Maybe your mama didn’t teach you any better, but, generally speaking, when you know you are spending your very last day here on earth with somebody, you try to make that last day a good one.
Instead, on your last day, you slipped out the door with our beloved Betty White, just weeks before her 100th birthday, and you put a hard stop to our fun when you left covid, like a flaming bag of dog poo, on our doorstep. And just like the dog poo prank, it wasn’t funny – although I do imagine that you are lurking behind our shrubbery, laughing hysterically at the mayhem you created until the very end.
What I want to say, 2021, is “Don’t let the screen door hit ya where the good Lord split ya.” And that makes me think about the screen door at my Aunt Mary Alice’s house, a house perched high at the top of a steep gravel hill. According to my memory, that door always swung shut with a whoosh and a clap that would startle you if you weren’t quite ready for it.
And that, 2021, reminds me how you stole my Aunt Mary Alice (also known as Aunt Mary Blueberry) from her family during your winter, knowing that so many who loved her wouldn’t get to say a proper goodbye. I hate you for that, 2021. I really do.
But here’s the deal, 2021: Some wonderful things have also happened recently, and it seems unfair to deny you some credit where credit is due.
For a few challenging years, I was lost at sea, rewriting my dreams on a slate that was washed clean in a storm. After some tossing and turning in the waves, after patching up my boat and charting a new course, your winds finally pushed my sails to the shore where I belonged. I landed at a middle school, where kids who are floundering somewhere between the shallows and deeper waters need a boost to keep their heads above the water. Their legs need to grow just a little bit longer before their feet will find firm ground.
This has been both intensely demanding and incredibly rewarding, and I’m grateful for both the work and the growth it provides.
So 2021, you were terrible. And you were awesome.
And that is something I have learned from you, something that I knew but didn’t REALLY know until you laid it out on a charcuterie board. (I mean, that would be very 2021, wouldn’t it?)
Your lesson is as clear to me as the gorgeous water in Destin last July:
WE LIVE IN THE MIDDLE, in the tension of the “in between,” in the gray zone where it is possible for two conflicting ideas to be true. Where there are sparks flying and there is friction.
2021, you showed us that we live in that shifting space right in the middle of the tug of war.
Somewhere between what is actually true and what we WANT to be true.
Between loving people and being disappointed by them.
Between our desire to trust and our instinctual skepticism.
Between our spirituality and our humanity.
Between our need for caution and our desire for adventure.
Between individualism and community.
Between silence and a soapbox.
Between loyalty and logic.
Most of the time, this tension is just the whir of a box fan that’s tucked into a corner, a soft buzzing in the background that you notice, and also you don’t. But 2021, you turned up the fan dial, AND you left the prank on our porches, and when the *#$% hits the fan… well, now THAT level of tension becomes hard to ignore.
You were a year of grief, and a year of new beginnings, 2021. You challenged me. You left me wondering – where do we find a comfortable place to curl up in the tension between celebration and suffering? Between recovery and grief? And is it wise or is it naive to feel grateful even in the midst of terrible heartache and loss?
I’m still sorting it out, 2021. And I’m starting to believe that joy and suffering are not two ends of a continuum but more like two sides of the same coin, always present in the same room. Maybe they aren’t competing for dominance. Maybe there is a time and a place for each of them – or even both of them – and maybe we need to accept that they are realities rather than fighting against suffering so, so, so, so hard.
What if experiencing loss and disappointment doesn’t have to ruin the party? What if experiencing loss and disappointment makes the cake taste just a little bit sweeter?
So, 2021, you made us ask the hard questions, like how can a year be both terrible and wonderful, both painful and full of joy, both costly and rewarding? How can one day taste like cough medicine and the next like honey? Is something wrong with our tastebuds?
You taught us that IT’S COMPLICATED.
And we live in the middle of wishing it were easy and knowing it is hard.
You were both the guest we were excited to welcome and the visitor who, as Ben Franklin described, was starting to smell like a dead fish. But even though you were challenging, even though you didn’t erase covid and quarantines the way I had hoped, I am grateful for the new opportunities you revealed to me and my sons, one of whom is preparing to graduate. I am thankful for a gorgeous beach, for good health, for an abundance of food, for family, for purpose, for Lola (our dog), and for friendships, new and old. I am thankful for nature and for introspection. I am thankful to have seen people below the surface in 2021, to have seen what pours out of them when the fire is hot and the pot boils over, to know people more fully, even when that is difficult. I am thankful to have learned more about myself, my thoughts preserved in writing, like frogs in jars of formaldehyde, waiting to be dissected.
So, 2021, good riddance.
And, also, thank you.
I loved you, and I hated you. And that’s okay.
I learned that from you, actually.
That’s just how it is when you live in the middle.