Not On The Calendar

What an endearing study in optimism! As I began my January ritual of transcribing known dates from the previous year’s calendar to the new, I smiled wistfully at the profusion of plans cramming the squares in January and February 2020. Those months held the usual allotment of birthday reminders, appointments, taxes due, and dinner dates. The emotional stew of the times was unstated but represented in times and days marked for the Democratic debate on Jan. 14 and the Women’s March on the 18th.

The page for March promised a getaway with dear friends at The Griswold in Essex, an Easter visit from our son’s family, and a trip to visit my sisters and their men in the Poconos. But when the Coronavirus took over the news and our lives, I scrawled “QUARANTINE — COVID” in bold black ink over my neat notations from the 16th on.

Those early days of lockdown were surprisingly full. Zoom and FaceTime calls with friends and family could take hours. Fortunate as we are to live amid woods, farms, and open space, Dave and I took long walks every day. I was working on photo books to commemorate a variety of milestones: my sister’s 60th birthday, my son’s 40th, and 45 years of marriage to Dave. Immersion in nostalgia, perusing decades of change, holidays, and vacations, eased the pain of losing real-time togetherness.

In March and April, scoring a can of Lysol or a package of toilet paper was a triumph. Word had it the Coronavirus was lurking on every milk carton, soup can, and box of Cheerios, so even a rare trip to the grocery store seemed a courageous, death-defying expedition. Life itself was dramatic. In our fear of disease and sadness at missing loved ones, we were living history in a way we thought had passed with the plague and Spanish Flu.

For a time, humans seemed to be uniting and rising, resilient and brave, to meet the crisis. We were uplifted by John Krasinksy’s moving clips on “Some Good News,” viral videos of Italians singing from balconies, and, in America, grateful citizens applauding first responders. But resolve was tested as cases and deaths continued to rise. This was bad, and it was not going away, but not everyone believed that.

George Floyd’s brutal murder was not on my calendar, nor the Black Lives Matter march I attended with my friend Joanie. Dave, Joanie, and I participated in Easton’s vigil as well, but that was not on my calendar either. These events were shocking and pivotal, but like all news and activities following March 16, they happened with little or no warning. I am not a spontaneous person, and this was an excruciating lesson from 2020: anything can happen. It can happen suddenly, and it can happen to us. COVID, witnessing George Floyd’s murder, and upended political norms shattered the illusion of stability and immunity to the suffering and injustice others endured.

June’s page still bore residue of my naive assumption that plans made in advance could be penned in ink: two weddings, a stay at the General Warren Inn in Pennsylvania, and a family reunion in Rhode Island. The lockdown was soon ending, but continuing COVID cases and social distancing prevented large gatherings, and all were cancelled. Nice weather, however, as well as time with friends and evenings out on restaurant patios was a boost, and for me, there was a certain peace in having no expectations. Deep gratitude for health, friends and family, and the beauty of the natural world was my daily infusion.

Not until July and August did my calendar’s emptiness reflect our new “Why bother? Better not” approach to any attempt to plan ahead. The early weeks of frequent Zoom calls and frantic doomscrolling gave way to slow days that evolved as they would. Beyond the pandemic and unfolding craziness on the political stage, my brother-in-law, Steve, was losing his cancer battle. Our pod enlarged to include his family, and our time was spent seeking to cheer, help, and bolster each other. None of this made the calendar.

Knowledge of COVID’s manner of transmission had improved, and we felt greater confidence in the steps we took to stay well, but the election was on the horizon and wearing or not wearing masks was almost as visible a declaration of values and party affiliation as a bumper sticker or street sign. Again, there was an unnerving realization that history’s agonies could repeat. I thought we had learned from past horrors, but no. America was sick and torn. Plus, colder weather and a return to hiding loomed ahead, along with the certainty of Steve’s passing.

I do not put death dates on my calendar. The indication of a loss appears in the way I mark a person’s birthday. In 2020, Nov. 15 and Jan. 22 said, “Ma’s Birthday” and “Steve’s Birthday.” This year will be different, almost cheerier in appearance: “Happy B-day Ma!” “Happy B-day Stevie!”

For most of my adult life, my Lang Folk Art calendar has been my guide and personal assistant. Beneath scenes of charming villages, rolling hills, grazing cows, and rustic barns, its memo-filled boxes have kept me on track and on time, and I checked it every day. COVID killed the need for that routine… along with 356,000 Americans and counting. Besides, it seems some of the most significant elements of life escape calendar documentation. Events and dates are recorded, but the love, fury, power-lust, grief, idealism, and emotional evolution that drive them rarely make the page.

* * *

Breaking (my heart) news: as I write, the Capitol has been breached by Trump supporters seeking an overturn of Biden’s election. The President responded belatedly by telling the rioters to keep the peace and go home. He said he loves them. He reiterated his claim that he’d won the election by a landslide. During the Black Lives Matter protests, Trump mobilized a massive militarized police force and scattered protesters with tear gas and rubber bullets so he could do a photo op in front of St. John’s Church. 

On Jan. 6, windows were broken, the Constitutional work of Congress halted, and members of Congress threatened before reinforcements for the Capitol police were called in. My heart is pounding. My calendar marked today’s Congressional ratification of the electoral vote, but the horror of the day’s events, sudden and dismaying, could not have been foreseen.

I take that back. Given Trump’s rhetoric, I could’ve marked this on my calendar.

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