watcha drinking?" Of course nothing will replace being able to see each other in person, but in this strange year of distancing, there was still some connection.

  • For about a month I did a "Friends in Photos" project on Facebook and Instagram. I posted a photo each day of a different friend, most often a picture of the two of us side by side. The project was intended to run until we could gather in person once again, but of course this has gone on longer than most of us anticipated. Sometimes I would write a little note with the picture, sometimes they were posted with little context, but it was great to revisit all the faces and places and remind myself how fortunate I am. 

  • At the end of last year I purchased something called a Five Year Journal. The journal is set up with a page for each day, but with room on the page for entries for five consecutive years. My writing habit has obviously been neglected these past few years, and I suppose I decided to begin using this journal to jump start it a bit. It was also meant for me to pay more attention. As noted above, I often have trouble recalling the smaller things that brought me joy in the moment. In previous years I have tried writing the smaller things down on strips of paper and putting them in a jar to read back again at the new year, but after the first month or two I would forget and lose the habit. This journal has been more successful, but again there are weeks here and there where nothing was written down. I finally put a daily reminder on my calendar so at 8:00 each night it pings me to recall the day. It ended up being a very strange year, and I am glad to have this journal as a small window into all that that 2020 was, and to have it continue to keep me paying attention in the years ahead. 

This was such a terrible year in so many respects. Global and personal suffering. Hardships for friends and myself. People we have lost, and beliefs that have been fractured. 2020 is a year that we will all be glad to have in our rearview mirror. However, a flip of the calendar page will not wash it all away, and 2021 will also be difficult for many of the same reasons. The light at the end of the tunnel can seem far off, but I will continue the effort to look for the small joys that bring us light. 

December 24, 2020

Favorite Christmas Memory

The holidays in 2020 may go down as the least memorable. Well, they may be memorable, but not in a positive way. I was recently reminded of one of my favorite Christmas memories, so I thought I would share it here. 

I was living in my first apartment with a buddy of mine. It was a two bedroom in the Crossroads area, with a shared laundry in another part of the building, and had this strange rollaway dishwasher that you connected to the sink with a hose. I remember the messy lesson that you when you are out of dishwashing soap, you shouldn't substitute dish soap. I can still picture the soap suds pouring out of the dishwasher and filling the kitchen. 

We both worked at the McDonald's down the hill. We could walk, or in my roommate's case skateboard, to work. We worked early morning shifts to open up the place, unloaded the delivery trucks each week, and had closing shifts where we were there past midnight. I remember I started at $3.35 an hour and we couldn't have been making much more than four or five dollars an hour when we moved in together. Things were obviously cheaper back then, but we were still just scraping by. We took advantage of the free meal each day we were at work, and our cupboards were filled with Top Ramen and Campbells soup. There was certainly no money for much of a Christmas. 

We were both working the night shift a day or two before Christmas. When we arrived home, there was a Christmas tree set up and decorated in our living room. Our girlfriends had sweet-talked a guy at a Christmas tree lot into giving them a Christmas tree for free or nearly so. Since it was almost Christmas, maybe he wasn't going to sell any more trees anyway. Maybe the trees were all headed to the woodchipper by that point. Maybe our girlfriends were particularly charming or told a great story. Somehow they made it happen even though they were about as broke as we were. 

They decorated the tree with ornaments and tinsel they had swiped from their parent's trees. It was probably a bit of mess of mismatched and sparse decoration, but even then all I could see was the beautiful tree through Charlie Brown eyes, and fill my lungs with that wonderful fresh pine tree smell. It was such a wonderful gesture, and one of those little Christmas miracles. 

I have had grander Christmases, and many special moments shared with wonderful friends and family who I love. There have been other gifts that were perfectly chosen, sometimes revealing how well someone knows me. Still, I cannot recall a Christmas gift or moment that meant quite as much as that one thirty five years ago.