A YEAR AGO last month, I was celebrating the loss of 30 unwanted pounds and embarking on a bicycle tour of the Coeur d’Alene trail in Idaho. My heart was filled with gratitude, the world was wide open, and anything — truly, anything! — seemed possible. During the tour, my days were occupied with the sights and sounds of nature. Idaho’s glorious vistas stretched in all directions as though I were moving through a world created simply for my pleasure. I made a game of animal sightings: “How many moose did you see today? A fox crossed my path. Did you see that cormorant on her nest at the top of the bridge?” And my nights were filled with a contented, too-deep-to-dream sleep brought on by happy physical exhaustion.
Back at home, my biggest issues were work-related and existential. I found myself at a loss, having focused on physical training for so long. I didn’t know where to point myself, creatively speaking. My writing life flagged, and I was beginning to question my soul’s purpose, as I so often do during times of transition. (Okay, I admit it. I am a child of the 1960s and a confirmed, card-carrying navel-gazer.)
If you had asked me what I thought 2020 would bring, I would have told you, “Probably more of the same.” I might have shown you my 10-point plan for revitalizing my creative life. Maybe I would have opined about my latest chapter in my novel-in-progress. Or maybe not. Either way, I’m pretty sure I could never have imagined the 2020 tsunami of change that has now engulfed us. Inundated us. Swallowed us whole, like Jonah in the belly of the whale. (Have you ever wondered what he thought about while he drifted inside that whale’s stomach, submerged in the toxic stink of digestive fluids? Do you think he, like us, fought the loss of hope or was he simply resigned to his fate?)
If you had asked me about 2020, I would have expressed hope that we would come to our senses, vote that rotten scumbag pretender of a president out of office, and restore some semblance of dignity to this once great nation. This nation that is my home and to which I am unreasonably attached. I may have even enthusiastically tried to recruit you for a political or charitable cause, because — you know — “be the change you want to see in the world.” (I still believe in that; it’s just harder now.)
If you had mentioned a pandemic, a plague of strange and mysterious symptoms that would cause world-wide panic, the shutdown of whole economies, forcing us all to isolate from friends and family for months on end, I might have scoffed and asked what you were smoking. I might even have called you paranoid and recommended that you stop watching Fox News.
If you had gone further, and asked me whether I thought the no-good-power-hungry-lying-thief-in-office would be so brazen as to have his own personal gestapo invade a major city on the west coast and hold it hostage, I probably would have gaped at you. “I suppose it could happen,” I might have said, “but there are checks and balances. The military has made an oath to the constitution. We have to trust that.” It would never have occurred to me that, even then, we already had an army not bound by any oaths and not accountable to any authority but that of the White House, ready and willing to do its bidding.
Back then, if you had asked me where I saw myself in one year, I could never have imagined the world turned upon its end like an egg timer, its sand running down, down, down. A world ready to implode. A world in which all assumptions now beg to be questioned, examined, and held up to the light.
But now, I will tell you that this is also a world in which we somehow manage to hold onto hope of finding a way out of this mess we’ve created and forging a better future for our children’s children. Because, though humankind is filled with all kinds of evil, power-hungry men (and I mean men, for the most part), it is also filled with people who are compassionate and kind and courageous, who will do whatever it takes to heal our self-inflicted wounds. And it is this tribe of healers and builders and uniters who will hold back the floods of devastation and live to tell our stories to the next generations.
Note: This essay is part of Writing Through Change, a series of posts and guest articles about life and writing in unsettled times.