Was a lotta talk in 2020 about nurses, parents, children, everybody—being “exhausted,” overwhelmed, “broken” by events in the news, and events in their lives.
All understandable. All true. All terrible. And some people didn’t make it to 2021.
But the vast majority of us did.
And now we’re talking that way again, as we start 2022.
But most of us will make it to 2023, and we’ll make it there in better shape if we remember how we’ve handled our hardest times, in the past.
There are several periods in my life that I look back on with wonder: How did I get through that?
Sure, one of those periods is the opening months of COVID, when we each feared for our livelihoods and our lives—our children, and our whole civilization. I remember lying in my bed in the dark middle of the Chicago night and hearing a motorcycle faintly, coming toward us, up Western Avenue. Lying there and listening to it getting closer and closer, for about a minute. And then going by, fading away, for another whole minute.
But objectively speaking, I’ve been through a lot worse than that.
For instance, over a two-year period in the mid 1980s, my parents and both of my older sisters got divorced, my mother accused her father (my grandfather) of incest, I spent most of my junior year of high school in in-patient drug treatment and my mother entered an in-patient mental hospital. Not necessarily in that order. (Because I don’t remember the fucking order.)
And if you’d have asked me “how’s it going” on any Wednesday during that unfolding catastrophe, I’d have said, “I’m fine.”
Watching the James Taylor/Carole King show the other night on CNN, I was feeling a little melancholy, fondly remembering my 25-year-old self who sang those songs with the fullest throat and open heart, to the lover who became my wife.
And then remembering the week, in June 1994, when she did become my wife. (And when we looked like this.)
That week began with a business trip to Boston—surely the worst business trip I ever had. Drinking too much Guinness (and eating too many clams) and shitting the bed in the Marriott Hotel.
My roommate on the trip was a friend and colleague who had beaten me out for the big editorial job at the publisher where we worked, and I was bitterly jealous.
He was there covering a big industry conference as a journalist; I was there to sell flimsy little books at the exhibit hall. How flimsy and little? People kept picking them up and walking off with them, assuming they were free. I was chasing them down and asking for $29.95.
The company’s CEO was there with us too, and every night out was a failed attempt to win his favor (or even his notice).
While we were all in Boston, another colleague’s wife had a brain aneurism and almost died. The day we got home, my Boston roommate sat with him in his apartment and drank scotch until the hospital called and he had to go.
So I went off to my bachelor party.
The next day, I was married, at Chicago’s City Hall—in a cinderblock, windowless basement ceremony that felt like a drunk-driving arraignment. On our honeymoon that night in a cabin in Door County, Wis., we lay on a mattress on the floor listening to a jazz station and contemplating our life together, when an announcer broke in to tell us that Orenthal James Simpson was reportedly in the backseat of a white Ford Bronco believed to be owned by Simpson’s friend, Al Cowlings …
I endured all that during one week, back when my heart was at its most open and soft and tender.
I’ll make it through 2022, no matter what—and so will you. Just protect your heart, for 2023.
(The openness and the softness and the tenderness.)
[And maybe don’t use your best sheets.]