I n early February 2020, I got a call from my dad.
While that itself may not be particularly momentous, it is unusual. My dad and I get along great, but neither of us is great at keeping in touch. We understand this about each other, so it works.
But turned out, this call was especially unusual.
My grandpa, who’d recently turned 89, was in intensive care in the hospital. He had a few different medical conditions which had, cumulatively, left him barely conscious and unlikely to respond to any treatments. My dad told me that grandpa would be released from the hospital the next day to receive hospice care at the home they shared together. The details were a bit hazy — I later learned that my dad hadn’t slept in days — but I knew what he was trying to tell me. My grandfather was dying, and likely didn’t have long.
The doctors were right, and he passed away the next morning, shortly after getting settled in at home. I was able to speak with him over the phone before — he still wasn’t conscious, but my dad told me his face responded to my voice. I offered to fly home to California to keep my dad company and help him settle affairs. We spent the weekend going for long sunny walks, napping, and talking about ancient family history. Even as it was happening, I knew it was going to be among my most precious memories of my time with my dad. Death can do that, I think.
A month later, in early March 2020, the world cracked open with a deadly pandemic and we all came to a grinding halt.
As much as I was grieving my grandfather, I was grateful. He had died at an excellent time.
I don’t need to tell anyone reading this about the death, loss, anxiety, and panic that came in the following months.
Collectively, we lost loved ones — to death and to distance. We grieved our plans, our dreams, our jobs, our communities, and our routines.
Maybe things will be better in a month, we said.
Or by the summer…
Here in Minnesota, just two miles from where I was numbly going through the motions of daily life in the same 1000 square feet of my home, George Floyd was suffocated by a police officer and the city burned. Rage, pain, and fear were everywhere.
I was fortunate to have never contracted COVID or been threatened with police violence. Yet, death seemed all around. I wondered — in a world without physical connection or community gatherings, where all our systems protect the powerful and wealthy at staggering cost to the poor, the vulnerable, the oppressed… What makes life worth living?
To clarify, I didn’t consider suicide this year, though I can understand why many did. Moving through multiple collective traumas can — and should — take it’s toll.
I did wonder, who is important to me?
How do I let them know?
What is worth doing with the limited time I have? And what is not?
I quit my depressing, draining job and took a part-time gig calling voters for the 2020 presidential election. I talked to folks who had lost family to COVID and to deep ideological division. Everyone was hurting, in one way or another.
Most people I know were deeply dreading this election, and while it wasn’t exactly a joyride for me, it certainly gave me purpose. This work gave me a way — in a year of darkness and isolation — to meaningfully connect with others across our hopes and fears. I had hour long conversations with strangers in which we struggled to envision a shared future. As difficult as it was, it gave me hope.
And four days before the election, my partner and I got the good news we had hoped for for nearly a year. A positive pregnancy test let us know that whatever else 2021 would have in store, it would bring us our first baby.
N ow, a year after the pandemic was declared, we have an awful lot to be hopeful about. Vaccine distributions continue to increase. People are dreaming of summer festivals, reconnecting with their friends and families over a beer and a shared meal. In our house, we are making room for the kid that will be joining us soon.
As dark and as deadly as this year has been, I have been humbled and amazed by how persistently we strive to live. As I consider my child’s first days, I can’t help but remember my grandfather’s last — everything we have lost this year, and will lose as time keeps moving on.
I’m still wondering, what makes all this life we have worth it?
And — with hope — I’m looking forward to learning.