It was a tough year to be human in 2020. I mentioned this in passing to our cat, Boo, and she looked at me with cold green eyes, blinked, and walked away unfazed by the concerns of her bipedal servant. Oh to be so carefree. Alas, I’m feeling more Jimmy Buffett these days when he sings about taking off for a weekend just to recall the whole year with it’s changes in latitudes which resulted in nothing remaining quite the same.
New Years is a time of reflection for me, a time to consider the old and the new, the year past and the year to come. Here is the good news. The wisdom of the past along with futuristic technology helped hold it all together in 2020. To be an American during 2020 required the genius of our founders and our own Constitutional fortitude. And, it required the power of American ingenuity that helped create multiple vaccines. Peggy Noonan recently wrote about this coming together when the electoral college affirmed the presidential election on a Monday in December, a day that also saw the first Covid vaccines administered.
“We were like America of old…on that day our Constitution did what it was built to do, prevail. And our scientific genius and spirit of invention asserted themselves as national features that still endure. So here’s to you, December 14, 2020. You provided a very good ending to a very bad year.”Peggy Noonan, The Monday When america came back, wsj, december 17, 2020
I’m an eternal optimist, but as Yogi Berra once said, “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.” So, we dig deep in this unsettled season waiting for the green shoots of spring, waiting expectantly on a new president and a vaccine to gain traction and give us hope for better days.
One day we’ll look back at 2020 alongside the likes of 1863 and 1929 and 2001. But for now, we press onward with hope because, well, this is the indomitable American spirit. I lost my Dad in April of 2020. It was a difficult time to appropriately say goodbye. I’m thinking about him this year as the calendar turns because he always loved new beginnings. I remember his perseverance when he struggled in life. He would shrug his shoulders and say, “You can’t just quit.” Just before he died, Dad would humor his healthcare friends pushing his wheelchair by serenading them with the Willie Nelson song, On the Road Again. In other words, he may have been in dire straits, but with the help of others, he was moving down the road. He acknowledged this pain in his last days and weeks, but he didn’t dwell too much on it, choosing instead to see the road before him as hopeful.
My wife Karen is also hopeful. Her greenhouse contains rows of thriving plants. Soon, the days will lengthen and the earth will begin to warm, and Karen will move her plants to the rich soil of her spring garden. There she will tend cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, sunflowers, and zucchini. She knows the time to plant and the time to sow and the rhythms of sun and moon. She will pray and tend in the hope that a bud will appear, and a stalk will arise from the musky dark soil. This is the ritual of life that keeps us moving forward. And while Karen didn’t create the miracle of generation, the genetic composition of order blending with physical elements, she did buy into the miracle, believing in the miracle of birth and growth, the very hope that beauty could arise from the earth.
The miracle of birth and growth often requires endurance and suffering and patience. Patience, after all, comes from a root that means to suffer or endure. It is painful waiting on something unwanted to pass, like a tough task or a wound, or a virus.
What will arise from the fertile soil of a suffering year?
The winter of our unsettled season holds in tension the now and the not yet, our longing and our hope, our sowing and our reaping. We wear masks and keep distance. We isolate, we suffer, we endure. And we long for the better days of human intimacy.
In the meantime, we plant our garden and wait for spring.