Winter Solstice and Solace
I started 2020 on house arrest, pouting and healing after surgery. About the time I started venturing out into the world, the world was put on house arrest too. And we were all pouting, in one way or another.
BigHaggis and I have a happy marriage (a safe home), my midlife-grad-school-life prepared me for long solitary days of reading and writing (gave me a toolkit to avoid insanity), BigHaggis already worked from home (no stress over conversions), we are healthy (no debilitating illnesses or costly meds), we are childfree (no homeschooling), and I’ve been teaching online and hybrid courses since 2005 (little-to-no training for me to step into a new role).
Suddenly we became acutely aware that – especially during this pandemic – we were living in a space of Great Privilege.
I did not feel right complaining about the water anxieties we discovered in our rescue dog, the creative unclogging measures taken in the hall bath, the battle between my car’s side mirror and a telephone pole (unsurprisingly, the mirror lost), the spare cash I slipped the painter to patch the bullet hole in Hurricane’s kitchen ceiling… it all sounded impossibly bougie – and – incredibly insensitive.
Some of my friends disagreed. Derelict Deb should plow on! they said. This was the time to write about funny things. Everyday things. Everyday life. Humor that would make us laugh in dark times.
People would laugh, they insisted, to hear about my July trip to a grocery store in which I told a family shopping en masse without masks and fondling all the items in the checkout lane – that I was so glad to see a family choosing not to live in fear. Good for them! I said loudly through my mask. I also refuse to live in fear or trust science and was just recently released from intensive care at the hospital (I said, getting louder and closer to them) and was so glad to be off a ventilator and out of quarantine – out in the free world again. Such Freedom! I shouted, moving to remove my mask. (They unceremoniously abandoned their cart, the mother clutching the youngest of the three teens to her as they all awkwardly sped out the door.)
But is this not in itself a prime example of how “everyday life” is not so “everyday” anymore?
Wouldn’t laughter, from my place of security, be hurtful to those who have lost jobs and fear losing their homes, who have loved ones dying or in the hospital, who were muddling through an America during an anxiety-filled election year? We need strength, aye. We need laughter, aye! Who is right? In a year of thin skins and so many being impacted so negatively, I felt it best to take some time away and focus on other projects, things beyond the lens of social media.
In this weirdest of all weird years, through the anxieties and strangeness and incredible sadness and pain of losing loved ones, I am trying to keep the highlight reel of my heart to the positives.
I tackled some projects (previously abandoned mid-stream) and began new ones, centering on interesting research and even more interesting humans. I re-learned how to grow and process/can vegetables and stock my own pantry. I started writing my second book. Through great pains and creative no/low contact travel (involving both Louisiana Cousin Eddie camped in the driveway for 3 weeks and a 15-straight-hour-car-drive to avoid hotel stops with two teenage girls) we hosted Staycation 2020 in our backyard when summer camps for our nieces were canceled. (Picture a sun-soaked Coppertone teen drama crafting singing cookout toenail painting ice cream Lalapooloozah mixed with late night Pina Coladas and reruns of Casey Kasem’s American Top 40 Countdown, circa 1986.)
In the fall, I filled an entire journal while conducting the Hurricane Relocation Project in which I moved Hurricane to a senior living apartment complex in our town. More on the HRP in the new year but for now have this: (sung to The Sound of Music’s “Maria“) How do you pack and move a Hurricane? Moving a force of nature from town to town?
Being sequestered at home was not without wrinkles, of course: one incident involved me embracing my inner redneck, tromping out to the “back 40” in flip flops and streaming profanities in at least three languages to a group of migrant workers with chainsaws who’d “wandered” onto our property conducting forestry management (read: thinning baby trees and shrubs) on private land. When the Sherriff arrived, no doubt he was surprised that I did not, in fact, have curlered hair, a ratty bathrobe, a shotgun, and a Marlboro hanging from one lip.
Some days we are not our best selves.
While many (including me) have lamented this year about the increasing divisiveness, anger, and lack of humanity we see in our nation, I prefer to look at us as growing, albeit painfully, because part of our American legacy is that dangerous combination of arrogance and action, stupidity and stupendousness. We have grown loud and unafraid to push back at an 18th century white euro-centric vision that has been taken out of context, distorted, and attached to a 21st century America in disastrous ways. We are pre/teens on the global scene, and I feel that we are acting like spoiled 13-year-olds who cannot get their way, learning that we cannot pout and throw the game board in the air, cannot cross our arms and ignore racism, cannot stamp our feet and deny science.
And, like the teens I’ve known in real life, I have faith that America will outgrow our stubborn (sometimes willful) ignorance, learn to listen both completely and critically, and act creatively and wisely, embracing both progress and kindness.
And at the end of this year, there is some solace for the darkness coming to us through the Universe. On Monday night, Jupiter and Saturn kissed in the night sky, appeared as one bright planet. The last time they came this visibly close to each other was in the year 1226.
We stood in the driveway with BigHaggis’s hunting binoculars and felt small but somehow, huddled together, not insignificant.
This winter’s darkness is as literal as it is metaphorical, but it also serves as a reminder that humans have historically turned to rituals and stories to remind one another of hope and deeper truths. I intend to return to sharing my stories in 2021, and I hope you will join me.
While the dumpster fire of 2020 begins to smolder, we must be honest; it’s just as likely someone could toss a cigarette butt into the forests of our hearts and set the whole thing up in flames again. My sincerest hope for the future is that we let the scorched earth that is our country smoke and linger and regrow, much as the nutrient rich soil of farmland or forest does after a burn. There was little controlled about the fire we’ve been experiencing, but I believe in the rich nutrients that lie below it, fertile with possibilities for better tomorrows.