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The Last Day of the Worst Year - 12/31/2020

Every decade or so, it seems everything falls apart for me, before it puts itself back together. I was 12 years old in 1970, and in seventh grade, which must be the worst year of school in most people's lives; I know it was for me. In 1980, my first marriage fell apart; in 1990, my second marriage ended. In 2000, I had an accident that permanently injured my lower back, my appendix ruptured, I got diagnosed with Lupus, and I had to retire. In 2010, my last marriage ended. And here we are, in 2020, the year my beloved dog Clara died, COVID ravaged the world, I lost my job as a substitute teacher and subsequently went broke. Yet, somehow, I'm still safe and relatively healthy in my little home in the city of Tucson that I have come to love. I have a new dog who loves me (or at least loves to chew on me), new friends, and new jobs (multiple part-time jobs, but they do help me pay the bills). And if history repeats itself, things will start to get better for me until 2030 or so.

2020 has been difficult for most people around the world. It started off innocently enough. I remember reading about the first cases of a new virus right about this time last year, coming out of Wuhan, China. I thought to myself, "It will be like SARS, no big deal in the US," and didn't give it much more attention. Then in January I started reading about cases in Washington state, and I thought, "Well, that's far away, it won't come down here to Arizona." Then the next thing I knew I was reading about Italy closing its economy. I remember saying, "We'll never have to do anything like that here." Then suddenly it was early March, and the schools were closed. I was stunned, and jobless. If it hadn't been for the stimulus checks that the government got out, fairly quickly, I would likely have lost my home. Fortunately I was able to keep going until I started driving for DoorDash. Delivery businesses of all kinds boomed with COVID, and I was able to make decent money pretty consistently until the restaurants re-opened. Around September, my delivery income dropped, but I was able to start teaching again because the schools had re-opened. But I made the mistake of taking a vacation in early October, and losing those 10 days of income, plus the fee to board my pug, Timmy, while I was away, sent me into a financial tailspin. I was hospitalized briefly in November for a heart scare, which sidelined me further. I'm only now starting to recover financially. I'm so grateful for kind friends who helped me out; they were truly a Godsend.

So, it's the last day of the terrible year. The weather has been uncharacteristically cold here in Tucson; it went down to 36 degrees last night. But the days are bright and sunny, and there's a crisp anticipatory feel in the air. My neighbors are all smiles when Timmy and I pass on our walks, and call out cheerful "Happy New Year!" greetings to us. Everyone, it seems, is relieved to see this year end. In truth I guess we are all lucky to be here, unscathed (relatively, at least) by the Pandemic. If we are still alive, it wasn't such a terrible year, right? And surely when we look back on this year we will remember the silly things, like the toilet paper shortage, the strangeness of having to wear a mask and be counted as we went into stores to stock up on what we could find. For most of us alive today, this was our first experience of shortages in the US, and it helped us understand why our parents were so careful with money and why so many people from that generation hoarded items like string and paper towels. They lived through a Depression and at least one World War; they knew what hardship meant. Most of my generation and younger didn't, not really. Maybe we still don't. But the long months of staying home with family, or pets, or by ourselves for those of us who live alone, the uncertainty of whether our next paychecks would be enough to live on, the inability to exchange even the most basic of physical communication like a handshake, certainly helped to deepen our understanding of hardship.

The year wasn't all bad, of course. It is human nature, I think, and maybe especially American, to make jokes about difficult situations. Some of the best humor I've seen in years reflected the Pandemic and the US government's bungled response. We couldn't go to movies or live theatre, so we got first-run films premiering on TV and "Hamilton" in our living rooms on Independence Day. We were dazzled with the array of streaming options on TV. Personally, I don't think I've ever watched so much TV in my life, and not just ordinary shows, but really great, creative, groundbreaking shows - "The Queen's Gambit," anyone? Many of us rediscovered the joy of having a pet, and after my Clara died in late June, I discovered just how dark my life is without a dog. Thankfully, I was able to bring home my little pug puppy, Timmy, who needed me and loved me just because. He brought the joy back into my life.

When I think about 2020 in the future, I will remember that for me, as for many others, the year gave me a new understanding of what is really important in life, and how much is really enough. Things like makeup and hair and nails and fancy clothes suddenly seemed not to matter so much. I discovered that gray roots weren't the end of the world, and if my nails were short, who cares? And if you are wearing a mask all day, you don't really need makeup. We all know that you only need to wear a nice top for a Zoom meeting. And if you are a delivery driver, no one is going to care how you are dressed. When you are shopping and necessities are limited because of shortages, it isn't possible to hoard. So you buy what you need, and it is enough. I began to feel like the Israelites who were given just enough Manna from Heaven every day to meet their needs. I found that I was able to get by every day on the money I earned, and I didn't worry about what I would do in the future. For right now, that was enough.

So it is the last day of this terrible year. As I write, I hear fireworks going off outside, We have a curfew here at 10 p.m., so all of us are home, even though it's not yet midnight. I have already had my champagne toast and my New Year's hug, social distancing be damned. Next week I'm going to get my vaccine, as a frontline worker in my caregiver job. Friends are already being vaccinated. It's not over yet, but there is a sense that it will be soon. I once had a boss who was fond of saying, "Onward" whenever we put a tough task behind us. No matter the outcome, the only way out was forward. As this year comes to a close, I keep that in mind: "Onward." Let's keep fighting the good fight, and hope that 2021 will be a better year for us all. Happy New Year, everyone.

#COVID #DoorDash #Hamilton #ToiletPaperShortage #NewYearsEve #Onward

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