20 Things 2020 Taught Me

  1. You can get in shape without a gym.
  2. Eating out is overrated.
  3. Life can change overnight.
  4. “I’m so Lonesome I Could Cry” is the saddest song ever written.
  5. Contentment can be found inside your home, but you don’t always know this until you have to do it.
  6. Simple pleasures are the real pleasures: wildflowers planted in an unused patch of dirt; a robin bouncing around the yard; drawing dinosaurs in notebooks with your son, working out with a friend socially distanced in the quiet of the early morning.
  7. Music, as usual, helps get you through.
  8. Lennon Stella is incredibly underrated.
  9. There are hundreds of undiscovered sights in your own neighborhood that you’ll never see until you walk in it. Even on walk number 50, you might find something new.
  10. I have many kind neighbors, some of whom I never met until I walked when there was nothing else to do.
  11. Though we say facts are primary, emotions often lead our lives, from politics to social issues to matters of public health to religion. (Of course if didn’t learn this for the first time in 2020, but this reality became vivid.)
  12. We could have been more efficient long ago. (Think of the in person meetings that could be had over Zoom.)
  13. Some things are inefficient on purpose because they connect us as humans, and we shouldn’t let them go. (Think of in person meetings that do more to build camaraderie than get tasks accomplished.)
  14. Griddles are better than grills.
  15. Smashing burgers as hard as you can on a griddle mimics the restaurant style more closely than anything else. (I can’t tell you how many burgers I cooked on a grill that puffed up and came off as thick as a baseball.)
  16. Sports are kind of boring.
  17. Life is so much more than the experiences you can buy.
  18. Dollar store puzzles are missing a piece. (Not always, but it happened to me twice in a row.)
  19. Buffets are disgusting. (I know, most people already thought they were, but now I feel they will become a thing of the past.)
  20. Hard times eventually pass.

Endings

If the Christmas tree stayed out all year, it would become as common to our eyes as the table lamp. If the summer grass never faded and trees were never bare, spring wouldn’t be exciting. Some things would never come back to us if we didn’t let them go. Hang on to some things too tightly and you lose them.

Endings aren’t fun, but when we move through them we eventually see that they’re good for us.

Maintenance Is Everything

When a problem arises in your car, the sooner you take care of it the better. Delay can make things far worse. 

Maintenance makes things easier or prevents trouble, we know that. What we don’t always realize is that for some things, maintenance is everything. There are no moments where you can sit down and make everything right at once.

You can’t brush your teeth once a year for 2 hours and expect to maintain dental health. You can’t talk to a friend once every 3 months and expect to stay close. You can’t spend one weekend camping with your kids and expect to earn their trust. You can’t wait to pay off debt until you have the full amount needed in cash. You can’t lose all your weight in January.

Going into a new year is the time everyone focuses on what they want to accomplish, and that’s a good thing. Far better is to focus on the habits you can maintain that will bring you to your goals on autopilot.

Merry Christmas (Our Calendar Is Emotionally Unfair)

It occurred to me recently in my waking thoughts that our calendar is emotionally unfair. 

Summer ends, then the leaves change and the very redness of the leaves says something to me. I don’t know what. Maybe that everything has to die and that it will change continually until it does. 

Then there’s this turbulent sequence: 

  1. Daylight Savings begins. – This accentuates the shortening daylight. 
  2. Thanksgiving. – We’ve basically turned this into Christmas Light, or Christmas Pre-Game. 
  3. The Christmas season. – Loud, sometimes charming, mostly grating. Commercialism blares over all else. 
  4. Winter solstice. – The first day of winter is usually 3-4 days before Christmas. I always thought winter was half over at Christmas when I was a kid, but it’s really just starting.
  5. Christmas Eve. – The defining moment of all Christmas stories we’ve heard from birth. Emotions gather like a laser beam. The air is pregnant with expectation.
  6. Christmas Day. – The birth of those building emotions, and often heavy disappointment. Sad when it’s too long, or too short, or too chaotic, or too dull. Sometimes the family isn’t sweet. Sometimes the food is too sweet. Suddenly it’s 10:00 PM.
  7. The strange week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve. – It feels like no one is working and no one knows what to do. 
  8. New Year’s Eve. – Even when I try to avoid it, at some point the thought creeps in: Oh shoot, my life is slipping away and I’m doing nothing with it.
  9. New Year’s Day. – Is this a holiday? What time is it? Why does the sun look weird? Should I be doing something productive and symbolic?
  10. Winter. – The grand finale where literally nothing happens. The dismal blue winter stretches out before you like the south pole and you spend your time hoping you don’t get the flu and now COVID. 

On top of all this, there’s a pressure from somewhere to make the holidays feel like they used to—for Christmas to be magical but not commercial, intimate but not too vulnerable, full of everything you want but not about things, not downplayed but not over-hyped.

There’s so much anticipation: emotional, relational, material, spiritual, religious. Then January 2 there’s just silence and cold and the sad realization that your body is lumpier than it was in November.

I don’t know. This cycle gets old. Can’t some holidays be stretched out to last through the winter and early spring? Because let’s face it, Valentine’s Day and St. Patricks Day are throwaways.

*

Last year I wrote with optimism about finding the Christmas spirit when you don’t feel it. I thought of reposting it, but I think it will need to wait a year. This year is unforgettable, and for a lot of reasons that feel bad. So much loss and change.

My wish for you is that you would find the joy and peace your heart craves. The only hint I know how to give is that this usually comes through simple and unassuming things. It’s not often the grandiose or eventful that makes our hearts sing. It’s when the company has gone and the day is over and your expectations are all used up and you lay down and see Forrest Gump on TV by accident. It’s not even a Christmas movie, but for some reason, as 2020 begins to close, you feel a glowing ember under the ashes of your heart, a comfort that all is okay here, a wonder at being alive.

It’s when you turn the lamp off by the nativity scene and feel the smallest wind of hope that it’s all still true. That the maker of the stars visited us in humility and somehow, in a way you could never explain, he will fix everything.

Merry Christmas.

Permanence and the Cloud

The “cloud” has made the illusion of security stronger. The idea that all my documents are on someone else’s hard drive has removed the urgency I once felt to keep a backup of everything.

But wait, my data is on someone else’s drive, and I’m totally okay with that? What happens if their security is breached? What if my note-taking app decides to lock me out because they go out of business or change their policy? Imagine losing 3,500 notes. What if it’s not as secure as we think?

This was sparked by an incident the other day where my note-taking app did lock me out. It prompted me to purchase their paid plan and gave me no other option for accessing my files. They accidentally held my stuff hostage. I regained access a short time later, but what if they decided to hold it hostage for real?

As I was thinking through cloud options and backups with a fresh energy, I realized what I’m actually searching for is permanence. There is no real permanence for us. Almost everything we make will be lost and forgotten. It takes serious effort to document and remember who made or accomplished what in history, and when it’s done, only a handful of people (history buffs) are interested enough to listen. 

I have thousands of photos that, since I took them, I haven’t reviewed once. If I don’t care enough to do it, who will?

Why do we crave permanence, though it is bestowed on so few?