Well, That Was 2021

Remember looking forward to 2021?

Remember nearing the end of 2020, that terrible year, that pandemic? Boy, were we looking forward to all that mess being over! We were saying “Yay, a new year! 2021, new beginnings!” 


Yeah, right.

The virus. It’s still here, and actually worse in a way. They say it’s easier to catch than last year’s version, and although it’s weaker it’s still potent enough to be crowding the hospitals again. It’s hard not to give in to the feeling of futility, isn’t it? I still have hope, though, that we will prevail. I believed at the outset that if we worked together we would make it go away. 1

That may still turn out to be so in 2022, but it sure didn’t happen in 2021. If the elusive “herd immunity” is to be reached it will be by the combination of those who got the shot and those who refused but will contribute the hard way, by getting sick and recovering. The pandemic will soon turn endemic, something we live with like colds and the flu. Like with colds and the flu, we will be less likely to catch it if we wash our hands and keep them off our faces, cover our sneezes, and (close your eyes to read this if you can’t stand the thought) wear a mask in crowded places. Another thing contributes to my feeling of hopefulness, though:

I see good people.

I see them everywhere. I have a family of good people. I live in a neighborhood of good people. I work with good people. Some of the good people I know don’t believe the same things I do, about all kinds of topics including that pandemic. They’re still good people.

Good people. They’re everywhere.

The best thing about being human
Is not the great things we can do
We might think we’re pretty terrific
But living alone makes us blue.

It’s living and working together
That makes a community work
With kindness and love for each other
(Except the occasional jerk.)

It’s not just the way we pursue things
In search of success and for gold
Or wanting more money than others,
An empty pursuit so I’m told.

It’s caring and kindness that does it
Together we will make it through
With generous care and good laughter
And loving is part of it too.

Wherever we look there is goodness
As long as we’re open to see
The good that often lies hidden
In people just like you and me.


 

2020

What a year, right? I hear friends wishing for it to end, as if the New Year will flip a magic switch and 2021 will bring an end to “this terrible year.” We might not want to admit it in the days before that “Happy New Year,” but getting over 2020 will be gradual and forever incomplete. Those who have died will long be mourned. Many businesses won’t come back and many jobs are lost forever. We will never return to many of our old easy habits. Coping mechanisms have emerged that will cast long shadows, some dark. There will be post-traumatic stress effects. Office space, work hours, transportation patterns, conferences and conventions, birthday parties: all will return in distorted form. 2020 gets the blame.

But who knows, if not for 2020…

What Good Might Not Have Started

Who knows what good might not have started
If we had all stayed the same way,
Enmeshed in routines done dull-hearted
Just trudging half blind through each day.

This year that has seemed so accursed
Has brought us a new point of view
Would we never or ever have noticed
The people we praise now anew?

The nurses, the doctors and teachers,
The drivers, and grocers and clerks,
The helpers and healers who stepped up
To make sure that everything works.

And food banks that came into being
Where never before angels went
With generous souls freely serving
To people who stretched to make rent.

Admiringly we call them “the front line”
The people that we never knew
But angels appear when you need them
And COVID has brought them in view.

I wonder if we would have squandered
Our hours and minutes away
Unfeeling and mute as we wandered
Complacent in each passing day.

The crisis has made us refocus
On things that are precious and dear
Like casual hugs and cheek-kisses
And missing them made some things clear,

Like valuing love and each other,
Giving service to others in need,
And loving the ones we hold closely,
Being thankful in thought, word, and deed.

Four Seasons

It’s been hot here in Colorado lately. Not unusual for the season, I’ll agree. Not like the 120 °F that they’ve reached in spots to the west of us (even in temperate Southern California, wow!) but for us, reaching 100 degrees is pretty unusual. That’s what we had a day or two ago in Denver and then today… well, more on that later.

I remember summers in Virginia, where I grew up. What I remember is sweat. When it starts it never seems comfortable to me, though it’s doing the work of cooling me off, setting me up for the next cool breeze. Maybe I should be more appreciative, but it just makes me feel slow, and dank, and awkward. Once when I was a kid, I remember…

Summer. Sweat.

I was never so gangly and sweatful and dumb
As on that day when a new cousin came to see us.
A second cousin Mama said, family up from Tennessee.
I was seven and she was too but she was older, by far.

“What do you do around here?”
“I dunno. Play I guess.” Stupid answer, so stupid! Why did I say that?
She sat with the grownups and they all talked.
Her hair was golden, shiny, curled. After a while, bored, I went out to play.

Outside, Tommy came over and we chased each other,
tag-I-gotcha no-ya-didn’t until breathinghard sweatstreaming we paused,
swiping at the little grimy sweat beads that catch up dirt in the creases of your neck
and you can roll them out with your fingertips.

Afternoon sun glaring, heart pounding hot, leaning over hands braced on knees, sweat.
They all came out to her daddy’s car, cool as lemonade. “Bye now, y’all come see us.”
Such a bright smile, like my mother’s.
We never did go down to Tennessee.


Then comes the fall. One November, when Stormy and I were working in Bulgaria, I noted about the change in seasons that the month “started off with windy bright days that sent confused little eddies of dry brown leaves skittering noisily around the sidewalks in a panic.” 1

Fall. The Wind.

“Why so fast, Wind, what’s the need
For such ruthless, restless speed?”
Trees are frightened, some may fail,
Overcome by autumn’s gale.

Straining, bracing, they resist
Yielding to your brutal fist.
They whose leaves were high and fair
Stand naked now, denuded, bare.

Running, fleeing, leaves fly free
Through the streets ahead of me.
Hiding, huddled, by the stair,
Some dry leaves cower, shiv’ring, scared.

A moment’s rest, a heavy sigh
And then a prowling gust comes by.
“Aha! I found you! Now you’re done!”
Frantic, frenzied, out they run.

This day will bring no rest for trees
Or leaves, or me, out in the breeze.


And then today (remember it was extra hot a few days ago!) this is what we woke up to. Snow on trees

The heavy snow on the branches reminded me of a little fable. I’ve told it before 2 But here, let me tell it again, this time as a poem…

Winter. The Snowflake.

“Tell me the weight of a snowflake,”
The tiny black coalmouse said.
Taken aback, the dove thought it over,
And puzzled, she tilted her head.

“Why it’s nothing more than nothing,” she cooed,
“As light as an angel’s kiss.”
“Well then, I have a marvelous story to tell,”
Said the coalmouse. “One still night like this,

“I sat by the branch of a fir tree,
As many a time I had done.
Then softly and dreamlike in silence
A small snowflake fell. I said, ‘One.’

“Then idly I counted a million
And two million more, making three.
Then hundreds of thousands to seven
Each one on the branch of my tree.

“I almost lost track in a flurry
But I had a big job to do.
Three million sev’n hundred and forty-
One thousand, nine hundred and fifty-two.

“Each one safely settled and rested
Until with a SNAP! loudly heard
The three million sev’n hundred forty-
One thousand, nine hundred and fifty-third

“Broke the branch and so they all tumbled,
With one added flake down they slid.
Its weight was just nothing and nothing you said,
But see what that one snowflake did.”

The dove pondered this for a moment;
A quiet insight had its birth.
“Perhaps there is just one voice lacking
To finally bring peace to the earth.”

— Poem based on the story Also Sprach der Marabu, by Kurt Kauter (1913-2002)


Stormy and I lived for years and years in places where it seemed there were no seasons, or at least they were subtle, or muted. When we moved to Bulgaria it made us remember our childhoods, and the regularity of seasonal change, the lessons that come from knowing that things will not always be as they are. The lessons of preparing for the next season, like the lesson the ant tried to teach the grasshopper. “Winter survival” was what they called the preparation for the reality of the barren bitter cold. Enduring the winter was made bearable by the promise of spring, and the festivals anticipating the season were as much a part of the yearly cycle as planting and harvesting in their times. The anticipation of the season of wondrous new growth reached a peak on March 1, with the Baba Marta holiday 3 and the return of migrating storks to their nests. The season of renewal…

Spring. The Sprout.

Pushing, straining hard
Through dark damp unyielding earth.
Sunlight! I love you.