Is This a Lost Year?
As I've worked through decisions this past month on how to spend the rest of this year, including coping with more cancellations and 'pivots' in the wake of COVID-19, I have asked myself, "Is this a lost year?" The losses for me have been both personal and professional. My son's wedding celebration in Nova Scotia is postponed for a year, or we're hoping only a year. In a normal year, I would have just come back from our annual Get Hooked at Sea trip aboard the Schooner J&E Riggin. Instead, I spent last weekend plus Monday cleaning out my parents' summer house on Paris Hill, which finally sold and the loss of which is a tremendous blow to me emotionally. All of our fiber art and homesteading retreats planned for the Parris House, with the exception of the one we squeezed in mid-March, are gone. My book, which I would still be promoting now as newly published, is now on Down East Books' publication schedule for April 2021. Countless classes and shows, both local and regional, and the opportunities that come with them, were wiped off my calendar. More importantly, some trips I planned to make to visit my sons, who are scattered in four locations, are now impossible.
At fifty-five, I'm not keen on lost years, mainly because I realize that more than half my years are over. There is no time to waste. There never has been. This is probably most evident to the hardest hit by this pandemic, those who have lost loved ones in it.
I would not be honest if I didn't just come out and say I'm angry about it all. I'm angry that COVID-19 exists at all, with no one in particular to direct that anger at because to anthropomorphize a virus doesn't make sense. But I'm also angry at every single person in power who mismanaged the response and every single person allegedly not in power (forgetting that people do have power when they are united) who did not or still do not take the situation seriously. It would be easier to wax poetic about the silver linings if over 170,000 Americans had not perished so far, but they have. Never having been one to subscribe to the "they're in a better place" trope, I'm angry.
So, the question in my mind remains: is this a lost year?
I guess life is one long (if we're lucky) timeline of wins and losses, with most things being on some kind of continuum between total win and total loss, between inexpressible joy and devastating grief. For me, motherhood has been a 100% win, well, from my side of it anyway. I'm not professing perfection as a mother; rather I am saying I wouldn't change anything about my sons who are still at the tippy top of my list of reasons to be alive. Losing my brother in an accident in 1986 was a 100% loss. There are no upsides to tragedies of that magnitude and in case anyone is struggling with what to say to someone who has lost a loved one, do not talk about silver linings of any kind. Some things are just flat out losses and that's that. Most things in life, though, are somewhere in between.
I'm just not sure where 2020 falls on this continuum. I am thinking that it's different for everyone. In our propensity to use dark humor to cope, memes abound on social media, the latest one being, "Who had double hurricanes for August?" as the latest storm approaches our Gulf coast with the term "unsurvivable" being used to describe certain forecast elements. For some people 2020 has been a continual stream of inconveniences. For others, it's been a period of seemingly insurmountable tragedy. Is such a year lost?
All of this is what I was thinking about as I was walking Wyeth through my neighbor Becca's big hay-field around dusk this evening. He was taking his sweet time with the business at hand and so we walked the entire perimeter of the field, which takes a while. As we walked I saw primordial looking ferns, a wild grape vine that probably took root via a passing bird, depressions in the grass where deer had bedded down, random feathers, a few remaining black eyed susans, small Queen Anne's lace blossoms, a downed tree, and the first fallen crimson and yellow maple leaves of the season. The wind out of the northwest was chilly, a cold front having just moved in last night. The changes I was observing were telling me that 2020 is going to be over in the blink of an eye and I asked myself, "How can I redeem it?"
On the redemption side of the ledger I will always remember that my grandson, Oliver, was born in 2020. If I am fortunate enough to live to see him grow up and have children of his own, I will always remember that the joy of his birth was a sweet respite in an unusually difficult year. I will remember long distance friendships made or strengthened by being forced to use even more online tech than I did before. But what can I do, as a matter of conscience choice myself, to redeem this year of my life?
As I walked through that field looking at everything nature offered both at my feet and in the sunset sky, I thought this: I will devote the rest of this year to making more things that channel nature. That's it. I am angry to the point of despair about both the pandemic and the current United States administration, but I do not feel called - as I thought I did for a while - to make that much art about either of those things. I keep coming back to nature. The eternity of nature, the sheer willfulness of it, the audacity of those ferns which have neither changed nor perished in millennia and the mountains which continue to stand and have since the last ice age, all of that, is a huge f-u to the passing troubles of this year. It is steadfast on a planet where nothing and no-one else is. Even in the wake of mankind's carelessness, it is not really that we are destroying this planet altogether; no, it is that we are destroying its ability to host us. Earth will live on long after we are gone. Those mountains will still be there and the ferns, which have survived every mass extinction, will remain as well. Their fidelity is to survival itself, even if it seems that ours is not.
Is this a lost year? I still don't know. I guess any redemption possible depends on us, individually and collectively. If there's anything we must remember about this year, it's that we survive, or not, together.
- Elizabeth Miller