Who would have thought the words of a 19th century writer would so aptly describe 2020: “It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.” Charles Dickens’ classic, “A Tale of Two Cities” opened with these lines before digging deep into the themes of duality – revolution and resurrection – on economic, political and personal levels.
Our collective Annus Horribilis is behind us (good riddance, 2020!), but we’re not yet out of the woods. The pandemic will rage until it won’t. The politicians will pander unceasing. Self-aggrandizers won’t stop soapboxing on social platforms. The media will continue selling their souls to push their products. And we, the (little) people will still agonize over money, jobs and our lost hope.
My disillusionment over the state of affairs led me not to vote in the 2020 Presidential election, something I’ve never done since casting my very first ballot in 1976. The rallying cries of the left and the right turned me off, not on. No one man, or woman for that matter, is going to save my country, my son’s future or me. They say hope springs eternal, but in 2020 mine was buried deep beneath the tundra
In 2020, my income was cut by 85% as customers closed their doors or went on hiatus. I’ve maxed out all my credit cards to pay bills. My credit rating went from excellent to bordering on poor. My 2008 Prius in need of a $3500 repair sits on the street and hasn’t been driven in over a year. Tucker spent high school at home for 10 months (& he's got failing grades to show for it).
The house we’ve been building since 2016 still stands under construction. Even our crew on the site are overwhelmed (though they seem to be the only ones working). I'm living in Houston with no car (Gary drives his to work for a company that never closed during the pandemic) and no job in a rented apartment where my "to do" list for the site seems to grow exponentially and the kitchen and living areas are overrun with towering big boxes containing toilets, sinks and bathtubs (who knew a pandemic would hit & we'd still be renting a year+ later?). The City of Houston still wants their $16,000 property tax money on our half-built home. And the IRS says I owe $6000 for Obama care last year. Bursting into tears and sobbing in the shower, at the grocery store or on a walk are regular occurrences for me.
Well, I’d say I’ve earned “the worst of times,” trophy as so many other people have the right to claim in 2020.
So, what about “the best of times” part?
Well, there's been some of that, too.
Gary kept his job. Tucker has a stay-at-home mom as he also stays safely at home. Our little family eats dinner together every night (though I’ve got to admit generating cost-effective, healthy and delicious menus after making 1092 breakfasts, lunches and dinners for the 3 of us gets wearisome). We cuddle on the couch and watch TV. We laugh and keep each other strong, as we ride through these treacherous times together; despite being alone in our own souls.
For me, 2020 had successes: pushing the house slowly along by staining hundreds of boards, having the time to write and walking 2 miles a day listening to podcasts. It’s been a forced freedom of sorts, despite living with fear, depression, boredom and helplessness.
I learned that I am a guiding light for Tucker and Gary. My dark moods affected them negatively. The abandonment of my 2-mile walks made them lazier. My hopeless outlook made them fearful. And when tired of making every meal from scratch, my frozen food purchases made all of us fatter.
I don’t really want to be a guiding light in or out of a pandemic. At times, I’ve felt put upon and pressured. It's scary. It's intimidating. It’s not fun! It requires discipline. It’s a lot of responsibility. It presumes healthy habits. It entails finding the good in people, circumstances and life in general. It’s a shouldering of carpe diem, every day.
2020 proved to all of us that things can change seemingly overnight and fuck up our lives. And complete control is an illusion. And that in our shared experiences, we can still feel alone. And that in our aloneness, knowing others are experiencing that, too.
Nothing makes you take an unwavering look at your life and how you live it than a good ol' fashioned pandemic. So as I enter 2021, the question to myself then becomes, “Do I have it in me to be the best self everyday of my life? Is rising above my meager abilities to act as a guiding light such a bad thing?"
Mr. Dickens puts my musings more poetically than I ever could when ending his tome as greatly as he began it:
“It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.”
(Photographs from the collection of the author, unless otherwise noted. Book cover of "A Tale of Two Cities" from an illustration by Frederick Barnard).