Sometimes he has a good day, his mind clicking like it used to, and our phone conversations take us back in time.
To the Christmas he and my mother bought me a Huffy with high handlebars and a banana seat, or to the snowy day in 1973 when we bundled up and headed to Shea Stadium and watched O.J. Simpson weave through the Jets defense all afternoon, becoming the first man in NFL history to run for 2,000 yards in a football season.
“Yeeeahhh,” my father says in that unique way of his, a touch of the Bronx returning to his voice. “That was really something.”
That it was, though no more so than our chat: a renewed connection with the man my father once was, before Parkinson’s began to devour him physically and dementia began its evil subtraction.
We stay on the phone longer on those days, reminisce a little more, because that’s one of the lessons I’ve learned from 2020, our toughest year in decades, but also 366 days full of teaching.
Like: Never forget the value of a moment, an interval, one day. Because who’s to say when the next good moment will arrive? Maybe it shows up 24 hours later. Or maybe that’s all you get.
What else has 2020 taught us? There’s the concept of essentialness when it comes to work. We have all sorts of metrics available to grade the value of a career: the qualifications necessary to hold a position, the years of school, the plaudits on a resume.
Some people compare salaries and bennies. Others, the fame a career delivers. This year, I’ve taken to wondering what life would be like if all the practitioners of a skill set disappeared. What if no one delivered the mail anymore? What if no one stocked the grocery shelves? What if we had no nurses, no respiratory therapists, no paramedics? What if every cop quit?
If 2020 has done little positive, it has expanded our vision, helped us to see those workers around us who before managed to escape our sight.
Not every lesson has been such a blessing, of course.
This year and its nuclear winter of an election cycle revealed still more about the poisonous nature of this nation’s politics. Neither party escaped stain; both sides conducted themselves with all the honor and dignity of a Hollywood psycho villain.
A little bit of math underscores how adrift we are: About 250 million Americans were eligible to vote in 2020. Roughly 81 million cast a vote for Team Biden versus 74 million for Team Trump. The other 95 million of us couldn’t be bothered to show up.
Recent polling says 82% of Trump voters—an estimated 60 million people—believe Joe Biden’s win was illegitimate.
What does it say about the state of democracy when nearly half the country stays home on Election Day or votes and thinks the whole thing was “fake news” regardless?
Here, I’ll get fancy and quote the poet Yeats: “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold/Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.”
Let’s hope “The Second Coming” was fiction, not prediction.
For a saving grace, time and again 2020 has pointed us toward love. It’s a lesson taught to me over and over this year by the girl with the golden copper hair. There is no explaining how she does it, or why: how she keeps loving so fiercely against such odds, why she keeps warming my iceberg heart. But she has, does, and that is my miracle of 2020 and the best lesson of all.
Keep showing up, keep caring, loving. Eventually the worst ends up behind us.