On this final day of a year like no other, I struggle to find the right words for a headline above this piece.
Millions of people are eager to say good riddance to 2020, but I’m neither despondent nor depressed. In fact, in many ways I know I’m blessed and have little reason to complain after seeing our world turned upside down by an invisible enemy — the novel coronavirus.
Was I inconvenienced by off-and-on lockdown orders that restricted our movement and customary socializing? Of course.
Was I disappointed that my wife and I, newly retired together, couldn’t travel domestically or abroad as we’d planned? Of course.
But was there ever a moment when I felt a sense of dread, not knowing whether we’d be able to pay the mortgage, keep the lights on or put food on the table? No.
After June, I didn’t have to work anymore. At no point was I saddled with the responsibility facing many younger parents, that of helping their school-age children with remote learning. And while I could no longer visit the neighborhood gym to swim in a heated pool, I got out into the outdoors more than ever before, just as I had resolved to do at the start of the year.
What stands out to me about this year is that it’s brought the opportunity to gain new perspectives on life itself.
In a practical sense, I am more grateful than ever to enjoy good physical health and mental health. I’ve spent more time on my bicycle than ever before, not just working my legs, lungs and heart but enjoying the feeling of seeing the city of Portland from a different vantage point. I’ve also explored the city on foot, venturing several times into Marquam Nature Park, completing the last of 20 urban hikes I’d begun four years ago, and occasionally running at some of my favorite wooded parks.
From an intellectual viewpoint, I’ve gained new insights into history and cultures as a result of reading several outstanding works of fiction and nonfiction; watching high-quality television series set in different countries; and taking an introductory course on international relations at the university where I used to work. Envisioning the world as if it were turned upside down (as depicted in the image above) was a great catalyst in that regard. As the year ended, I was delighted to make personal connections with smart, interesting people on three continents that helped make the world feel like a smaller, friendlier place.
From a societal and political perspective, I’m appreciative of all those doctors, nurses and other medical workers who’ve labored heroically to save lives and provide comfort during the pandemic, as well as grocery store workers, farmworkers, first responders and other essential workers who’ve kept us fed and safe. And I am so relieved that we have a new administration taking office Jan. 20 that can get to work undoing the damage of the Trump years and speed up the effort to get the Covid vaccines widely distributed.
But the biggest takeaway is the most personal one: knowing that family relationships matter more than anything. Lori and I celebrated our 45th wedding anniversary in September. Our love and respect for each other has only grown during this past year, when we have been around each other 24/7, and found things to do together and individually that allow us to keep our heads up.
We’re lucky to have our two oldest children living nearby: Nathan and his girlfriend, Erin, are 10 minutes away on foot. Simone and her wife Kyndall are 10 minutes away by car. And though our youngest son, Jordan, and his wife Jamie and daughter Emalyn are on the East Coast, they are always just a video call away.
Not a single one of us has been infected by the Covid-19 virus. For that, I am eternally grateful. As the calendar turns to another year, I hope that all of us will continue to enjoy good health and that Lori and I will have an opportunity to visit Jordan and family when air travel is safe for us to do again.
In past years, I’ve taken a look back at favorite concerts, sporting events and destinations. That’s not possible this year, given that our lives were turned inward and often onto a computer screen. But still, here’s a quick review:
Travel: In early February, Lori and I visited our longtime friends, Tom and Elsa, at their place on the Oregon Coast. In late October, we snuck in a two-night stay at the Sou’wester, a funky trailer park resort on the Long Beach Peninsula in Washington.
Retirement: Since July, I’ve had the luxury of easing into the life of a retiree: rising without an alarm clock, few obligations on the calendar, and diving into whatever book, movie, TV show or podcast I like. I miss the interaction with my students at Portland State, but I have no regrets of walking away after the spring term ended.
Pets: Our sweet cat, Mabel, died in September after 17 years with us. Her passing leaves us with feisty Charlotte, who turned 7 years old in October, not long after she had survived an attack by a larger dog at our neighborhood school.
Friends: Like most everyone else, Zoom has become a part of our pandemic life. I had to quickly learn how to use it during the spring term, my final one, at PSU. Since then, we’ve used it to connect with friends on both coasts, as well across town. During the summer, we were invited by two of my former students, Roy and Chris, to join a happy hour group that began in-person and then turned into a virtual get-together.
Through Roy and Chris, I learned of the Senior Adult Learning Center (SALC) program that allows Oregon residents 65 years and older to audit PSU courses at little or cost. I wasted no time enrolling in a terrific summer course, “American Families in Film & Television,” and an eye-opening fall class, “Introduction to International Studies.” Next week I begin a new class, “Arab American Literature,” that’s sure to expand my horizons.
More recently, I’ve connected online with Anna, an aspiring actor in London; Jina, a writer living near Ramallah, Palestine; and Elsa, an academic reseacher in Johannesburg, through an assortment of serendipitous circumstances explained here. I look forward to nurturing these fledgling relationships in the new year.
Friends, Part 2: An annual highlight is Voices of August, the guest blog project that allows me to feature the writing of friends and family from around the country. This year, we got a bonus. Voices of April gave several new contributors, as well as regulars, a chance to talk about how they were dealing with psychological and economic challenges posed by Covid-19.
Music: Sigh. No concerts this year, but hoping to see a postponed show with Steely Dan and Steve Winwood this coming summer.
Books: Where do I begin? Since I’m no longer working, I finally have the time to catch up on a long list of books I’d set aside, plus several more I’ve snagged from free lending libraries in our neighborhood. I’ve read 20 books this year, all but one of them since retiring. You can read my reviews here, if you like: https://georgerede.wordpress.com/category/books-literature/
Among my favorites: “Homegoing” by Yaa Gyasi; “The Underground Railroad” and “The Nickel Boys,” both by Colson Whitehead; “On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous” by Ocean Vuong; “Preston Falls” by David Gates; “While The City Slept” by Eli Sanders; “Pizza Girl” by Jean Kyoung Frazier; and “It Came From Something Awful: How a Toxic Troll Army Accidentally Memed Donald Trump into Office” by Dale Beran.
The latter is a book, published in 2019, that would have been useful in teaching Media Literacy. As I wrote in November: “Now that I’ve finished the book, I feel so much better able to understand so many things: the origin of 4chan, the alt-right website that became an internet cesspool for young, disenfranchised males; the toxic stew of despair, resentment, hate and irony expressed by so many of these trolls; and the intersection of this bubbling-below-the-surface culture with national politics, including the 2016 presidential election and the white nationalist march in Charlottesville.”
Entertainment: Where would we be without the ability to stream movies and TV shows whenever we like? No, I didn’t get sucked into “Tiger King.” But I loved “Pose” and “Schitt’s Creek” and enjoyed many more: Ramy, Dead to Me, The Handmaid’s Tale, Little Fires Everywhere, Atypical, Normal People, Love on the Spectrum, Woke, Mrs. America, Broadchurch, Doctor Foster, Nanette, The Queen’s Gambit, and The Crown.
I also got my act together and finally jumped into the world of podcasts. I loved “Dolly Parton’s America” and enjoyed two seasons of “This Sounds Serious,” featuring a fictional podcaster who delves into 9-1-1 calls and investigates true-crime cases, all of it done as comedic parody.
If you’ve read this far, thanks for your time. I hope your 2020 has brought at least some positives along with the stresses that everyone has faced. May we all experience relief and recovery in the coming year.