2020 Was a Weird & Ugly Clusterfuck

But I Learned Gratitude

The nutcracker standing on my fireplace mantle is pathetic — a damaged, macabre holiday icon. Tragically decapitated at the hairline, like an unfortunate dinner guest of Hannibal Lector, this lobotomy patient now reigns over my 2020 Christmas. One painted eye is partially scraped off. The other fixed and open, in a perpetual, leering wink. The sword at his side is also broken and hangs flaccid. These injury sources are new and mysterious. After the holidays last year, he was intact and carefully packed away — a brave and solid decoration. This year, he emerged from the wrappings a mangled travesty.

There’s great sentimental value attached to this poor wooden soldier. The nutcracker was a gift from my mother in 1990, after we attended the holiday ballet with my two oldest children. And since that time, this nutcracker has stood watch over every Christmas and New Year. He’s steeped in memories of Christmas past.

When I pulled him from the box a few weeks ago and saw the damage, my first thought was, “What now 2020? Is there nothing sacred?”

I almost pitched him straight in the trash.

But on reflection, I am keeping my nutcracker. He is a visual reminder to STFU and count my blessings. While 2020 was a serious multi-level disaster, the year also gifted me with unparalleled gratitude. It took this broken and banged up curiosity of a holiday decoration to readjust my thinking.

Up until this point, I’d been markedly sad and self-focused.

I wanted a holiday shot of joy and therapeutic group family love. We are magical when we’re all together. But it’s not to be. There are too many of us and the risk is too high. Add to that the four family members who are quarantining. The holidays now seem empty and flat, just as 2020 has been.

My health has gone slightly AWOL. As the year closes, I’m back in the oncology discovery process. In May, scans found a small lesion, harmless and innocuous — merely a note in the report. This month, another set of scans showed growth. The lesion is now a mass, situated in the front part of my chest, quite close to the location where I’d had cancer before. An emergency referral to an oncologist resulted. I await PET scans next week. Hopefully, it’s benign. But the presence of this alien blob residing in my body definitely adds to the feeling that 2020 has punched me in the gut and stripped my norms away.

I was whining. Poor me.

My self-talk was taking the wheel and steering it to a stupidly negative destination. As I looked at that grossly banged-up nutcracker, my thoughts did an about face.

No matter how carefully we keep the parts of lives, unforeseen events happen.

I took a lot for granted — as if it would always be the same. Until it wasn’t.

I should have been cherishing all of it equally — the mundane and the extraordinary.

Memories flooded my head and with them came thick servings of gratitude.

I remembered the happy chaos of our family gatherings, and the many traditions we’ve created, including ones that centered on our annual nutcracker ballets and this terribly disheveled decoration I held in my hands.

Rather than complain about what I was missing, my thoughts turned to joy and appreciation.

Why did it take a pandemic to make me grateful?

I am thankful for my incredible family. That love is still permeating my life, even if my beloved people aren’t standing here in one collective assembly. Our bond is tangible.

In the past, I’d stress about holidays. Cleaning, decorating, and cooking were foremost on my mind to create that perfect harmonious event for my family. Now, I’d welcome that happy stress. I won’t ever complain about it again. I’ll celebrate every bit of it, and my clan.

And I’m not alone. My guy is with me. The poor man has been stuck for months here as we work remotely and avoid this virus. He’s been awesome — even though his heart aches to be once again sailing the distant oceans. A sailor only calls a port home in a storm. I’m grateful for this gentle human who has anchored here during this crazy time. He makes me laugh on my darkest days.

Many of my close friends I last saw at our 2019 fall party, then hugging, drinking merrily and laughing. I am thankful for those memories. I feel camaraderie pouring through texts, messages, and calls. We’ve learned to pull together this year. Our way of life was challenged in 2020, but this year did not test our friendship.

The normal parts of life will slowly return and when they do, I will treasure the freedom and spontaneity of daily events.

One day, we won’t be masking as a lifestyle. When that occurs, I will cherish a stranger’s unmasked smile. I should have been doing this every time I saw a beaming face.

I’m filled with thankfulness for essential workers. Those awesome people who ran pharmacies and stores, and delivered our food and supplies, and kept our world running, I’ll never see them the same after this year.

The dedication of healthcare workers amidst this painful and stressful year is reason alone to be grateful. When the oncology nurse called on Christmas Eve to schedule my tests, I almost cried. I wouldn’t have faulted the hospital if I had to wait until after the holidays. But there the staff were, working on for me and other patients.

I’m thankful for health. Mine isn’t the greatest at the moment, at least I’m still upright and semi-functioning.

Thankfulness. That’s really the end-result of 2020. Gratitude for everything lived, experienced, and received. This year was a dumpster fire, but it’s provided a necessary dose of appreciation. Life was always worth celebrating and I won’t again forget this lesson.

Writings of a solivagant, gypsy soul, foodie, and pirate hopeful. Unconventional mother. Sometimes profane. Occasionally profound.

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