The balance of 2020

In March, the reality of the pandemic hit us hard. Since then, life has been unusual, unexpected, unbelievable.

DUMMERSTON — This has been an incredible year, a year no one will forget.

Beginning in January and February, we started to live in anticipation and doubt about COVID-19. In March, the reality of the pandemic hit us hard.

And, since then, life has been unusual, unexpected, unbelievable. The balance at the end of the year stands in stark contrast to what we used to consider normal - in all aspects of life.

There are significant minuses to this pandemic that go beyond the infection rates, the illnesses, the dying, or the dead. That certainly gives the year a negative balance, no doubt about it.

But for so many people who are minimizing the risk of infection and reducing their social interactions and their travel, this year has also brought with it a silence and the lack of physical touch.

Not being able to see, touch, or embrace relatives and friends brings with it a sadness that is not always apparent.

Not being able to have an evening out at a local bar (my Sunday nights at Ramunto's, for example), or at our favorite restaurant, or to entertain close friends at home on a Friday night, or for a Sunday brunch has brought with it the dull pain of distance and longing.

And with it comes concern about the future.

Will we remember the art of face-to-face conversations, with all their extra- and paralinguistic expressions? Will children remember what a handshake is or what it means to kiss a relative on the cheek?

Virtual kisses or virtual embraces just don't do it.

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Schools and businesses have also suffered the impact of the pandemic. Some have been forced to close, leaving people without jobs. Young children have not been able to get together with their peers precisely at an age when this kind of social contact is crucial.

With the emphasis increasingly on homeschooling and distance learning, parents have been forced to become teachers and academic supervisors. Also, high school and university students have had to develop skills in independent learning and virtual classes. Some are wondering about graduations and celebrations.

In the health-care sector, things have put a strain on workers, especially for those essential workers on the front lines.

Recreational and sports activities have changed as well, with cancellations or postponements, or with many games and competitions becoming home activities.

People who used to go to work have learned to manage work and home responsibilities, sometimes creating stress. This, of course, is magnified in the case of single parents.

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On the positive side, however, there is a lot that we have learned and a lot that we have done - lessons and achievements in which we previously did not have interest or time.

We concluded that life at home is really not that bad at all - a conclusion that many retired people could have told us about.

Home-bound, we had the opportunity to do things that we had often left for later. Shelter-at-home orders and lockdowns let us read, write, organize our belongings. Old pastimes became routines.

At home, we spend a lot of time doing puzzles, something we used to do only during the holidays. We began to appreciate the opportunity to plan our days more carefully. We use our wits to improvise and create. And even with familiar activities - like cooking, in my case - I enjoyed exploring the variety of cooking shows available online and having the time to try new recipes, entertaining only my small family.

The pandemic has also given us the time to slow down - to think and to reflect.

We now have time to reflect on our lives. We live in the present more fully and forget about planning for the future. Many people have discovered new talents; some even remembered old and long-unused skills.

We also learned to value the time spent with family and friends and to become more comfortable communicating virtually, online, through Skype or Zoom. People with family abroad - like me - were already somewhat used to the lack of physical contact and face-to-face communications, but we found solace in new online tools for virtual communications. This has become very important.

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Face-to-face socializing with friends has become a memory. We have begun to cherish all those moments when we used to gather easily for drinks, food, and good times.

This has given us the opportunity to look at old photo albums (since now photos are stored on cell phones or computers).

Not being able to hug friends and relatives, in particular, or to hold someone's hand has made us value that past even more. Some of us even have found ourselves regretting not having done so more often with as many people as we could.

Social distancing has put us in touch with our own vulnerabilities and our shared humanity. It has also made us count our blessings, which are many.

It has given us the opportunity to go for long walks in the woods (in an effort to exercise our bodies) and thus to appreciate nature (and recognize and appreciate the fact that we live here in Vermont). I have never walked more religiously than I have during the last nine months. It gives me time to think, reflect, pray, and remember.

We have also learned a lot about those children who have been forced to stay home. And whether we are parents, grandparents, or caretakers, it has tested our patience, obliging us to practice tolerance and to develop the ability to understand them.

People who live alone, too, have learned to remember the past and see it in a different light. Lacking a friend, spouse, or partner, people have had to learn to accept their solitude - embrace it, really - and rely on virtual communications.

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Soon, 2020 will end - but when it does, how will we act? Will we be able to return to life as we used to know it? For many of us, life may not be the same as it once was.

Let us just hope that we will be able to remember some of the important lessons from this past year - so that we might have a better 2021 and perhaps improve our lives going forward.

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