The words I wrote on the chalkboard for 2020 remain there yet. They are words about greeting the New Year with a greater intention of kindness. I remember starting off the year with a sense of joy. I had so much I was looking forward to: Travel plans. Educational plans. Writing plans.
All of it fell by the wayside that first week in March. One week exactly after I attended a large gathering at a church in Bend to hear a favorite author/speaker friend. People had come in from all over the Northwest to hear her. The room was packed. We thought little of hugging one another, of scrunching up next to each other, and the lines to the bathroom during our breakouts were shoulder-to-shoulder.
Exactly seven days later, on a Saturday when I was supposed to be with my husband at his aunt’s funeral, I came down with a runny nose. By that evening I had a fever of 102. I would not feel like myself again until April. There were no tests available anywhere in Central Oregon for Covid. I still do not have any confirmation one way or another of whether I had Covid. I only have the memories of being the sickest I’ve ever been in my life and that sense of isolation that went along with the unknown.
Of all the things I will take away from 2020, it is the isolation I will remember best. It would be months before I would hug anyone again. Even now with my own daughters, I am cautious, and so are they. My son in Wyoming hasn’t had a hug since that same weekend when he spent time with his dad.
We aren’t created to live in isolation. We need physical touch. The lack of it can make us physically ill. Touch builds a person’s immune system, an important benefit during a time when our immune systems are under attack globally.
I have lived in a fog throughout much of 2020. I know folks who’ve used this time to learn a new language, to write a new book, to build new communities online, to learn a musical instrument.
I am hard-pressed to think of anything beneficial I did this year. I walked. I marched. I hiked and biked. I finished two terms of grad school. I hardly saw my daughters who live out of town. I didn’t see my son at all. We gathered on the 4th of July because we could be outdoors, but that was it. The only time all year, we came together, sans the son, with our daughters and grands.
When my sis came to town, we did not hug. We didn’t spend anytime together indoors.
It was hard but my daughters kept reminding me: We can do hard things.
Recently, I was going through some old files and I came across some writing I did when my mother was dying in 2012. It was more transcription than anything. Mama was in a hospital room in Seattle. I had opened up a Word Doc and began typing the things she was saying. I had titled it “Words from Mama.”
I don’t recall asking her questions. I am not sure I did. I think it was a matter of her reflecting back on her life.
“I feel like I lost out on your emotional needs and my emotional needs but God has used it for his glory,” she said. “We are strong women, we aren’t weak-minded. We are strong women who serve Jesus with our gifts. God covered a lot of territory with all of us.”
I couldn’t help but smile as I read her remarks about being “weak-minded.”
I cannot think of one single weak-minded woman in the long line of women from either side of my lineage. Every woman in our family is strong-minded. Every. Single. One.
Early on in 2020 my daughter lost a baby. It’s a hard thing to have a miscarriage during the best of years. It’s all that much more difficult when you are dealing with a global pandemic and can’t have your sisters or mother there to give you comfort. The isolation of it all has been difficult on the entire family, but especially on her: “I just tell myself I come from a long line of strong Appalachian women and I can do hard things,” she says. It has been her mantra all year long as she waits to deliver her first child any day now.
When I was in college a popular poster that several of my friends had in their rooms read: “Don’t pray for an easy life. Pray to be a strong person.”
I thought that was the most messed up thing ever. I had already lived through hard things. I wanted a poster that read: “Don’t pray to be a strong person. Pray for an easy life.”
Whenever I told people that they always laughed, assuming I was joking.
I was not joking.
I have never prayed to be a strong person. I have often prayed for things to be easier for me and for others.
My friend Connie, who died in 2009 from breast cancer, summed it up this way: “I don’t want anybody I know to suffer. I don’t even want anybody I don’t know to suffer.”
I’ve thought a lot about Connie this year. I’ve wondered what she would have thought to see so much suffering by people she didn’t even know. I wondered if she would feel as weak-minded as I have felt this year. I wondered if she would find herself weeping her way into a New Year, full of sorrow for all that has been lost, all the lives, all the opportunities, all the hugs.
It is already 2021 in New Zealand. They seem to be ahead of us in so many wonderful and remarkable ways. But I can’t help but feel optimistic that we will catch up with Kamala Harris and Joe Biden taking the helm.
There is new life on the way. A new bundle of hope to cherish and nurture. And a vaccine which two of my sons-in-laws who work in the medical field have already received. Thank you researchers and medical professionals!
In late 2021, I plan to be in Scotland pursuing further studies.
What are you looking forward to in the New Year, friends?
Whatever it is, I hope it brings us together for a big hug.
Karen Spears Zacharias is author of Christian Bend (Mercer University Press).