Wednesday, January 1, 2020

A Nickel’s Worth of Thoughts on 2020

As the clock passed midnight tonight, I actually missed it—the start of a new decade. It was 12:03 am on Jan. 1, 2020, before I realized that we’d crossed out of one decade and into the next. I was enjoying a conversation with a dear friend. We were engrossed in conversation, laughing, and not paying attention to a clock. It was the first time the entire day that I had not been paying attention to the clock, because it was a holiday for some, but for me it was an opportunity to make forward progress on three major event/project fronts and it all worked out beautifully. The phone had been ringing all day and all night, buzzing and beeping with text messages from various relatives and extended family. Some were welcome; others caused mixed emotions—recalling various times in life when things were different.

And then it hit me. We can’t go back again. No matter how far back you reflect to a day or time when you thought things were “better” or “simpler” or “easier,” that was really all a giant myth. The year 2019 was not an easy one, for virtually anyone I know, frankly. For a wide swath of reasons, the final year of the decade would not go quietly into that good night.

People kept posting on Facebook that they were going to “unfriend” anyone who said one thing or another, or they took a stand and immediately received input, output, and cross-talk for whatever they said. Facebook kept posting that they were on the lookout for fake accounts and bots, and dots, and spots, and blahblahblah. Even today, scanning quickly the pages of some in my home feed, I shook my head to see postings that were anything but celebratory and forward looking to the new decade.

“Didn’t anyone see the light at the end of the tunnel,” I thought. Musicians and celebrities we’d all enjoyed for decades this year passed on to the next life; loved ones’ friends and their beloved pets crossed various bridges, of life and of rainbows, and now they were planning to go forward without them. Others reminisced of loved ones no longer here for 1 year, 5 years, or longer. Each time the posts were filled with regret, loss, and the feel of “we will no longer have them here, to see, to enjoy” (if they were musicians).

Reality was that we had not been searching for some of them for 20 years. Maybe it was 30 years since we last heard their songs on the radio. I pulled up Warren Zevon’s “Keep Me In Your Heart” and played it, skillfully avoiding the gravitational pull of the YouTube rabbit hole, where one video leads to another, and another and yet another. And yet, this massive sense of loss of various celebrities and music this year seemed greater than usual. Our escape vehicles were slowly escaping. Maybe we focused on that because we dared not look at "other topics" and "losses."

Of course, some of the work I do involves escorting people through transitions in their daily lives and preparing for life without a loved one, so I may spend more time than some thinking about “what comes next” for those who are here. Grieving during and after loss is as unique to a person as their fingerprints. There’s nothing wrong or right. You just have to give it time and then you will feel moved to change your present to look at the future. As long as you never forget the ones no longer with you, they’re still here, in your hearts at least. Often, that seems to be enough. But you can never measure one path by another’s. People navigate those days their own way. Just be present and you’ll see where and how you can be there for them.

This past year in our country has been more tumultuous than any in my memory, which is relatively long compared to some of my friends. I do, however, have friends 30 years my senior and they’ve seen days like these before, just not on broadcast media or electronic communications. Some people are choosing a total communications reset, refusing to watch TV news at all, any channel, any time, and others are tuning in even more. Neither affects the outcome of things, but it provides people a decision over which they have full control. There doesn’t seem to be a great deal of control that “we the people” have right now.

Realistically, “we the people” have been bombarded with information that forces us to do more than simply push a button at the polls (or dial it in and hit “enter” at the newfangled electronic machines). We now have to be aware of the latest news and data and process it and judge it. In College Station, neighborhood issues are at the forefront of voters’ awareness. Every position on the City Council is vital because it means the preservation of historic neighborhoods with deed restrictions and resident protections or else it means that all the rules go to the proverbial “@#@# in a handbasket” status and good luck ever recapturing the beauty and elegance of what was once the historic district there.

It’s one vote away from success or failure. Every vote is key in that city election. So, the next time a person says, “What can one person do?” then you tell them–“Plenty, they can do plenty.” Speaking up, talking about issues, answering questions, obtaining information, talking with neighbors, understanding differences and similarities in candidates and then voting with your logical brain rather than emotions over who’s friends with who else and they like that person. "Think for yourself." That was the advice given me early on and I still believe it. The same logic applies to state and national elections. Rather than complain, vote. Drive someone to vote. Drive a lot of people to vote. Help people have a voice again. Help people take back control of their future.

Before the events of the past decade have unfolded, I’m certain a lot of folks didn’t really care who their elected officials were, from city council all the way up. If there was one candidate that piqued their curiosity, they might have attended a rally. In our community with three or four universities within a 50-mile radius, we have a lot of “young people” who are voting in their first elections this year. They’re excited. They are listening and watching and judging for the first times in their lives. They’re still mightily influenced by their parents’ opinions and values, yes, but they’re exploring what they think about things. They don’t have the wisdom that comes only with living long enough to have “seen it all,” but they have valid questions, opinions, thoughts, and ideas. Don’t discount the newbies and the youngsters. Many times they’re the smartest people in the room.

But one thing will change in 2020 for certain. People are coming together, more now than ever before. I see it all around me. People are reaching out for each other. It could be relatives reaching out for family, or running away from family into their own self-made families. It could be reunions of people who were once young together, full of hopes and dreams, not worried about what their legacy will be, instead looking to explore the world and maybe take it by storm. When we were young(er), goals were lofty, dreams were limitless, and there were no boundaries.

The new decade brings a clean slate. No more “teens” or “double-naughts” in our years. Hereafter, we enter the 2020s, with no haunting “coulda, shoulda, wouldas” of the last decade. We can make it whatever we want. We can forget the past, embrace the future, seek guidance through prayer and meditation, offer comfort to those who ask for it, or even those who don’t. We can find a way to make a difference one person at a time, and the panic of uncertainty about the “what if” in our lives can change. Take power over fear. Trust. Have faith. Enjoy life. Give of your hearts and shared memories to those you love. Time spent with those you love is the best gift you can share. And don’t forget to vote—let your voice be heard. Here’s to the best of 2020 for all of us.