Recently someone asked me to come up with a word — just one — for what 2020 was like for me. Talk about a challenge: a single word? I thought for a minute and said “Frozen,” but that wasn’t right. I found myself making a vague pushing-inward gesture with my hands as though I was collapsing a box. “Reduced. Muffled. Uh … diminished.”

I couldn’t really come up with the right term for It was overwhelming and I disappeared myself to escape. I was there but I wasn’t.

You have, I am sure, heard the saying about the pandemic that we are all in the same storm, but in different boats. Some are in giant luxury yachts and some are in rafts that are starting to fall apart and so on. I love the clarity of that phrase — how perfectly it illustrates the way a crisis can fall unevenly and unequally upon a society — but it doesn’t describe how 2020 felt to me. For me, the worst part of the year was not having a shared reality of the storm itself.

“Right, like the worst part was the arguing,” you may be thinking right now. “I’m pretty sure it was the—” and whatever you come up with next, whatever it is, like if it’s “over 350,000 deaths,” or “utter lack of leadership during a dangerous health crisis,” or “batshit crazy unfounded claims of widespread voter fraud which would eventually culminate in an actual storming of the U.S. Capitol,” whatever fact about 2020 seems indisputable to you, there is this entire alternate version, right?

The numbers of deaths are wrong. The crisis is being exaggerated in order to enforce draconian rules. The election was stolen.

It’s one thing to disagree on how to react to a thing, it’s another to disagree on the reality of the thing itself. Like suddenly finding that you aren’t feet or even miles apart, there are entire continents between you. No shared north star to fix on in order to try and close the distance.

Lockdowns and isolation, the many things I took for granted that suddenly became and remained unavailable, kids stuck at home, upended daily routines, political turmoil and social unrest, all the small and not-so-small losses — all brought on by a storm whose very nature could not be agreed upon. My household is a boat but we don’t see the same waves.

Distanced. That might be the right word after all, there’s the obvious reason but also that’s how I got through 2020, at a distance. I distanced myself with food, with doomscrolling, with medication. I put insulation all around me until it was hard to recognize what was worth paying attention to. It was hard to feel anything, any more. I was there but I wasn’t.

Nothing changes unless nothing changes, and so I — finally, partway through December — started making some changes. Quit the worst kind of self-medicating, tried to give myself grace for being so helpless in the face of a cookie. I see a counselor now as well as a doctor specializing in addiction. I write in a gratitude journal and I have one of those goal-tracking grid things where you get all excited about filling in the little water box each day with your specially-purchased colored pencil until you realize just how hard it is to stay fully hydrated on the reg without straight-up peeing your pants.

Anyway. I ended 2020 better than how I lived 2020, which … isn’t saying a whole lot, but after many months of quicksand-level inertia at least I’ve got that goin’ for me.

I wish we could all be confident that this year will be nothing at all like the last but of course that’s not how it works. We’re still in a pandemic, we’re still in the midst of political upheaval, we’re still painfully polarized as a nation. I know better than to believe that everything will instantly be better or easier now that the calendar rolled over, but I am re-committed to staying present. Un-insulated, un-muffled, life on life’s terms.

And if I had to pick a word, a single word, for what I am hoping for in 2021, it is this: Connection.

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Time has been waxing and waning in unsettling ways all year but does it seem, like, insane to you that Christmas is just a couple days away? (Or depending on when you read this, rapidly fading in the rearview?) I mean the evidence is all there to support holiday imminence — the gifts are wrapped, we’ve seen our favorite holiday movies, the Frasier fir-scented candle has been on deck for weeks, all the pets have been forced to wear the humiliating jingle collar at least once — but I definitely wish I could draw out this particular week for a while longer. The gift anticipation, the twinkle-light-fueled cheer, the part of winter where winter still has good branding before it slumps into the soggy, freezing February-adjacent doldrums.

(Not that it’s been particularly wintery as of late. Yesterday I was wearing thick boots and a giant sweater while I was out running errands and as the sweat pooled and trickled down my back I finally noticed the outside temperature: 65 degrees.)

I suppose I wouldn’t press pause on 2020 even if I could, though. When I went through the process of sifting through photos for our family holiday card I was grateful for all the good memories mixed in with the not-so-good ones, and for the reminder that there were bright moments that happened throughout this terrible horrible no good very bad year — but I’m RULL ready to turn that calendar page.

If you’re celebrating this week, I hope you have a lovely, restorative holiday. See you in 2021, friends.

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