Close the Door on Your Way Out, 2020

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What can I say about 2020 that hasn’t already been growled between gritted teeth by someone, somewhere on this planet? It’s certainly been a year that defies simplistic definitions. A time warp. A lengthy, shimmering interlude between one moment and the next. A dumpster fire. An extended period of forced, yet not altogether unpleasant calm. A struggle. A hazy, indeterminate dream state. A nightmare. Never ending. Lightning fast. Upheaval incarnate.

In other words, it’s been one hell of a year.

Living through a global pandemic wasn’t something I had on my Bingo card last New Year’s Eve, and the year I thought I was strutting into on January 1st, 2020 didn’t even begin to resemble the year I’m looking back on during this final day of December. But the one thing I’m left with at the end of this strange 12 months is just how damned lucky I am. I did more than live through a year that saw close to 350,000 Americans die and millions more lose their livelihoods. I was able to spend 2020 quarantining with the people I care about most in the world while working full time in the safe, comfy cocoon of my own home. I didn’t struggle with food insecurity. I didn’t worry about being evicted in the middle of a health crisis. I kept my medical insurance and was able to seek care whenever I needed it.

This year has been horrible in so many ways, but I can’t deny how fortunate I am. So instead of shooting 2020 a double bird as it rides off into the blazing sunset, I’m going to give thanks. It just seems warranted, doesn’t it? And it’s an extension of the practice I began at the beginning of the year whenever I started to lament at how awful and uncertain things seemed.

I had all my people with me

At the end of December, I like to write out a list of my goals for the upcoming year, and then I read over them every morning to keep myself focused as the months pass. I did this for 2020 as well. Why am I telling you this? Well, my job is the type that normally keeps me on the move. Florida’s a big state and I’m often driving hundreds of miles every week for meetings, events, and conferences. So, in January, one of my goals was to prioritize spending quality time with my family. Remember that old adage: be careful what you wish for? Seems 2020 came equipped with jokes and thought that it would grant my wish by giving me nothing but family time. Although there have been a few moments when we all considered killing each other, this time together has truly been a gift. COVID slowed my ass down, kicking travel out of bounds and shutting down my usual get togethers with friends. I’m grateful to have been able to weather this stormy year with the people I cherish most. I know not everyone had that, and many now have empty chairs at their dining room tables.

I got by with a little help from my friends

Shockingly, my introverted ass has quite a few friends. And despite my critical need of alone time at regular intervals, hanging with these folks improves my life beyond what I might have earlier believed possible. I’m doubly fortunate that many of the people I consider close friends are also work associates, meaning we see each other at conferences and meetings that then transition into happy hours at various restaurants (yes, all my friends like food; you can’t hang with me if you don’t). My final work related trip in 2020 was for a big conference in DC the first week of March, just before everything shut down. We had a large group from Florida, which resulted in a good time during and after the conference, and a few of us stayed extra days to have unencumbered fun in the city. Before leaving for DC, I’d gotten the chance to see several other friends throughout February, which proved fortuitous, considering the world slammed shut the week I returned home, clearing my calendar of all in person events, both professional and social.

I fell into a virtual happy hour that first Friday of my self-imposed COVID quarantine that became a regular occurrence throughout the remainder of the year. It quickly transformed into the highlight of my week, a wine soaked therapy session that always started with complaints and ended with maniacal laughter. I had many other virtual get togethers with other sets of friends too, and meandering chat threads filled with frustration, profanity, jokes, and memes about politics and the pandemic. I missed seeing my friends in person, sharing appetizers and desserts over drinks, watching movies in the theater, or driving into the city for events or shows. But it never felt like they were that far away, even the ones from out of state. This year would have been insurmountable without each and every one of these folks. We got each other through this, with humor and humility. I can’t wait to see them all on the other side of this long, strange trip that was 2020.

Home was where the work was

I spent years as a freelance writer, followed by work on different political campaigns and then nonprofit organizations, including one I co-founded. Suffice to say, I’m used to working from home. But I’m also used to being able to leave when I want (or even when I don’t want, holding a knife to my own throat to force my feet out of the door), so it was pretty weird to never need to attend in person meetings or events. And it took time to fully assimilate into the Zoom industrial complex wherein what normally could have been a 20 minute phone call transformed into a 60 minute video conference complete with slide deck and unnecessary icebreakers and breakout groups (the horror). But even during the days stacked high with 6 plus Zoom meetings, I knew how fortunate I was.

I live in a state that buckled immediately under the pressure of the COVID-19 fueled unemployment crisis. To this day, there are still thousands of people that never received any unemployment benefits and are facing complete financial destruction as they hover on the edge of eviction, unable to afford their basic needs. There are other folks that managed to keep their jobs, but were forced to work outside of their homes. This wasn’t without risk, considering our state never had any discernible leadership from our incompetent governor or something as simple and obvious as a mask mandate. Unsurprisingly, our COVID-19 infection rates soared.

But somehow, inexplicably, I was okay. I stayed employed. I didn’t fall into financial ruin. I could afford food, a roof over my head, medical care. What made me so lucky when millions of others spiraled into poverty, their livelihoods and peace of mind evaporating in an instant? I don’t have the answer to this question. But I do feel an obligation to continue working to create an America that’s freer, fairer, and better for all of us. One with safety nets that actually catch us when we fall…or when we’re pushed. It goes without saying that I don’t want to struggle, but, here’s the thing: I don’t want you to struggle either.

I let words be my refuge

Before I fell ass over teakettle into the exhilaratingly frustrating world of politics, I used to read north of 60 books each year. I just ran through them. I’ve always been a voracious reader, preferring the comfort of tucking into the pages of a book over most everything else. This year, I set a modest goal of reading 30 books, but by May, I had yet to read a single one. What can I say? The year started at a gallop with work and then took a turn into the surreal when the pandemic started, washing everything else away. It was all I could do to keep my head above water. Eventually, I had a come to Jesus meeting with myself, and kicked my own ass into gear. Once I actually got started, I never stopped. I had some great adventures this year, humming along in the colorful space between my ears. I finished my 30th book just the other day. And, more importantly, I rekindled the love of reading that I’ve had since I was a little girl. That’s something I plan to bring with me into 2021.

We flipped the goddamned White House

Y’all know I can’t end a list about all the things I’m grateful for in 2020 without including this one. I’ve been living in a state of persistent dread for the last 4 years, a weight I forgot I was lugging around until it lifted, as though by magic, the Saturday after Election Day when Joe Biden was officially named President-Elect. I’ve never felt more relieved in my life, and I’ve given birth to a child. It’s strange to wish the last 4 years had never happened while also feeling deep, unshakeable gratitude for the person I became because of the gauntlet of stress and terror the Trump presidency forced me to cross. I didn’t have a purpose before this, not really, and now I do. Thanks to the work that millions of us did over the last 48 months, I get to keep the purpose while Trump has to vacate the White House. Beautiful, right?

As we show 2020 the door and lock up securely as soon as it crosses the threshold, lest it change its fickle mind, let’s take a moment to celebrate the small victories and soaring triumphs. If you’re reading this, you made it. You survived one of the worst years in living memory. I hope you also found pockets of joy, had those you loved close at hand, and found other small pleasures that made these odd days pass more easily. On the eve of 2021, here’s to many more years together doing what we love. Here’s to better times. Here’s to you, to me, to us.

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