These are the quiet days, the calm and tranquil respite between the turbulence behind and the challenges out in front. Days to survey the scars of 2020, and assess the sinews needed for the road ahead.
“We never saw it coming, it caught us like a goal in extra time,” a seventysomething with a Liverpool shirt told the bus stop queue one morning. “Caught napping we were, and God did we pay.” Got that right, mister.
Where were you when Leo marked a St Patrick’s Day like no other and made it this generation’s JFK moment, when our world changed forever with the words: “In years to come, let them say of us when things were at their worst we were at our best.”
We knew then this was serious. In the months that followed we would overdose on Netflix and Tempranillo, pass through more roadblocks than Thelma and Louise and learn to kiss Granny’s tear-stained cheek through a double-glazed window.
It was the time when smartphones bleeped at 5k frontier lines, sourdough ingredients were measured tighter than a Baywatch swimsuit and hairdressers made furtive midnight house calls, clipping our vanity in a world gone grey. And even when Tony Holohan’s nightly body count showed us this was a horror show worse than Freddy Krueger and Michael Myers combined, we discovered fortitude and compassion even in the deepest darkness. Like the schoolgirl I came upon tying two cellophane-wrapped scones to a door handle one morning: “Freshly baked, and who doesn’t like scones?” she shrugged. Turns out this teen bake-off queen did it at a different house every morning all summer.
In a year where we added fresh words to the dictionary – ‘covidiots’, ‘Blursday’ and ‘doomscrolling’ – we also glimpsed the future of work as home offices and WFH notices became the norm.
Suddenly our mad Mondays turned mellow – commute-free and working in sweatpants, or sometimes no pants at all, the hell with make-up and bad hair a badge of honour. No longer was technology a dirty word as we bathed in the warm waters of Zoom, that Aladdin’s Cave of treasures in everything from yoga to zumba, online mating to teacher rating, and playing Scattergories at dawn with the grandkids in Melbourne.
My local bookshop sold out of Dickens and Wilde because everybody wanted an intelligent-looking background when they job hunted or interviewed.
In search of leaders, we rediscovered Mother Nature, the matriarch of all our little kingdoms as the mundane became the new normal, and silence the welcome stranger in towns without traffic. On a hot August night we stood in the darkness of Glencar gazing upward to a cloudless sky, picking out Orion’s Belt, Betelgeuse and Aldebaran – and then popped the cork on yet another Tempranillo because, well, if we couldn’t be in Barcelona, we’d bloody well behave as if we were.
Neighbours down the road, whose kids flew the nest years ago, adopted a rescue dog – like thousands of others around the country. “She’s much more than a pet,” the little lady told me, “She teaches me something new every day.”
More than anything, though, 2020 made us see those closest to us with fresh eyes. In my own case a frontline health professional whose talent at deflecting praise is matched only by a dedication to the kind of work most of us could barely contemplate.
In these last days of an unforgiving year, those epic words of Joni Mitchell keep rattling around in my head: “Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.”
And we lost so many. The road ahead has no markings, but, like Beckett, “I can’t go on, I’ll go on.”
That we are still here is treasure beyond measure. Yes we can.