What is a Bad Year? What is a Good Year? Everyday Magic, Day 1024

A friend told me that during her Christmas Zoom with family scattered far and wide, she realized how lucky they were: no one had Covid, lost their life or their job, and all had warm homes with ample food and holidays delights within easy reach. The next day I saw a line rush by on Twitter: “You didn’t have a bad year if the worst you experienced was not being able to go on vacation.”

So who is having a truly bad year? One of my coaching clients found in her research that about one third or more of us are comfy and cozy with adequate employment and health (although these numbers are in flux). The rest of Americans are struggling with what the headlines sum up as unemployment or underemployment, food insecurity, and inadequate or non-existent healthcare — all of which push them into situations where they face greater risks of exposure to Covid.

No surprise, that people who face greater economic disparity, are communities (Black, Latino, Native American, and others — more here) with the highest percentages of coronavirus. Overlapping with this, anyone who tends to have a low-paying or minimum wage job — such as people working in restaurants, hotels, gas stations, etc. — can’t work from home….that is, if they’re working at all. The pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on young people and people in the service industry (who are sometimes one and the same). My daughter, who left a serving job a year ago, says that 80% of her server friends are out of work, which mirrors statistics I’ve seen.

Then there’s the pain we can’t measure with statistical data: those grieving beloveds lost to Covid as well as those living with long-term health impacts from the disease. When the pandemic came home to roost in March, I remember so many conversations with people about how strange it was to have something largely invisible wreaking such havoc. Now, for just about everyone I know, it’s all too real. A dear friend lost her husband last Saturday after weeks of him being intubated. One of my old high school pals’ mom died, isolated in a nursing home with no family to comfort her, a few weeks ago. Friends in Minnesota, family in Wichita, pals around town tell of how it was the sickest they ever felt or not so horrendous but very strange (and still no sense of smell and taste has returned) or they’re relatively over it, but now they have asthma for life. I know people who are long-haulers, meaning the virus comes back to send them to bed every few weeks or months. There are other stories any of us, some of those stories our own, could add to this list.

But it’s not just the pandemic making 2020 an agony of year for many people: there’s the record-number of fires in California and Colorado and many western states in between. Although my friends out yonder aren’t struggling to stay inside with all the windows sealed because of dangerous air quality right now, many of them know and see the impacts. Amazing ecological writer Barry Lopez, who died this week, lost his home to the fires after years of writing about climate change and its personal and collective impacts. There are thousands of people rebuilding or trying to rebuild after losing everything. It was also one of the most active and destructive hurricane seasons ever (more here) with so many people losing homes, businesses, and even their communities to flooding.

All of this is to say that there’s a big gap between those of us who are healthy, homed, and moneyed enough, even if we’re also holding the weight of collective despair, fear, and anger, and those of us living on or over the edge of poverty, home or food insecurity, grief and heartbreak. How we define good or bad is often a personal and idiosyncratic thing, but one thing we can likely all agree on: it’s been a year like no other, and the totality of 2020’s pain and suffering hurts any feeling person’s heart.

Many say that humans are at their best in the worst of times, and that seems true too. I’ve seen — and likely you have too — so many altruistic acts of love, such as Meg Heriford’s commitment to transform her diner into a place offering free, hot meals (good ones too) to anyone in need along with pantry boxes and blankets (see the Washington Post article on her here). People I don’t know have reached out on Facebook to support me and others. Those I see on walks in the wetlands wave and say hello, clearly smiling under their masks. Most of us have given more contributions to more good work this year than in the last decade altogether. Just the other day on a 3-hour call (don’t ask) with AT&T customer assistance, I had a heart-to-heart with a service rep in Indonesia who wanted to make sure, in addition to fixing an account issue, that I was staying safe and had eaten a good lunch. Tenderness is afoot.

Yet here we are, on the cusp of 2021, and where I am, the sky is clouding over and preparing to likely paint the world in snow. I welcome the peace, I’m grateful to be warm and well-cared-for, and I’m enthralled with and in love with all the goodness innate in us also.

In the Last Hours of the Decade: Everyday Magic, Day 992

When I was kid, I fantasized about the year 2000, so far away it was almost unimaginable. Having a birthday in the tail-end of 1959, I thought about how I would be 40 then, so very old, over a decade older than my mother at the time. Now we’re about to tip over the cusp of 2020, I’ve just turned 60, and the unbelievability of time is still a deal for me. Walking across my deck in the cold, bright late light of the afternoon, year, and decade, I was struck by the magic of time travel from the kid I still very much am and what I seem to be now.

But that’s how time is: a human invention although the seasons born of the turning of the earth, the growth of the trees, and the motion of rocks moving slowly across oceans or fields keep their own kind of count. The closest I can come is through the animal nature of this being human thing: my skin has clearly aged, parts of the body shifting upward and mostly downward. Scars and wrinkles, freckles or pimples, veins more apparent in my limbs and hearing less apparent in my ears all say things have indeed changed. Yet I’m happy for each mark and sign that I’m aging, having had more than a glimpse of the alternative.

I’ve wrestled twice with cancer, this past year in my eye and 17 years ago in my breast, and in both situations, I thought of Jacob in the Old Testament, who shows us what it means to keep wrestling with whatever dangerous angel shows up until we can extract a blessing from the encounter. Other brushes with mortality have likely changed me more than the pull of gravity and other weathering of my body. Then again, such encounters are their own pulls of gravity. The fantastical magic of time is best understood in relationship to where we truly are, in a place, in a body, in a community, and mostly in relation to the here and now.

Which brings me around to this moment: the western horizon golds itself up into the darkening blue. The bare branches, finally still after a windy afternoon, hold birds roosting out of sight. The cats sleep on my bed between giving me dirty looks for being a few minutes late in feeding them. All over my time zone and in many others wheeling toward midnight, people are putting on sparkly shirts to go out or fluffy slippers before putting their feet up, a book balanced on their laps. All over the time zones already launched into 2020, people are sipping champagne or coffee or the bitterness of hunger, despair, and pain. All the same, many if not most humans probably have some awareness that it’s a new time, which is actually obviously always true but more clear to us at moments like this.

We travel together, arriving in our own time at what’s next, often not understanding fully how we got here, but knowing that gravity and that beautiful yearning to live and do something of meaning had something to do with it. May we all unpack ourself in the new year with greater kindness, peace, gratitude, and imagination.

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In the Sweet Cusp of This New Year: Everyday Magic, Day 472

After cleaning the house for a party, the party, the clean-up, the movie afterwards, and the driving of relatively young people (e.g. old enough to party but still the kids to Ken and me) to town, I’ve landed in this sweet cusp of the changing of the years, leading me to these realizations:

  • When in doubt, mix holidays. They blend like latkes with ham and bean soup on the side. Tonight we combined Hanukkah (having falling naughtily right over the wide angle lens of Christmas) with New Year’s Eve for New Yanukkah. We lit the menorah, singing the Hebrew prayer, followed by Auld Lang Syne. Our friends and family sang with us, and I loved how naturally “Baruch atah adonai” led into “Should old acquaintances,” like they’ve been paired together for centuries, old drinking and praying buddies of tunes.
  • If drinking to be done, it’s best done at home in excessive moderation. Or not.
  • The same goes for dessert, which seemed to multiply over the evening (thus the price for having a potluck).
  • However many latkes you plan to make, double that, and have extra potatoes on hand.
  • Cold medicine — the kind you need to show your driver’s license for — can turn an ordinary woman into a potato shredding machine. It also diminishes nasal congestion and makes doing the dishes a joy ride.
  • Two bottles of cheap champagne is enough for 30-40 people to have a toast at the weary hour of 8 p.m. (close enough to midnight for me). The first toast was “No more death,” but after discussion by the crowd, we rejected this because of the long-term implications, then toasted to “No more injustice” and some other things specifically cheapest cialis online australia related to one specific Kansas politician.
  • My daughter never heard the version of “When Shepherds Watch Their Flocks at Night” that goes, “When Shepherds Wash Their Socks at Night.” She also didn’t know about how “Sooooooooooooolar Power. Inexpensive energy” as the chorus to “Angels We Have Heard on High.” I’m glad I remedied that lack in her education.
  • “The Grass is Greener,” a 1960’s British film starring Cary Grant, Deborah Kerr and Robert Mitchum, is the perfect thing to watch after a New Yanukkah party because of its witty banter. Who knew?
  • If everyone spins their dreidel at once and then tries to half away the M & M’s in the center at once, it’s very confusing, but if we spin at once and then reach in to add or subtract M & M’s around the table, all works out grandly, and there are always enough M & M’s despite this game being “the gateway drug to gambling for Jews,” according to my children.
  • Tracy Chapman’s “Talking about Revolution” (currently on radio) is timeless, especially if the Mayans are coming after all.
  • What’s been most to clear to me is how, to steal a great bumper sticker, we really are the ones we were waiting more (even more so than Mayan reincarnated extra-terrestrials.  So here’s to the friends of near and far, the ones I’ve felt like I’ve known forever but just met as well as the ones who have been through it all with me and me and them: I love the sparkling angles of new and old light we swim through together, and love who you are in the darkness and in the light. Let’s keep crossing over together.

When Kelley Hunt Sings: Everyday Magic, Day 167

Last night, once again, I was transported along with many others on and around the dance floor when Kelley Hunt and her band brought us over the threshold of 2011. As we danced, people yelled in my ear things like, “We’re back in the vortext,” “I feel like we’ve always been here,” and “It’s all happening again.” We sang “Knocking on Heaven’s Door” with her, we were bedazzled by an electric guitar player who brought us out to Jupiter and back home, we were astonished by Kelley on piano, her voice loud and low or fast and wide, and we truly came home to something far more real and alive than everyday life usually shows us. Here’s the poem I wrote last year about it all:

When Kelley Hunt Sings

The night is made of song in this moment, the chords ringing

through our bones in harmony or dissonance at the end of one world

and the beginning of another. She closes her eyes, leans forward, sings.

The first velvet words land right in the center of whatever we thought

we knew. By the time the next words arrive, we’re ready: hips tilting

to one side, shoulders to the other, the drum beat an ocean of rhythm,

a hummingbird in the center of our chests. The fire warms us

across the distance, from the CD player in the car on an icy day

or right here, in Liberty Hall, on the last night of a decade.

When we inhale, we’re down at the riverside. When we exhale,

it’s clear that it’s not over when it’s over. The band explodes

at the top of the mountain, her hands dizzy across the keyboard

or the red guitar, each low note catches sun right below horizon.

Then the sudden rise of voice and bass, horn and drums,

following us into the dark, falling away but always near, light

as the strongest wings, heavy as the siren calls of all we’ve lost

but still love in our lives. She sings this, here, a new shade of blue

that rushes us back toward the dance floor right into music

that chimes our hearts open, boogy-woogies our muscles

into the lone star road of twist and rise, lifts our sights above

the blue notes and uncertainties so that finally, maybe forever

nothing holds us back from how we were meant to move.

***Thank you, Kelley!***