Five – Four -Three – Two – Onnnne – Haappyy New Yearrrr!!!!!
It’s a familiar refrain, one we gleefully shout at each other every year among kisses, hugs and spilled champagne. This year our voices were all tinged with an extra smudge of weariness – do we even dare hope for a better year to come? As though we have all learned the danger of too much hope, too soon.
Where were you last year on this date? At the start of 2020, when we were all still blissfully unaware of the year to come – of all the fears and tragedies (both real and imagined) we were yet to go through? What were your hopes and dreams? I know they did not include words like lockdown, social distancing, and zoom fatigue.
Unrelated to COVID-19, my 2020 started off with the ear-piercing screech of metal on metal life changes, a massive stream train suddenly switching tracks while at full speed as I dragged myself away from the comfortable job I had been doing for the previous 7 years and started a new position – with a transition period that overlapped them both at once. Other life regrets formed half-moons marks which would linger for months, dug into my skin as I tried to hold onto the appearance of holding it all together.
I was also so tired, from constant travel, have hardly spent more than 4 weeks at a time in any one place for the past two years: Colombia. Otavalo. Colombia. New York, Detroit, Chicago, Kansas City. LA. Quito. Bueno Aires. Quito. Vietnam. New York. Otavalo. Brazil. Quito. New York. Hanoi. Singapore. Philippines. Houston. LA. Quito. Rio. Cordillera Blanca. Quito. Lima. Connecticut. Maceió. It was exciting, until all I longed just for 2 weeks at home in East Hartford. The mire idea of it seemed so luxurious.
God knows so much more what we need than we do ourselves. And he knew I needed, like so many others, a moment to hit the reset button. To slow down, and just: Be. In. One. Place.
And instead, I got almost 10 months. Sleeping in my childhood bedroom, looking up at the glow-in-the dark-stars (placed in geographically correctly orientated constellations), El Paso taco kit nights with mom and dad, and just being so so grateful for it all.
The lockdown hit Quito hard. Restricted driving days. First a 6pm curfew. Then 2pm every day- strictly enforced. The moment that a helicopter started circling over the city Orwellian-style shouting down from a bullhorn “for the wellbeing of all, stay indoors” I knew I needed to get out. And suddenly the bland, mundane life of the suburbs seemed perfect.
To leave or stay. The embassy emailed saying ‘last flight out, take it or prepare to hunker down for a few months”. Life’s timing is always highly ironic, and I might not have forced myself on that plane, tears and snot soaking through my mask, looking back, if not for Ali who stayed on the phone with me all the way through check-in at the airport, through security and until there was finally no turning back. I owe her my all my mental sanity.
And somehow, it turned into one of the best years ever. The healing rhythm that started each day with the sound of Dad fresh grinding morning coffee, followed by long loops running through quiet, boring subdivisions, slow dog walks chatting with Mom, planting minuscule flower seeds, the feel of the cool spray from the garden hose for daily watering, weekend hikes through soft Connecticut ridges, watching baby leaves appear, and then grow, mature, turn dazzling colors, and eventually fall; nightly dinners eaten outdoors on the old red picnic table build by my grandfather, watching the red-headed wood peckers at the feeder, and falling asleep to crickets and finally waking again to song birds chirping was the slow IV drip of liquid beauty I needed to heal.
I know this year was so terrible for many, but I hope we have somehow gained more than we have lost. I gained a gift of a year with my parents. I see age slowly creeping into their bodies. The immortal question of ‘how much time is left’ starting to feel more real. Normally my FOMO would be too intense to allow me the patience to sit still for so long at home. But this year, there was nothing to miss out on. Nothing but the chipmunks staring at me from across the patio, and the mother deer with her fawn running through the dusky night.
Like a mantra, I repeated to myself on my runs all that I accomplished thanks to covid: restarted my Spanish lessons, joined a poetry group and found a passion for writing it, returned to therapy, took classes in happiness, marketing, and business; learned to love meditating and gratitude journaling, ran half marathons solo almost weekly, learned I have the disciple to fast, hit and the missed again my weight goals, read multiple books, daily calls with grandma, attempted and failed to beat a life-long nail-biting habit, created more art than the entire previous decade prior, but mostly just hung out a lot with my parents. And loved it. I really loved every non-cool, nerdy day of it.
Around June, the restrictions in Quito lessoned and the airport reopened, I could have gone home. But since we were working remote and everyone was still scared to go out, it seemed like why not stay a bit longer. And then a bit longer, became even bit more. I had left Quito with only a carry-on bag of clothes, certain there was no way I would possibly stay longer than June, even in the most extreme of circumstances I thought. Saw a meme that made me laugh out loud: the funniest part of this year was when we thought quarantine would only last for two weeks.
But now, after 10 months of being home, it felt like I am gently, but firmly being pulled back. Pulled back into my future. That this year was a moment of preparation for me, but not a place to put down too deep roots. The leaving feels incredibly sad. I know I will never have this exact moment again. I will of course have other times with my family. But this exact space can never again be inhabited. As can no space in life, ever.
And honestly, if given the option to hit repeat on this year, I would. Don’t hate me, but honest-to-God, I would 100% do it all over again. but this time trying even hard to hold on to these gentle moments, to have the knowledge to not get caught up in the worrying, but just to savor these quiet gifts that life and God give us.