It’s a shame we measure time by our accomplishments, instead of lessons learned.
Back in January, I picked up A Really Big Lunch, a posthumous look at Jim Harrison’s food writing. I liked it. A vein of American consciousness would gleefully shit all over the book- hedonism, conspicuous consumption, the carbon footprint, the objectification of women. All of those criticisms have merit, all of them run headlong against Harrison’s mantra: Live vividly.
In the winter, I worked out a middle path. Living vividly is an individual endeavor, it doesn’t require a thousand dollar bottle of wine and has nothing to do with how others value where you focus money, time, and attention. Haters gonna hate. That cynicism and snarkiness are an easy, lazy reaction to an imperfect world; in and of themselves, they aren’t particularly constructive. Empty calories. And a fucking bummer. The only known remedy to a cynical world is joy. Exercise joy. That’s living vividly.
In the spring, I learned there’s no such thing as too much communication. I’m bad at checking in with people, working under the assumption that no news is good news. As offices, clubs, schools, businesses, bars, and restaurants closed, I learned the value of telling those important to you how important they are.
In the summer I learned the value of making space for people and their baggage, before remembering the more refined term is grace. Everyone is spinning plates all the time, not just this year, and the energy put into being frustrated about it would be better used shunted into empathy.
In the autumn, I learned the value of presence. Bearing witness in the lives of others, even if it’s the simple act of writing Christmas cards so that they know, even if you can’t be around, you’re still there for them.
Through all of it, I learned compromise is in itself a million little lessons. At 30,000 feet it’s how we allocate resources and attention as disease flares, as the west burns, as the Gulf coast washes away. How we re-imagine a political landscape that benefits only a few while keeping so many in perpetual jeopardy. Closer to home it’s about how many rolls of toilet paper a household realistically needs in a month. Spending an extra ten minutes at the grocery store while you shop for an elderly neighbor. Forgoing gifts for siblings, so you can all pitch in for a needy family. To the individual compromises let two adult human beings live with each other twenty hours a day, for months, without going bonkers. Doing more than paying lip service to compromise makes you a better person. A better neighbor. A better citizen.
The general consensus good riddance to 2020, but I think that only serves to paper over the ugly or unpleasant bits and move along our merry way. The sentiment asks us to ignore our experience and the lessons we’ve learned, and I don’t think that does anyone any real good. Let’s carry that wisdom into the new year, and use it to make something better.