What We Take For Granted

I had a dream recently that I was on a family vacation, at a family gathering, and I heard my father’s voice in the background, talking to someone. I don’t know what he was saying but it was comforting to hear his voice again, one that I would recognise anywhere, even though it has been well over five years since I last heard it.

I’ve always been fascinated by the power of dreams, at their ability to reach into the deepest recesses of the subconscious mind and pluck the most obscure of memories for them to replay once again; or to even create new memories from fragments of old ones, telling a new story. Though asleep, I would like to imagine that the sound of this new memory made me smile. Such is the power of the mind, that we can remember sounds long silenced, experience aromas associated with memories and even have memories triggered by aromas as well. His favorite aftershave still makes me think of him when it crosses my path and I’m glad that despite our many differences while he was living that I can still remember the good things more acutely than the bad ones, which have faded as time goes by.

I wonder what he would have thought of the year we just finished, of 2020, which though technically over, is in some ways still going on. Dad was strong and in so many ways, resilient, yet 2020 would have been different for him, being a social person who so thoroughly enjoyed being around other people much of the time. At the time he died, he had recently been diagnosed with a form of blood cancer and was just at the beginning of his treatment when he caught something that quickly morphed into pneumonia. His compromised immune system couldn’t fight back and other failures began to happen, all of which contributed to a quick, downward spiral that ended his life in just a week’s time. Had all of that not have happened, and he had lived to go through 2020 with the rest of us, social distancing might have had the same final result though.

His enjoyment of being around others and his extroverted personality (a rarity in a family full of mostly introverts) ensured many an evening spent at his local club or enjoying a meal with friends or spending the afternoon with his Bridge playing cronies, all things that would have come to a stop during the global pandemic we find ourselves in today. No doubt he would have burned through a few telephones, calling folks up or thumbing through his Facebook feed for news and updates about what his friends and family was up to. This is a reality many of us, young and old, find ourselves in today as we wait for things to get better and for life to resume its somewhat normal course again.

I wrote one entry in 2020, about events unfolding in my Church, and then went silent for the rest of the year. This would have been the perfect opportunity to write new articles for my blog, to make improvements around the house, or to even write a book, especially when we were closed down for several weeks to help “flatten the curve”. Surely I had the time, because I was suddenly free of many daily obligations and I even managed to save money because we weren’t going out to eat or to shop. Motivation, an essential ingredient in any endeavor, just wasn’t there. I don’t know why but I just couldn’t tap into it and exploit the free time I found available to myself.

Two vacations, looked forward to every year, were both postponed until whenever it might be ok to travel to places that were actually even open to the public again. My average annual mileage, which doesn’t vary by more than a 1000 miles a year, dropped by over 4000 miles, thanks to trips not taken, runs to Atlanta that never happened or regular annual events that didn’t occur.

I think I experienced, on some level, what retirement might feel like and I decided I didn’t like it very much. I stayed at work and kept at my job, not so much because it was a responsibility I needed to do but to ward off boredom and try to keep life as normal as I could. I count myself very fortunate that I had that option when so many found that needed function of life taken away from them in 2020.

I discovered, like so many people, that when you make up your mind and power through whatever is going on in your life, and when that whatever is long and the end of it is not near, that time loses a lot of meaning. Days became weeks, weeks became months, and it all started to become a blur without those clarifying, defining events that make up our years. March went from having 31 days to 300 days in a sense.

Church services at the church stopped and those Sundays which once signaled the end of one week and the beginning of another became just any day in the week. Lent just went on, without the familiarity of the Easter service to see all of our church family under one roof. Singing stopped and music became provided rather than participated in. I always wondered what would shake a church, any church and all of them, to its foundations and now I’ve seen what that looks like. Even the few services we were able to have during a short reprieve in cases felt oddly unfamiliar with so many not there and having to do things in different ways. I look forward to hopefully getting that kind of normalcy back in my life and I know many others that do as well. I think we all need that.

Our son turned 16 in the middle of the year and got his driver’s license online without even having to take the harrowing examination that I once had to. Even when he eventually was required to take it months later, it was more perfunctory than performance, administered from a great distance by a monitor watching from the safe confines of her government-issued car. He kept his provisional license and gained the freedom to travel, but like most of his teenaged friends, he doesn’t have anywhere to go and very little to do in the way of socialising with others. The young adapt though, and find other ways to communicate and stay in touch. He was no different, and during the months his school was closed, he joined the millions of others across the nation in transitioning to virtual learning and in the process, learned to appreciate being in school after the longest summer break in history. Now that he is back in school, he drives more every day than I do.

Really, we have all adapted to change in some way or another. Meals-to-go went from being an occasional way to escape having to cook dinner to a regular substitute for dining out, and it helped local restaurants to survive some of the worst throes of the pandemic. Grocery stores, on the other hand, flourished as more people bought more groceries, though we all experienced the shortages that resulted and which still persist to this day for some items, especially my favorite frozen breakfasts.

I realised how much grey hair I really had when I couldn’t get it cut for nearly two months and it grew uncomfortably long until I couldn’t stand it any longer. Thankfully I found someone willing to cut it for me in their home until my barber opened back up and I am eternally grateful for them. I probably shouldn’t have but I did.

Halloween kicked off holidays that were different for most of us. Thanksgivings were missed by some and oddly strange for others; even those that went ahead and had them couldn’t help but notice the absence of elders staying safely away, the stiltedness of hugs and the elbow rubs that took the place of handshakes. All things we take for granted I think. Christmas was just as odd and although we went to a neighbouring church that held socially distanced Christmas Eve services, it still wasn’t the same without singing and praise and communion the way I was used to. It was, however, beautiful, warm and closer to normal than what most were experiencing that night.

I haven’t celebrated New Year’s in many years. I’ve never been a big fan of going out on New Year’s Eve, preferring instead to spend it quietly with my family and watching it on TV. While that part didn’t change this year, I was never quite so glad to see a year end as I was 2020 and I had a celebratory scotch to mark it that night. We also brought the New Year’s Day in with the proper traditional meal for once, for I didn’t want to take ANY chances this time. Pork, black eyed peas, collard greens and cornbread were on the menu that day and and I think it will be in the future. I won’t laugh at my mother’s warnings any longer.

Speaking of her, she had her vaccination yesterday and became the first person in my family to receive it. I hope it does what it’s supposed to do and that she can finally start going out and enjoying the things she misses and the friends whose company she hasn’t been able to enjoy in many months. Even introverts will eventually get tired of solitude and quiet, and this past year has tested even the staunchest of them.

I didn’t mean to ramble and while this may be somewhat disjointed from my normal style of writing, I thought that it was important that I at least write something about a year that none of us are likely to ever forget. It tried us in ways we never imagined and it changed our views, our habits and our social fabric in profound ways. I won’t miss it nor its aftermath, when it finally runs its course and life begins to transition back to normal. I hope, however, that we will all have grown a bit from the experience and that our awareness of how much we all need each other will become even more clear. Most of all, if I make it, I’ll be grateful to still be here. So many others aren’t now.

I won’t miss the politics of 2020 and early 2021 at all. I’ll just say I’ve seen more than enough. The things I do miss and have missed though are more important to me now that I’ve been without them and I’ll promise in 2021 to try and not take them for granted. I hope that 2021 in good to us all and to you and yours.

Blessings.