When this is all over

The year behind, the one ahead

When this is all over, I want to go salsa dancing. To walk in to a new club, in a new city, down some dark stairs perhaps, into a pulsating low ceiling’d dance floor with couples pressed in close, music so loud the only thing you can do is go to someone new, look them in the eye, hold out your hand, take theirs — and dance. Dance close, dance sweaty, dance with joy and abandon until it’s so late they have to flick on the lights to get everyone to finally start clearing out.

I want travel. Go to a distant land, in another time zone, no guidebook, no plan, except perhaps to find a cliff to climb, or a trail to hike, or an ancient building to wander. To land on the tarmac in a new place, use some of my broken Spanish, get myself to an old colonial city center, where I can stroll until I see a cafe or a bar that looks filled with people — just crowded enough to know it’s good, but not too crowded that I can’t go inside and sit down and order. And then to linger there with a book, or a notebook and a pen, or to just sip a drink and observe.

I want to see my niece and nephew. They just turned one, and they are in New Zealand. I’ve never met them, except through the pictures and videos my sister sends, and over Zoom, if you can count that, during which they appear to be well-fed and happy, and blissfully unaware that outside their country there is still a pandemic on. I want to see my older nephew, who just turned three, and take him on a long hike, one where he gets more tired than he’s ever been, but he has to keep going just a little longer, until his feels tougher than he’s ever been. Tough and tired, and myself, glad to have given my sister as much or as little a break from the parenting as I can manage.

I want to see my friends inside around a fire, and drink white Russians, and cook each other dinners, and prepare deserts, and open a second bottle of wine, and then a third, because no truly good conversation happens before the third bottle of wine. To work with them, and climb with them, and recapture the most unexpected nice surprise of buying a house in a small town in the New Hampshire mountains: the community.

It’s true, a year of not being able to do many of the things I love has taken its toll. If it seemed this pandemic were never-ending, I would instantly become much more risky in my behavior, and let the cards fall where they may. If it were another two years of this, I would be likely already be on that plane, already landed in some new country, already dancing, with hardly a thought to what the state of the pandemic was or what might happen. And if I were to get COVID, well then I’d probably live.

But the fact is, there is light coming, and soon— as in a few months soon. Which means the correct decision is to wait just a little longer. To bear it, at least until the Spring, maybe the Summer.

And, while there are many things I want to do when this is all over, I must also say that there are many, many things about this year for which I am grateful. A loving partner, for one. However lonely this pandemic feels, I haven’t been alone in this. Also the time spent with my son, especially the time spent hiking up some of the New Hampshire mountains, where, as if on queue, he would get especially philosophical after about the third hour of walking, and I would find out things from him, and about how he saw the world, that I would never have gotten to learn otherwise.

I am grateful to have spent so much time with my mom, who moved into the New Hampshire house shortly after I bought it. Her comfort cooking and gardening prowess have been much appreciated additions to our pandemic pod.

I am even grateful, it feels odd to say, for the good relationship I have with my ex, my son’s mom. In an extremely difficult and uncertain time to be parenting young kids, it’s made even more complicated in a mixed home, where kids are meant to go back and forth between households, and I have appreciated that while we don’t agree on everything, we have managed this extreme uncertainty with (I feel) some measure of grace, in a realm where you wouldn’t ordinarily expect to see it.

And of course I am grateful for the Rumney cliffs, and for the time I was able to spend climbing this Summer and Fall, and for the friends who belayed me as I worked on sending my first 5.12, a life goal that, two years ago, I wouldn’t have thought even within the realm of possibility. I never thought I’d have the time or the opportunity to climb hard enough for long enough to be able to do it, and this year gave me that time. When I finally did do the climb, it had that feeling of flow and effortlessness that comes from mastery. I can still remember the moment on the climb I knew I would send, and it is truly a glorious memory to hold. Now, I can aim even higher. It seems a 5.13 would really be out of the realm, too much to expect of myself — but… is it?

Meanwhile there are many things I’d planned to do this year that I didn’t get to. Many of you are aware I have a fairly structured annual planning process, which I call Strategic Planning for Life, a method I’ve used to stave off the slow slipping away of time for the past six years now. Most years I meet or exceed nearly everything I plan to do — and this year it’s clear God laughed at those plans.

I did do the climb, and I did finish the garage renovation, nearly. But a trip I’d promised myself I would make to see my brother, I was not able to make, though I nearly did take a three-day cross-country Amtrak to meet him for fishing in Montana. Then there was the script I’d planned to do a re-write on, which I never did. The Spanish lessons I’d meant to take never happened — after my partner’s and my trip to Mexico was cut short by COVID I never even considered trying to replace the lessons lost with an online equivalent. And there were other goals too, which ultimately fell by the COVID wayside.

But it’s ok to get knocked off your path here and there. It’s not like there is an actual path, in any case. There is just, as I’ve written, a kind of wilderness we wander, and stories we make for ourselves.

So, how do I end this year, and enter 2021? I don’t know exactly. Maybe I do it with the knowledge that the years themselves are but a mortal measurement. Or that every day, each moment, with practice, we can choose how we react to the world. Nothing is dictated for us, and there is no way the story ends. Much as we strive, we grasp, we strategically plan, we attempt to create a narrative arc for our lives, there is really only what we do.

I don’t know what will happen, how this will end, or when. But when it does, I’m going dancing.