December 31, 2018
Everyone’s doing a 2018 recap, some with friends and/or family, some privately. Looking back to New Year’s Eve 2017 and moving forward to today, we add up the pluses and subtract the minuses and decide whether we like the result. Not that it matters—it’s over, we can’t change anything. Scratch that—we can adjust our criteria for what’s a plus or a minus. We can throw them out and pick new ones. Is that cheating? After all, it’s your year. Maybe a second try at a recap would produce a better outcome, maybe not. At my age, one immediate problem: how much do I remember?
The quick take: January, not much, except the weather: freezing. I did struggle through it to get to the Surface Navy trade show, enjoying the scramble for news, reliving my working days (plus). February: 69th birthday, 71-mile Reverse Ring, followed by three days in Sentara Hospital (big minus). March: published long freelance article (plus). April: annual junket to Nashville to see friends and family (plus). May: 1,300-mile round trip to Georgia for Cruel Jewel trail run with visit to daughter/son-in-law/grandkids (plus). And so on.
Is this right? A list of stuff? Just doing that, I could go on: June: tragic death of friend (minus). July: bad medical news (minus). August: Walsh road trip, first week (plus).
As T.S. Eliot wrote, that is not what I meant at all. We’re always doing one thing or another, so we always can compile lists. I also worked in the yard a lot. Who cares?
Adjusting the criteria: Did I do anything actually worthwhile? Did I learn anything? Did I do anything that mattered to others?
Looking at the year that way, the recap gets more complicated. In May I wrote a letter to the new pastor on behalf of the food pantry volunteers, which they signed, questioning his decision to cut back drastically the food pantry hours. He backed off—slightly. It’s still in business.
Then we marched into a hot, muggy summer. Sandy and I took a couple of neat overnight trips to Strasburg and ate at the Queen Street Diner, a great hash-and-eggs place. We walked the quiet streets afterward, admiring the old Victorian-style homes and churches.
I drove up to Philadelphia, where our son and daughter-in-law just bought an old home and helped him wire in new lighting (meaning I held the tools and ladder while he did the work). Sandy and I drove to the Outer Banks for a sad memorial service for a cousin’s husband who passed suddenly. The next day we visited with family I now only see at funerals—but promised for the future to do more.
The highlight for the year was Sandy’s 65th birthday. I hustled and wrote some freelance stuff for a trade pub, which paid me just in time throw a surprise bash for her. Without tipping her off I got all the kids to come in, her best friend flew up from Atlanta, a sister-in-law from Jersey, nieces, nephews, running buddies all showed up. The kids jumped in and cleaned the house, took charge of the rest. Even the weather cooperated.
Renewing contact became a theme. I picked up the phone and called friends and family I almost never see, got caught up with them, and promised, vaguely, to find a way to visit. We’ll do our best. The phone call always is free.
My revised 2018 is looking different from the laundry list I started. It’s orienting more to people. I’m thinking now of two hardworking, selfless women, both originally from Guatemala, who made good lives for their families here, laid off in a financial “restructuring” at the parish. As you talk to more people, strangers, friends, or family, you learn about their contacts, their experiences. Sometimes you get good news, a nephew doing well at college, a friend’s daughter graduating, heading for a bright future. Sometimes exciting news: our younger grandson, now two, took his first steps in March—we all cheered. Congrats, all around!
Sometimes the news is mixed. Health, work, financial, relationship challenges—“challenges” sometimes meaning real personal crisis and tragedy—come to the surface. You say and do what you can, you offer a prayer and a good word.
Maybe my personal recap is easier than that of people 20 or 30 years younger. I’ve bumped into more situations. And they keep coming, which, if you’re honest with yourself, is what you hope for. I’ve reminded myself many times that the dead giveaway of a senior citizen is all those “I remember when …” anecdotes.
Old guys, me included, seem to just pump them out, like the geysers at Yellowstone. But that’s because they have those memories, which “recap” lifetimes, not single years, and teach the rest of us (or the rest of you) how to treasure life.