GETTING THROUGH 2020

Earlier this year, when I saw my internist, she asked me how I had been in the past year.

“I’ve had a good year,” I said, thinking medically.  I hadn’t broken anything, my Afib had stayed quiet, and I hadn’t been ill, not only no Covid, but no colds, either.  It has been so obvious to so many of us that social distancing and wearing masks eliminated the usual flu season and colds themselves.  If I ever tutor again at the community college, I may well wear a mask to try to avoid colds.

I then realized that my internist and everybody else in the medical field had not had a good year, and I felt a little guilty.  I volunteered doing trail work in the Cascades, and in the past 11 months have been out 52 times into three national forests and four wilderness areas.  That was just doing trail work. I also have hiked and snowshoed, mostly alone.  

By the time I saw my ophthalmologist two months later, my wife and I were volunteering at Autzen Stadium each weekend, both days, checking registration for those getting a drive up-walk up-bike in-vaccine shot. My ophthalmologist thought that was great, certainly more fun than having to deal with the many people who came to the office upset that they had to wear a mask, perhaps bullying because the office staff was almost entirely women.  She was ready to go out that minute, away from the slit lamp, to the stadium parking lot and deal with happier people, helping them get shots. 

During part of 2020, my car got two months per gallon, I found 65 species of wildflowers one day in a nearby park, discovered Zooinverse, practiced my bridge game online, and had a few Times Picks from of my comments to the New York Times. I also got certified in crosscut saw use, helped clear 75 miles of trails and answered two or three thousand math problems on line.  We lost two cats, gained one, and have a daily soap opera of neighborhood cats, some stray, many with homes, that our ultra-conservative neighbor has opened his house to. Two even follow him on his morning walk with his dog.  It’s really cute to watch.  

“Everyone has got to eat,” he says, despite bumper stickers for The Blue Line, Trump, and Oregon State baseball.  Yes, indeed.  We opened our garage to two of the cats, put in a heated bed, dry food, and a litter box.  Two others with homes eat the dry food; two strays had a nice winter in warm, dry beds. The tires on our vehicles have been sprayed. It’s been a good year for CC and Tom, the strays, who love their neighbor more than the guy who thought he was a decent cat whisperer.  The neighbor is far superior.  

My brother died aboard of a stroke in early 2021, without a will, but with a girl friend who was promised money from his will that has yet to be found.  I had to deal with his final hospitalization, pay for it, arrange cremation, and wait a month for the consular service to tell me I needed to pdf my pictures of important documents. Then it took a month for the certificates to get here.  This was not part of 2020, so I think it’s fair to say 2020 went well for me. Now I’m faced with needing the worth of his assets to file for executor and needing to be executor to find out the worth of his assets. Those young enough to remember Joseph Heller will understand the situation’s name. 

The latest chapter in this ongoing people soap opera occurred when I had to get his birth certificate from across the country. I told the clerk I needed it for an estate. 

“He has to ask for it.”

“He’s dead.”

“What about his parents?”

“They’re dead, too.”

(With my brother Andy in 2015, Oakridge, Oregon.)

W

Either the system is really bad, or I am profoundly unlucky.

What comes now? One author wrote there is excitement of seeing friends and even those whom you don’t like.  I wouldn’t go quite that far.  I don’t look forward to those who get into my face when they talk to me, or the bouts of “You should,” “You must,” or “You ought.”  Those phrases were heard by me far less that past year.  The Club didn’t have many out of town hikes, so I didn’t have to feel guilty about not leading them the way I once did. I got weary of the complaints, those who were too fast or too slow, those who hadn’t a clue where we were and didn’t really care, those who didn’t like my driving, my vehicle, my equipment, my pace, my lunch, my trip, or my lifestyle. 

The world is going to return more to the extroverts, some of whom managed to shine during the pandemic. But the world is also going to be full of new beginnings.

I tell people who ask to look for opportunities everywhere, especially in places where one fails. Two years ago, I never would have predicted a pandemic would strike.  Nor would I have predicted, in my wildest dreams, that I would end up with 178 volunteer hours of service in a football stadium parking lot, dealing with a couple thousand people, capable of either checking them in or checking their registration, giving advice, and doing this for ten consecutive weekends with one more two weeks later.  I was part of a system greater than I, where everybody mattered, and the focus was on making sure a person’s arm met a hollow needle filled with a remarkable substance.  

I got to that point by asking about volunteering back in February.  When I didn’t hear for a few weeks, I almost gave up.  I didn’t, and I continued even when the volunteer application had 7 pdf attachments to read, a HIPAA quiz I had to pass, and a background check I thought would take forever. I came so close to walking away from it, but I hung in there and filled out the application.  

It was my idea to have the registration people write the lot number of the vaccine on the vaccine card.  I was told the vaccinators didn’t want it, but I persevered by asking the vaccinators, and to a man or woman, they all loved the idea, which became standard at Autzen.  

I met a lot of good people there, both working and coming through getting their vaccinations. I saw more diversity than I believed existed in a town that is not known for diversity.  I did something useful, bigger than myself, and enjoyed it thoroughly. I miss it, frankly, one of the high points of the year.  Seven hundred volunteers joined a few others to vaccinate the county.  We didn’t need FEMA, we didn’t need the National Guard, except one day when they directed traffic, we just answered the call and showed up. I’ve never seen so much gratitude in my life, haven’t said “You’re welcome” so often.   

Yes, 2021 may yet be a good year.  

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