Silver linings in a very dark cloud
Tens of millions infected.
More than a million dead.
Nearly everyone’s lives upended in ways great and small.
All because of COVID-19, which made 2020 a terrible year even for those of us lucky enough to have not been personally touched by the virus.
But as we get ready to enter 2021 — with all the hope a new year brings, multiplied by a million — were there any positives to this year? Did anything good happen?
Bill from A Silly Place asked several of his blogging buddies, including me, to try and name one good thing that happened in their lives this year …
We like Canada and we like trains.
Passions have surely been built on less, right?
The truly best thing to have happened this year is that (knock on wood) I and all the people I care about most are healthy, but if I’m going to put aside my tendency to look for the worst in everything, I’m going to have some fun.
That Canadian train journey we found on a local public TV station introduced us to Michael Portillo, a former Tory member of the British Parliament with a booming voice, taste for brightly colored clothing, century-old travel guides and love for trains of all types — be they luxury cross-country liners or heritage railways that only go a couple miles — along with a willingness to laugh at himself whether he’s attempting to stitch a hat in Vietnam or do local dances.
At the start of the pandemic, Thursdays were devoted to streaming National Theatre Live shows, but once those ended, they became “Pizza and Portillo” nights. As we’ve watched him explore the Northeast and West Coast of the United States, the width of Canada, Alaska, India, Australia, Alaska and Southeast Asia, I’ve realized two reasons why he appeals to us so much … well, three if you count some amazing scenery.
The first is that — perhaps a visit to a jelly bean factory in California aside — he seems endlessly and genuinely curious about everywhere he goes. Everything seems to fascinate him, and that fascination pulls you in. Before you know it, you’re learning something about the history of Thailand, or Alaskan villages that hold onto their Russian heritage.
Secondly, it flies off the screen that in his second career as a teller of travel tales, he is having the time of his life.
And isn’t that the point of traveling … to have the time of your life? Here’s hoping we can do it again in 2021.
Everyone says that 2020 has been a disastrous year, that everything has gone wrong.
For us, its nowhere near as bad as even the first month of 2019 alone. It has been a rollercoaster, a huge adjustment, abound with privations and upheaval, new challenges. But January 2019 was still worse, for us.
That personal perspective aside, despite all the challenges of 2020, I’ve rather enjoyed this year. Because all the hard things we’ve gone through have given us other opportunities, too. No rushing around to swimming and rugby? Well, we discovered new local treasures to visit. No trips to attractions 20 miles away? Well, we savoured our local woods as the seasons changed and enjoyed watching the spring and summer blossom with weekly arrivals of leaves and flowers. No summer holiday to France? Well, a wonderful two weeks with our parents making up for missed visits.
I feel a bit like lockdown has taken us back in time to the days of the last great flu pandemic. At that time, my grandma wasn’t born but my great-aunt was 9 years old, her three sisters between 2 and 7. Her family was all closed up together, just as we have been, unable to see their grandparents despite being close by. We’ve spent months with only each other’s company, hardly seeing another person some weeks.
Technology means that that isolation has, for us, been so much less heavy than it
must have been for my great-grandma and her family. Conversely, I doubt my great-grandma was trying to run home learning at the same time — and boy did we absorb some lessons from that experience!
My great-aunt died several years ago at the grand age of 103, and my grandma was telling me about her a couple of weeks ago. Whether their family contracted Spanish flu, we don’t know, but they did suffer from a diphtheria outbreak. The two youngest girls died and my great-aunt was confined to her bed for a year. She had to learn to walk again and ended up going up to secondary school in the same class as her younger sister.
Reflecting on the pandemic experiences of my grandma’s older sister brings me huge gratitude for the world we live in. Today, we’re all vaccinated against diphtheria and many other diseases that would have been fatal 100 years ago. In the coming months, we’ll be vaccinated against COVID-19, too.
There’s a lot of chatter on the interweb about corners being cut, but really I think it’s just timelines that are compressed. Those quarterly review meetings have been daily
instead, the waiting for authorities to get to the next things on their long list has been bypassed with the vaccines going to the front of the queue.
So for us, 2020 has been filled with many tiny silver linings, new experiences, new closeness of the family, new gratitude for our situation and new appreciation for the benefits our modern world has to offer.
From the moment I became a mother, time sped up. It was constantly measured and it somehow just disappeared. Once the baby was born, every second, minute, hour seemed to be counted. First home visit, six week check up, jabs at three months, weaning at six months. He should be crawling now. Time to start potty training. You need to apply for a nursery before the deadline. Time whizzed by.
As a character in a Heinrich Böll novel once said, another day that your child is alive is another day closer to you dying. A bit depressing, I know. Which is what the 16-year-old me thought when she was reading the story in a German A-Level lesson. For some reason, I’ve always remembered this quote (amazing given how I’ve managed to forget the majority of the curriculum I was taught at school.) And I think it’s true. As soon as you become a parent, you find yourself hurtling towards milestones at a greater speed and there is no option to put on the brakes. Until 23 March 2020.
The best thing about lockdown for me was that it stopped time. In the words of my musical hero, Billy Joel, I suddenly had the longest time. The longest time to live again. I owned time rather than the other way round. It couldn’t dictate to me any longer.
Mornings were unusually leisurely. No frantic school runs. Recipe books were located, meals were cooked from scratch and enjoyed (well, mostly) as a family. No pinging of the microwave to signal food was available. Conversations were longer and uninterrupted. No shouting an incomplete sentence as you dashed out of the door, to be finished later via text. We had hours to walk to our destinations. No need for the car, which stood idle on the drive.
And with the longest time, I somehow found myself writing daily and gaining an audience by way of my daily Corona diary. Admittedly, most readers were already friends or acquaintances, but the odd unknown person did slip through the net and discover my ramblings. As a child, I had been both an avid reader and writer. I would write for no reason but for me. But school and university stole this from me. Evaluate this prose. Analyse this poem. Dissect this source. Writing became prescriptive and unenjoyable.
But, with the help of the longest time, I rediscovered writing. I did not feel guilty escaping into a solitary room to either type frantically on the iPad or scribble untidily into a notebook. No one made demands on my time during lockdown, so I was unrestricted with how I used my passing seconds, minutes, hours. I had time to think. Words could flow towards me like bubbles and I was able to convert them into letters before they popped, lost to me forever. The long-held ambition to write a book, which had been lost to the realities of daily life, rose like a phoenix. With encouragement from my appreciative audience, sheets of paper gathered in an old folder. Soon, a title page was added and the longest time meant the pieces of white A4 began to resemble a book. And I had done that.
And I also think of others who benefited from this time. A relative who didn’t have to leave her baby and rush back to work. My parents, newly moved, seeing neighbours for the first time and starting conversations. An old friend with a terminal illness who had that special extra time with her children.
So that was the silver lining of 2020 for me. Luckily my family and I have been spared from the relentless cruelty of this disease. But as the year comes to end, it is clear the war is far from being over. A fresh battle is upon us and the fervent hope that 2021 will herald a healthier period is dwindling day by day. But, as the daily infection rates increase, so does my yearning that I may be granted the longest time again. Time for the world to rid itself of this vile virus once and for all. And time for me to live.
One facet of my life where 2020 has been truly pivotal for me is my professional growth. Back at the beginning of the year, I committed to doing something that I had been considering doing for over a year — getting my coaching certification.
In March, I started a six-month program to get my certification as a life coach. It wasn’t until I was a few months into the program that I realized how much I really needed it. While I discovered that I don’t currently have any interest in building my own business, coaching classes have given me some awesome new connections, improved listening skills and some newfound confidence. Even if I don’t start my own coaching practice, I learned valuable skills and earned a certification that I can always use.
In September, I actually hit the five-year milestone at my current company. Since this is the first job that I had directly out of college, this milestone was a very big deal for me. This also means that I have been out of college for five years…but I don’t want to talk about that … .
My tenure at my current company has been so fulfilling, with five years, three positions, two buildings and countless new relationships and lessons. I am blessed to have spent my first years in the professional world working for a company that I love and respect so much.
Another part of my professional life that has changed is that I, like many people this year, have started working from home. As a social person who thrives on building relationships and being near others, I never expected to ever be able to successfully work from home. I thought that I would feel too lonely and disconnected from my coworkers to feel comfortable working from home. (This was especially distressing as someone who would like to pursue a career that involves writing, a largely isolated profession!).
As it turns out, I was able to successfully work from home as well as keep my work relationships intact. This was made monumentally easier by the fact that Dan and I still live with my parents, so I was fortunately never alone. Like any other relationship in life, relationships with coworkers (whether they remain only colleagues or become friends) take effort, and honestly, I believe that relationships are one of the most important places to expend that effort.
Now that I’ve learned that I can successfully work from home, I have been able to open myself up to careers that involve working from home exclusively, namely writing! I have been doing freelance work for a company called TĒONAN that I’m really excited about, and I recently agreed to start working with them full-time. As someone who has worked full-time for only one company in the first five years since college, this is going to be a huge life change for me.
While I am excited about the prospect of doing something I love full-time, my ridiculously nostalgic and sentimental self is already missing my old coworkers and the memories I’ve made with them. But 2020 is my year for professional growth, and I am ready and grateful for the opportunity to move forward in my professional life toward something that more closely aligns with my ultimate career goals.
If I’m being honest, 2020 had just as many highs for me as it did lows. If it had been a normal year, it’d probably be one of the best of my life. It’s incredibly hard to pick just one silver lining, so here’s a roundup of the biggies.
Kicking off the year, my husband and I promised ourselves to spend as much time as possible outside, in a quest to make the long winter season feel more bearable. (It’s almost poetic that we set the stage for an entire year where the outdoors would be the only escape possible.) We discovered a new passion for cross-country skiing and downhill skiing (snowboarding for me!) and that was an incredible way to embrace the Colorado snow and cold.
Though I’ll always remember the layer of sadness on my birthday in March — cancelling a trip, celebrating 25 alone and isolated to our small apartment — it also brings memories of intense excitement as we went under contract for our first home. Sure, the house-buying process was odd and uncomfortable with disinfected tours, digital reliance and an extreme anxiety that we were making a giant mistake, but Chad and I made our dreams come true. This was huge for us, and I’m so proud of the accomplishment.
In addition to making our house a home (which I’ve found to be incredibly fun and a worthwhile project), we also added a new member to our family. Our goldendoodle puppy, Wally, has been the greatest gift I could have (and have, for many, many years) asked for. The first stressful weeks of dog ownership — late-night visits to the yard, chewed-up valuables, repetitive barks of a puppy finding its voice — were totally worth it, as we’re closing down the year with a giant best friend who reminds us daily how much he loves us.
During all this change, another big one hit: I lost my job. My tourism-industry PR position was just not jiving with a global pandemic. (Go figure.) And while at the time it seemed like a crashing heartbreak (that impending mortgage payment was ominously looming over my shoulder), it turned out to be one of the highlights of this entire year — the kick in my pants I really needed professionally. After a dark window of stress and rejection, I redirected my efforts and energies and threw myself into my own content-creation business. Since then, I haven’t looked back. I’ve worked with some incredible clients, created some good content and have surpassed my previous wages, and then some. Above all, I’m happy.
The past year brought many opportunities for growth and knowledge. I learned to listen and be a better ally, the perfect mechanisms of a cover letter, to run a business full-time, how to apply for a mortgage, the ins and outs of raising a puppy, the nuances of Zoom meetings, the importance of face-to-face interactions (you don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone!), how to be a better spouse and partner and how to make a damn good whipped coffee.
If I had to come up with one good thing that happened this year — which is actually the point of this post — it’s that I had a valid excuse to stay home. I’m the queen of the introverts, and I’m not one for socializing or really leaving the confines of my house. So knowing that it’s OK to stay home, it’s kind of great. I don’t feel like I have FOMO or have to worry about if I’m not making enough plans with friends.
I know that I have the privilege of staying home and being able to work from home. I’m thankful and grateful for the health care workers, first responders, front-line workers and everyone who has been working and doing their jobs during all of this. I’d like to think that I’ve been doing a very small part by staying home to keep myself safe, my family safe and other people safe.
I remember at the beginning of the pandemic and the shutdowns, people would say, “Oh, yeah, we’re staying home a lot more now and it’s different,” and my response was, “Uh, this is the normal amount of time that I usually spend at home?” As I’ve said to friends, I’m thriving during all of this because I don’t have to see anyone.
A sub-good thing I’ll include that’s related is that I’m glad I’m still living at home and was able/still able to quarantine with my parents and my pets. In March, when everything shut down and my dad and I started working from home, I wasn’t sure how it would go, but after working out a few things, it hasn’t been bad at all. I don’t think I’d want to be living alone during this time.
Once we’re allowed to go places again and see people safely, I think I’ll have to slowly ease myself into that because it has been nice to just stay home. But I also enjoy doing a few things here and there and having a bit more structure to my life. Until then, though, you’ll find me on my couch with a book and a coffee.
If you look at my 2020 one way, you would see that nothing went right for me. I lost my job, had to move out of the state I loved and lost many family members. And then from another point of view, everything went right for me. I got a new job and was able to move closer to my family during a time where family is so important.
The silver lining to 2020? Well, it’s hard to see, but it’s there. I will always look back at this year as the year I saw the worst in humanity. But I will also see it as a year that despite all the difficulties, I was able to power through. I was able to secure a new job doing something I love way more than my old job. I was able to move somewhere close to my nieces and nephew who light up my life. I can see my friends again (socially distanced and safely of course).
2020 was a dark cloud, but my friends, my family, my successes have been such bright lights and made all of the pain truly worth it. I miss the family members I lost and I still mourn New Hampshire from time to time, but there truly was a bright side. It makes me believe in everything happening for a reason just a little more. And I’m so happy to see New Jersey’s cases drop and the vaccine make its way through the country.
From here on out, I think I will appreciate life a little more. A year indoors and a year without travel was not ideal. But it forced me to settle and accept all that I have — which is actually pretty great. I’m looking forward to 2021, to washing my hands of a lot of the hate I’ve seen throughout the last year. But I will definitely be taking those silver linings with me.
2020 has been hard; there’s no shying away from that fact. The entire world has experienced varying amounts of pain this year. Whether it is from a cause related to the global pandemic, including loss of loved ones, debt, social alienation and so much tragedy, or it has nothing to do with the pandemic, including fires, floods, volcanic eruptions… the world has kept spinning through each devastating blow. Through it all, I think each of us have learned just how tough we are.
I know I certainly have.
I had $7.61 in my bank account on Jan. 1, 2020, and absolutely zero idea of what was about to hit my life in the next 365 days. I was unemployed, struggling and early on lost one of the most-important people in my life in a very tragic circumstance. I pawned a lot of my possessions just to be able to pay my bills. I saw another important person in my life through a second round of cancer treatment. And I’ve spent the majority of this year painstakingly lonely and absolutely alone.
It wasn’t all bad, though. I need that recorded for the record books, because when I look back on this year, I want to remember that good came from it. There have been some silver linings amidst this year.
I landed a new job. A great job. A job where I’m appreciated, where my opinion matters and where I’m treated like an equal. In my 32 years, this is the first I’ve experienced being treated as an equal and it means so freaking much. I won two awards because of this job, and it offered me opportunities that I never thought I’d have the chance at.
I also found out that I’m going to be an aunt again. Which… babies are great. I love babies, especially when I can adore their cuteness and give them back to their parents when they start to cry.
Oh, and I was published. Me. Can’t check my spelling for anything, little ol’ me got published. Can you believe it? I still can’t. Seeing my name printed in that tiny font on that page meant so much to me.
It has been a shitty year for just about everyone. I, for one, am so ready for it to be over. As that date on the calendar changes, I’m wishing for a new start, a fresh start. I’m wishing for health, happiness and prosperity for everyone. After all that everyone’s been through this year, everyone deserves a better 2021.
I’m sending my best to you and yours and hoping that, when we look back on this year in the history books, if there was anything good that happened, even if it was the smallest of details, if anything good that came from this year, please make sure to remember it.
Nobody claim 2021 as “your year”. We’re all going to walk in real slow. Be good. Be quiet. Don’t. Touch. Anything.