In January 2011, I was evacuated from my first Peace Corps country of service, Niger, due to terrorism activity. We were at a training in a village outside the capital when the decision came in from D.C., and a day later I was on United Nations plane back to the region where I lived and driven out to my village with about an hour to pack as many belongings as I could. From there, I went to Morocco with the other Niger volunteers to decide what was next. My fate changed several times within in the span of three days, and eventually I decided to travel to Egypt and back home, where I would reapply for the Peace Corps and give this long-held dream another attempt.
On one of the many airplane rides I took during those whirlwind weeks, I listened to a podcast story about Katherine Russell Rich, who lived with stage IV breast cancer for 18 years. This far exceeded medical predictions. Each year, she returned to an online forum for those living with breast cancer, and wrote, “I am still here.” The story ended with The Mountain Goats, “This Year.” I am going to make it through this year if it kills me, the song goes. That song became my anthem for 2011, a year that was a pause, a gap, a line to get from one phase of my life to the next. It was frustrating, heartbreaking, and everlasting, but when it finally ended, I was settled into another Peace Corps service in a different part of Africa.
Several weeks ago, someone on my social media feed posted a link to “This Year”, which prompted me to play it on repeat for an hour. Hearing those guitar strums and that proclamation of perseverance reminded me that not only did I make it through 2011, the challenges of that year, now practically a decade old, seemed distant and not so hefty. Of course I made it through, I thought, it wasn’t all bad.
So much can happen in a year. It can be a year that brings you some of the greatest joy you may ever know, or one that shows you the truest of suffering. Sometimes, it’s both. However, it’s never all joy or all sadness, and it’s the mixture of two that makes humanity so complicated. Because even in a downright terrible, painful, excruciating year, there is still happiness and goodness.
Yes, 2020 sucked, and it took a lot from all of us. People lost jobs, homes, communities, businesses, marriages, and their safety. Concerts, travel, parties, and any kind of big gathering vanished overnight. We lost friends and families to our opinions and values. We lost our belief and faith in others. People like Breonna Taylor, Asia Jynae Foster, Ahmaud Arbery, and so many others not named in the headlines were needlessly and brutally murdered. And, we lost too many lives to a vicious disease that could’ve been stopped.
But, it wasn’t all bad. I was reminded of that notion last week when The Daily, a podcast of The New York Times, published its piece, “The Year in Good News.” After an invitation to do so, more than 700 people sent audio messages to The Daily describing good things that happened in a year filled with grief. People fell in love, they had babies, they discovered new hobbies, and they reconnected with lost friends and family. These things happen every year, but in this year these joys meant so much more. They were the light in the storm, what kept us going when we weren’t sure we could. Next to heartbreak and pain, we learned to savor them more than ever.
Listening to this episode, while walking my dog, I began to cry. This year was hard for me personally, but there was still so so much good. As 2020 dwindles to a close, I’ve been thinking about all the bright, joyful spots, and I want to put them here so that they have lasting power. Yes, 2020 will be known for its hardships, but I refuse to forget all the good that came to me in the last 12 months.
Here is my year in good news:
- Even though travel was cutoff for most of the year, I still managed to squeeze in two trips at the beginning of 2020: the first to California to visit one of my dearest and truest friends and the second to Mexico with my mother on her first trip out of the country.
- The world began shutting down when my mom and I were Mexico, which was surreal to hear stories about the NBA cancelling its season while I am drinking a margarita near the pool. However, not only we were incredibly lucky to make it home without issue, but my school decided to cancel classes an extra week after spring break, giving me the ultimate dream of a vacation after a vacation.
- I started my clinical counseling internship, and I was accepted at my first choice of sites. It’s been a learning process, especially since all the therapy I do is online, but I truly enjoy my new profession.
- I started my third and final year of graduate school. The end is near.
- My husband and I went camping in July in remote Wisconsin woods. It was the first time that I went camping without someone much more experienced at setting up tents, building a fire, and cooking meals over the flame. It was a nice break from the city and current events.
- I’ve spent more time in the kitchen than ever. From roasts to mini-apple pies, I’ve been able to tick off things on my baking/cooking list, including sourdough bread. I am still working on bettering my technique, but I am elated to officially call myself a bread baker.
- At the beginning of this year, I had zero plants, mostly because I often kill them. Now, I have four, all of which were gifted to me. As of today, I am happy to report they are all still living.
- This pandemic has made it a lot easier to reach out to people who’ve I long lost touch with, for whatever reason. It’s been nice to reconnect with people I haven’t talk to in years, and with that, reconnecting to a long-forgotten piece of myself.
- This was the first holiday season that I spent entirely in Chicago, and it was a bit strange, yet sweet, to experience the quiet city on Christmas morning. It was also the first holidays that my husband and I spent just the two of us.
- I often don’t spend much money on myself or splurge, but I’ve treated myself more this year. It’s hard enough without my internal shame, so I go for whatever it is that I want. I recently bought a running jacket that is perfect for the wind and moisture of winter running.
- When I accepted my internship, although I was excited, it was a bit of gamble. My commute would have been two hours one way via public transportation or 40 minutes in a car. Then there was the commute from my internship site down to school. I was going to spend a good amount of time getting from one point to the next, I knew, but it seemed like a worthy sacrifice. However, with the commute time gone for both my internship and school, I get so much more of my day back. Rushing to and from the train has calmed my schedule, and me. Not having to be on the train at 11 p.m. at night after class is one of the biggest silver linings in this year for me.
- For a good chunk of the year, the only time I left this house was to run. Running has been one of my true refuges this year, and to avoid well-populated paths, I did many miles on the streets of Chicago, going to places I rarely do not on my runs. Additionally, with masks and distancing, running was still a social outlet for me. One Sunday, a few friends and I ran for six hours in the park, and I recorded my longest run, of 30 miles, since 2012. As the clear closes, I will hit a new yearly mileage record at 1600 miles (that is, after my commute to and from work).
- After I lost my part-time job in the spring, I was rehired when the store opened in May. I am lucky to have had that job and that the unemployment I received was sufficient to keep my bills paid. My husband also lost his job this year, one he just started in February, and while it’s been hard finding full-time, benefited work, he is working. Our bills are paid. We can afford groceries and other small luxuries. We are beyond lucky.
- This time has forced me to slow down. Even with school, work, and my internship, I can’t do as much as I once did, and that’s a good thing. I’ve learned to prioritize and be more intentional with my time. Still not great at setting boundaries but getting better.
- And, finally, I am so thankful for my marriage. I am incredibly grateful that I have had someone during this time of isolation and loneliness, and I thankful that we still love and support one another even after all this time together in our small apartment. We had our moments of tension and frustration, but we survived. I am up for whatever next year brings as long as he is by my side.
If you are reading this, here you are, at the end of 2020. You did it. You made it through this awful, horrific year. I can’t predict if 2021 will be much better, but we are still here, and that’s something to celebrate.