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Readers’ 2020 Memories: Dancing on a Beach and Other Bright Spots in a Dark Year

We asked NextTribers for their GOOD memories from the year. We were encouraged to hear about moments, big and small, of beauty and meaning.

Everyone I know can’t wait for 2020 to be done with, and that makes me sad. I hate that the year 2020 will forever represent a black mark in the global consciousness because I know some pretty wonderful things happened in the past 12 months. And before we let the year go, I think it might be good to let our minds settle on some good moments.

For me, my memory lands on the evening of Friday, March 6th, the last night of the NextTribe retreat in Tronocones, Mexico. Most of the 21 of us there for the week danced on the beach at sunset, and the world seemed perfectly glorious. We couldn’t have known that as soon as we got back to the States the next day, we would feel the bottom dropping out of society as we knew it.

The last night on our Troncones Beach Retreat 2020. Video by Marcellina Kampa.

I also think of other moments of joy: My oldest son starting his post-college life with a good job in a new city, skimming across a lake at 80 miles an hour on a wave runner with a best friend holding on behind me, playing giddy games of basketball over the holidays with my husband and two sons, and seeing photos of a friend’s husband hugging his kids after 65 days in the hospital with COVID and one month of rehab.

I asked NextTribers to offer their favorite moments from the year–moments they’ll treasure, the bright lights in the otherwise dark stretch. “In the endless year of hardship, discouragement and bad news, I learned that tiny bits of good can add up to huge, deep joy and gratitude,” says Tanja Knutson of Austin.

The memories I heard about seem to fall into one of the following categories.

Deeper Connection with Family and Friends

Beyond the births, engagements, and weddings that still happened this year (although weddings were much smaller or virtual), many readers reported a different kind of joy. They rediscovered connections to family and loved ones and strengthened those bonds.

Thea Wood’s family created a new nightly tradition during the pandemic: post-dinner games. And not video games. She and her husband and the kids, ages 23 and 13, played UNO, Monopoly, poker, Mexican Train dominoes, backgammon, and more. “The kids looked forward to it and excitedly yelled out which game they wanted to play. All while listening to a variety of music and discussing the artists and memories behind the songs,” Thea says. “Those moments are priceless and never would have happened if COVID-19 had not set in.”

Rachel Greenfield has re-discovered the joys of building a fire and sitting with good friends around a fire pit and watching the night sky. While Tammy Shaklee has turned an empty cul-de-sac in her neighborhood into a pickle ball court, where she and her husband play regularly with friends.

Before her daughter started her freshman college year in St. Paul, Minnesota, Karen Schloss Diaz spent six days with her driving from New Jersey to the campus. “It was the most glorious, most exciting, most memorable positive experience for me in this HORRIBLE YEAR,” she says, noting that they stayed COVID careful the whole way. “We laughed, we sang, we hit the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland and had deep dish pizza in Chicago. We had a blast.”

When her city, Austin, shut down, Brenda Riggs and her husband spent quality time in a car as well, using the opportunity to explore their quiet environs. “We would get in the car and drive to different parts of town that we had never explored before. There was absolutely no traffic anywhere. We had so much fun exploring.”

Read More: “There’s a Man in My Bed” and Other Silver Linings in These Trying Times

Deeper Connection with Animals

2020 memories
Tanja Knutson and a few of the 18 kittens she has fostered this year.

This is kind of a sub-category of the family and friends above. Many readers had best memories of the year that revolved around their pets. Here is the general gist of a large number of comments related to adopting rescue animals. “Mia is a life-saver.” “I love her more than I can say.” “She is the love of my life I never knew I needed. You should see how she has blossomed! (So have I.)”

After refusing to get her kids a puppy for years, Lisa Lombardi finally took the leap. “I was never a dog person,” she says, “but it has given me so much joy to see their COVID-sadness lifted with their crazy, challenging, funny new buddy.”

Tanja Knutson fostered kittens—18 of them. But, she says, not all at once. She was able to find good homes for all of them and says, “It felt rewarding to make a small difference amidst the chaos.”

Pet-mania was widespread. Andrea Todd saw it take over her neighborhood. “A bunch of people got COVID puppies and walk them through the neighborhood. It’s been wonderful watching them grow,” she says. “Some have fostered COVID pets and decided to keep them forever. We got COVID kittens and the best part about staying home is watching them play.”

Time and Motivation For New Pursuits

The restored sign above Emily Vickers’s front door.

Many readers used the time they might have spent commuting or running around to obligatory events to tackle long-held dreams or projects they’d been meaning to get to. Online art workshops, writing groups, and cooking seminars were popular.

“I have joined webinars or workshops with attendees and presenters from around the world,” said Colette Crown. “I would not be able to participate if they were held as in-person events, so this has been delightful.”

Diane MacEachern digitized 32 years’ worth of her kids’ photos, which involved going through 25 photo albums and a couple of thousand of snapshots. Cassaundra Melgar-C’De Baca took up gardening. “Previously I’ve been able to kill fake plants somehow,” she says, “and now I have mastered herbs and New Mexico green chiles!”

Inspiration came to Nanci Boise at 5:15 on a June morning. “I was sitting on the porch and drinking my coffee, when a lovely thought occurred to me: I now had the time to work on the family photographs, letters, history, and stories with which I had been entrusted for years. I seem to be the archivist for all sides of the family.”

For two months, Nanci pored over documents and pictures. “My grandmother wrote a letter in 1918 just after her best friends had died of the flu. Her persistence and forthright dedication to her new husband and family truly blessed me, and continues to sustain me.” She also documented the flight records and every bombing and Recon mission flown by her father and stepfather from 1942 through 1965. “I realized that my whining [about the hardships of the pandemic] was undignified, uncalled for, and demeaning to their memory.”

A new habit of listening to podcasts on daily walks launched Judy Coyne in a new direction. When she heard a podcaster talk about growth in a certain business, it made sense to her and she decided to invest with a small amount of money.

“That was in July, and since then the stock has more than doubled in value,” she says. “The real positive here is that this little episode made me feel reasonably smart about money–for maybe the first time ever. Based on this success, I invested an equally tiny amount in a couple of other stocks. And now I have a new hobby: watching them go up (sometimes down) and reading about developments in those businesses. I’d thought about studying Italian during lockdown, but turned out I was too lazy. This is easier and more entertaining. And there are no irregular verbs.”

When she and her husband began sheltering in place at their farm in New Jersey, Emily Vickers used the time to clean, throw stuff out, donate what was useful. In the process she took new notice of a neon sign that spelled out “Greetings,” which had been hanging from a ceiling beam since as long as her husband could remember. The farm once belonged to his grandfather, a glassblower who worked in the physics lab at Princeton University.

“It was broken and hadn’t worked for years. But no one, including me, could discard it. It was a work of art and a family heirloom,” Emily says. So they decided to fix it. “It now hangs above our front door, waiting to welcome the world once again in a much happier 2021.”

New (Often Unexpected) Opportunities

For many people doors closed in 2020, but for others they opened. For them, new jobs, volunteer opportunities, or creative endeavors yielded personal rewards.

In a year when her husband had heart surgery (“so my worry chip was on full charge”), Amy Ferris landed a spot as the co-director of a writing school. “It was a major, wonderful, unexpected, fully wrapped gift during a very awful and scary time,” she says.

In the spring, Karen Collier was asked to facilitate a weekly phone meeting of elderly and homebound people. She originally thought she would volunteer until life got back to normal, but now she wants to continue indefinitely. “Every Wednesday morning, they show me how to live fully regardless of my current limitations,” she says.

Carol Flake Chapman, Kimberly Ussery, and Amy Losak all had books published this past year. Carol’s was a book of poems about the pandemic. “I’m not sure I’ve ever experienced such an intense outpouring of creativity,” she says. “It was clear that the pandemic was going to change us in dramatic ways, and I wanted to respond.”

Kimberly’s book is about Bettie Page, and Amy published her mother’s poetry book, Poised Across the Sky. “I’m working on another book that combines her work and mine,” she says.

Sometimes the pandemic turned bad situations into good ones. For instance, Melanie Howard thought her job as a writing teacher for teens and children would end because of COVID. Instead, her organization, Writopia, made the pivot to Zoom. “I taught classes of kids from locales all over the country. I even taught journalism to students in China,” she reports. “It has been an exhilarating and enriching experience. It was also rewarding to help them use their imaginations to travel out of their bubbles.”

When the school where she normally taught gave her bureaucratic trouble at the start of the pandemic, Susan Shapiro took her marbles and started her own game. “I launched my own online class and made six times the money for less hours. Since I had so many students paying and there was more room on the screen I was able to invite more than 50 students to audit for free—people who’d lost jobs, relatives or homes.” One of the auditing students wrote a piece about how he went from broke to getting an agent because of her class. “None of this would have happened if there was no pandemic,” Susan says. “So I’m holding onto the upsides.”

For Cyndi Alba, the best moment was getting keys to a new house on December 21st after what she thought was a major setback in her life. She had spent 2019 designing her dream house to build on a lot she owned. She got bids, picked her builder, and was about to get started when the pandemic hit. “The blessing in disguise was that I didn’t lose anything,” she says. “So many houses were abandoned in the middle of construction in this area since material costs skyrocketed.” Instead, she ended up buying a 30-year-old house that was similar to her dream house. “It was so much easier,” she says. “I could quit obsessing about counter top materials and paint colors, and just enjoy the new space.”

2020 Memories: Health Breakthroughs

Of course this was a year when way too many people got bad news: A COVID diagnosis, either for themselves or a loved one. Still, many readers recall with tremendous gratitude the health scares avoided or overcome.

Judith King beat cancer this year, and Sherry Amatenstein is now cancer-free after a breast cancer diagnosis as the pandemic began consuming New York City, where she lives. “I was able to get surgery at the end of March to totally remove the two tiny tumors and also got chemo and radiation when so many others with way more serious conditions were forced to wait weeks and months for treatment,” she says.

Amy Rogers has a 50-year-old friend who got a double lung transplant for the cystic fibrosis she has suffered with since childhood. Dena Moore’s son also had cystic fibrosis, but received life-changing medication this year. For her, “a 21-year prayer turned into a miracle.”

More than a year ago, Tanja Knutson’s brother was told he had terminal brain cancer, but he has outlived his diagnosis. “I was able to spend five wonderful days with him this summer,” she says. “What an unexpected gift.”

A Chance to Work on Yourself

2020 memories

Without the usual distractions, many of us had time—whether wanted or not—to go inside ourselves and come to various realizations about our lives. Lori Kangun says she was able to pay off bills and save money this year because she was not out spending and shopping. “l got the chance to rethink my spending habits, which I now know needed a serious reset.”

But some have gone even deeper with their self-analysis. The pandemic has made Mary Reed recognize how much she is a people person. “I need face-to-face interaction with others because I recognize that being with lots of people at an event excites me, makes me feel happy and feel naturally high,” she says, also noting her need for adventure and travel to sustain her. “All of these things provide me with a clear direction for my future that I don’t think would have been as obvious if COVID had not happened.”

Christine Osborne has found new peace during the pandemic. “It gave me the time and space to sit quietly and establish a connection with my deepest self,” she says. Like many people, she’s also rethought her priorities. “It showed me what was meaningful, and it wasn’t working a second job as an adjunct, or working weekends, or running around doing errands, or getting together with people out of a sense of obligation. What was meaningful was time with my boys, good conversation with dear friends, dirty hands from planting and tending a massive garden, and food made with love rather than in haste.”

With two grown sons, she has also had the chance to pivot from the demands of being a full-time mom. “The pandemic gave me time with my two sons, time that made it easier to shift from being ‘mom’ to `me’ and realize that my life and heart are full even though my house is a little emptier with them on their own.”

These stories are a wave of cheer that we hope all of us can ride into 2021, when maybe, just maybe, the bright will far outweigh the bleak.

Happy New Year all!

By Jeannie Ralston


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