The Year That Was 2020

Let me start with the understatement of this brand new year:

2020 didn’t go according to plan.

The pandemic changed our lives…our world. So many people have lost their lives. I have friends who lost loved ones to the virus. I know people who have lost their jobs. We were forced into isolation and lived without physical connections. We lived in fear of the virus and of each other.

The deaths of too many of our Black brothers and sisters shone a light on the pervasive racism that continues to exist in our country. We watched our city express its frustration and desperation for change on the streets, as did many others across the nation and around the world.

The election continues to demonstrate the divided nature of our country. The same tools that we used to connect with each other when we couldn’t be together also spread dangerous conspiracies that endangered lives and pulled us apart.

The pandemic didn’t create these things. We were already disconnecting from each other every time we checked our phones while spending time with others or in the middle of a conversation. Racisms and its damaging effects have existed forever. And our divisiveness goes back to the start of our country.

2020 wasn’t a dumpster fire because it created new problems. Instead, it is because it stoked many separate, smoldering problems. The embers from those fires were carried far and wide, where they were able to gather enough fuel to grow and the individual fires started to connect into a massive blaze.

The fire has done so much damage. This is usually the part of a post where I would write how fires in a forest clear the way for change. I would mention how the nutrients from the dead trees are returned to the soil and how those nutrients and exposure to sunlight encourage new growth. But I’m having a hard time believing it myself.

Because of the effects of my son’s epilepsy, I’ve spent a lot of time over the last few years standing among the ashes. When you’re standing among the ashes, it’s hard to see anything other than the damage that the fire has caused. It’s hard to believe that things are going to be any different when it takes so long for those seeds to sprout and become a new forest.

The turning of a calendar isn’t going to make racism go away. It’s not, nor is a new president, going to bring our country together. It’s not going to return our lives to what they were before, even if we wanted to pretend that these problems didn’t exist before the pandemic.

Change doesn’t come just from the flipping of a calendar or the passing of time. Change comes from wanting things to be different. Change comes from believing that things can be different. Change comes from action.

We have to clear away the ash and encourage those seeds to grow.

Some Other Beginning’s End

It’s already February.

It feels like we skipped January, which I wouldn’t have minded.

January sets the tone for the year. We treat it as a fresh start. We make resolutions to change things about ourselves that we want to improve. And then we endeavor to build up enough momentum to carry those changes through the year and through our lives.

If we’re still exercising in February, or eating better, or not drinking, then there is a better chance that we’ll be doing the same in March and in December. But, inevitably, by the second month of the year, the gym is starting to thin out. There is a pint or two of ice cream in the freezer and a box of wine on the counter.

I was hoping for a better January. My son had VNS surgery in December. While I knew it would take months or a year to see if it would work, January felt so much worse. We often counted the time between seizures in hours, not days. We were reminded every five minutes when the VNS went off and tickled my son’s throat and changed his voice that we were still at war with a relentless enemy that takes and takes from him, leaving him tired and insecure and behind.

January didn’t even give us that first, hopeful week. It strapped us to the couch, shoved a ladle full of ice cream into our mouth and poured the box of wine down our throat on the first day. “Just so you don’t get any ideas that this year is going to be different or better, ” January said, smoking a cigarette with its foot on my chest.

Seneca said, “every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.” I’m trying to find a new beginning in all of this. But to do that, I need to find an end, but there never seems to be one. We turn the page of the month, but it’s the same calendar with the same theme that has been hanging on the wall for the last five years.

The days of the month are color-coded to capture those when my son had a seizure. January is covered with the little yellow squares of activity. February isn’t starting out any better. It’s hard to look at the calendar and imagine that it is ever going to end or that we’re going to get that new beginning we’ve been hoping for.

But Seneca also said, “Begin at once to live, and count each separate day as a separate life.” Maybe I’m thinking too “big picture”. I’m trying to apply “before” and “after” to months and years instead of to each day. Each day when my son has a seizure ends and a new day begins without one. Each day has the potential to be the day that he doesn’t have a seizure. Each day has the potential to be the one when things begin to get better.

If it turns out to not be that day, I’ll try to remember that that day will end, too. And when it does, a new one will begin. I’ll try, but it won’t be easy. Because even though I’m trying to be grateful for each day and to see its potential, I’m still longing for the day when things finally get better for my son. Because even if it’s not possible, that’s the new beginning I still really want. But for that to happen, these relentless seizures and side effects need to end.

Goodbye, 2018.

Today is the start of a new year. The Earth has made another full rotation around the sun as we hurtle through space and time. Along the way, moments were left behind like discarded Polaroid photographs that littered the void with what was and will never be again.

As the universe continues to move forward, it leaves those pictures out of reach. Except they are more than pictures. They are memories with an emotional connection to people and to a time that cannot be experienced again.

Or changed. If I do try to stretch in to the past, it’s usually to try to hold it and wish I had something different. But that often leaves me feeling sad or empty or guilty.

There are so many memories that I want to forget. I’m afraid if I reach back to grab one that it will pull me back into the vacuum and suffocate me. Maybe that explains why I’ve never been particularly good at looking back.

So I try to focus on the present, except that I’m not always great with that, either. I’m better than I was, but I still miss a lot of what is happening in front of me. Maybe things are moving too fast. Or maybe I do it intentionally because sometimes what I see in front of me is hard.

My son is stills seizing. His anxiety is worse and it is isolating him. The keto diet is particularly hard right now with a lot of sneaking food. The VNS surgery that I resisted for so long has left my son with a vibrato in his voice that occasionally makes him insecure.

But if I could reach out in to space and pull one of those pictures from the past and hold it up to the present, I would see how different this year is ending than the last. I would see how much progress we have made.

We met new people and built stronger relationships with the people in our circle.

We have found a nanny and a tutor that has made our lives better in so many ways.

We had countless examples of people showing my son and our family immeasurable kindness and compassion, from his baseball coaches making him feel like a part of the team to strangers that saluted him when he wore his Captain America costume.

After a long struggle, we have our IEP and are getting the supports put in place to help protect my son and get him the education that he is entitled to.

We were honored by the Epilepsy Foundation Eastern Pennsylvania at their Mardi Gras fundraiser and joined their board to give back to the organization that has given so much to us and others in our community.

We returned to the National Walk for Epilepsy and my wife and I both ran events at the Philadelphia Marathon to raise money as part of the #AthletesVsEpilepsy team.

This blog has connected me with so many people.

And throughout the year, our life was sprinkled with countless tiny, special moments. Like stars shining through the black curtain of space, we only needed to look up to see them. To let them in. And to be amazed by their splendor.

Last year was a year of transition, taking us from where we were to where we are. I’m looking forward to this year as the year that will get us closer. Closer to my son’s seizure dog. Closer to an answer on the VNS. Closer to each other and to the people around us. Closer to who I want to be. And closer to understanding our place among the stars.

I’m not great at looking back. And I’m not always good at looking up. But I want to be.

Maybe that is something to look forward to in 2019.