I’ve mentioned before that whereas most people tend to be more reflective on “the year that was” around the changing of the calendar year, I’ve always done more of that on my birthday: Figuring out what I did right over the previous year of my life, what I could have done better, and what I want to do over the coming year. Needless to say, with my birthday being on the eighteenth of March, thinking ahead to the coming year when I was going through my birthday last year was more than a little frightening. Our campus had already shut down by that point, the whole world seemed to be grinding to a halt, and we didn’t have any reliable guidance on how long the nascent pandemic would last, nor what horrors it would ultimately cause. As an educator, I had a role to play in helping my students — both those who had begun that semester with me, and those I would teach in later terms that started during the pandemic — navigate their ways through the troubled times ahead, even as I struggled to do so myself.
Reflecting on the first year of the pandemic as I marked my forty-fifth birthday this past Thursday, I tried to give myself the same leeway that I’ve been giving the people around me, since everyone I know has had far more battles to fight than usual over the past year. That isn’t always easy for me, since I try to hold myself to the highest standards I can, but I’m trying to get better at being more realistic with my own goals. If nothing else, I managed to survive the year, and my personal risk of contracting COVID-19 is about to be greatly reduced, once I get my second vaccination in a few days here (and wait the requisite weeks for it to take full effect).
In a lot of ways, though, I think looking ahead to this coming year was even more frightening for me than thinking about the looming pandemic was back in 2020. As scared as I was about what the ultimate death toll of COVID-19 would be, and what other havoc it would wreak on our society, I was able to recognize that very little was in my control, apart from setting my own example with social distancing and such to help model good behaviours for everyone around me (especially my students). As more and more of us get vaccinated, those concerns will begin to become less important, and the uncertainty of defining and adapting to “the new normal” will become a more paramount concern, and those stages are more susceptible to the vagaries of modern humanity.
I can never stop asking myself what more I could have done in the past, because I’m always trying to learn from my mistakes so I can do more good in my future, but I seem to be able to recognize that given the problems caused by the first year of the pandemic, I was able to do a lot of good for myself and others in my forty-fourth year on this planet. As I was thinking about my goals for this next year, I can see lots of opportunities for me to help myself and others, but I felt like I was even more aware of the possibility of being unable to act on those opportunities, just because I’m now a lot more appreciative of the chance of life-changing events popping up that are totally out of my control. That was probably a big part of the reason why I felt so uncomfortable thinking about how the year ahead would go for me as I took some time to reflect last week.
Again, though, I recognize that we’re all in more or less the same boat right now, and maybe I need to temper my expectations for the coming year with that in mind. In spite of all the difficulties I’ve endured, not just in the past year but throughout my life, I’m still here. I’ve got tasks for my students and co-workers to handle here today, I’ve got more research to do for my next book (which you can learn more about by joining my Patreon), and I need to keep sneaking in a little me-time every so often to help me stay sane through it all. The important thing is that I’m here, and I’m going to do what I can to make sure I can stay here, and keep helping people, for many more birthdays to come.