2020. You certainly didn’t go as planned, did you?
I mean, I wrote a whole blog post at the start of last year about vision, and how important it was going to be for me to have some clarity about my life in 2020. Yes, 2018 had been the year of survival, and 2019 had been the “year of yes” but 2020 was going to be the year that I finally pulled myself together.
Here’s a piece of what I wrote in the post “2020 vision“:
Recently on my runs, I’ve started to pass by the National Cathedral here in Washington. Because I run so early, I’m often passing it as the sun is rising. Bright reds and oranges and pinks frame the cathedral and it seems quite otherworldly. I love it so much that when I’m running really early, sometimes I’ll take a break and wait a few minutes for the sunrise to fully appear and light up the walls of the cathedral. Even when a shorter run would make my life easier, I run towards the cathedral.
Actually, I like the metaphor in that previous paragraph. Rather than running away from my life, I like the idea that I can start to run towards something. To be clear, I don’t want to run towards a new man, one that would perfectly replace Shawn. I don’t want to run towards totally new friends. I don’t want to run towards a new life.
What I want to do, instead, is to be able to do what I do every day at the National Cathedral: run in a direction that makes me happy, towards something I know will fill me with joy. And when I get to that place, I want to look around and appreciate it.
Back in January of last year, I didn’t have any idea what 2020 would look like, really. But if I had guessed about any possible things I’d be doing, I would have been wrong. I may have guessed I’d get better at online dating (instead I gave up on it) or that I would have started to do a lot of solo travel (nope, obviously) or that I was going to try and write a book (again, no – I could barely manage to keep my teaching job and update this blog!)
But as I reflected on 2020, I looked back at that post and thought that it was actually a pretty good reflection of the way the year went. Why? Because I did exactly what I was pushing myself to do: I ran towards things that made me happy.
Sometimes, this was simple. I bought dozens of cookbooks this year and enjoyed the moments when I could be creative in the kitchen. I called my friends more often and I continued to run in the mornings toward the cathedral. I had my ups and downs, but mostly, I let myself enjoy life more. And when I was enjoying life, I tried to reflect on that.
Why does this all matter? Because there was a day last spring when this goal – to recognize when I was feeling joy – changed the rest of my life.
Chris was in DC for a quick trip, and we met up before he was heading to see his family. We were friends – had been for over a year – and I was excited to swap stories about our lives and our work and our families. It was sunny, so we decided to get a cup of tea and sit outside. The bench where we sat was on a busy sidewalk in one of DC’s shopping districts and it was not picturesque.
But I didn’t notice the scenery. It all seemed to fade into the background as he talked about his friends and his work and his life. I knew we were just friends, that he was my best friend’s brother and that we lived too far from each other to even think of him in some other way. I knew the circumstances meant that I wasn’t supposed to feel drawn to him. It was unlikely he thought much about me, unless he was visiting his family and we happened to meet up.
But in that conversation there was a moment when I could feel a pull towards him that I couldn’t deny. And because I’d been practicing this skill for a few months – the skill of running towards things that made me happy, rather than denying myself joy – I just let myself feel how I felt. I knew it was risky. You aren’t supposed to fall for your best friend’s brother who lives hundreds of miles away. Especially not when you’re over 40.
I let myself feel happy that day, but that was it. I didn’t confess how I felt (that came later) and I didn’t try to flirt with him. We were just friends, after all. We simply laughed together and swapped stories and I didn’t even cry until late that night when I realized how much joy I’d felt in just a few short hours.
Later, things would change. The late-night phone calls would commence and we would spend the early days of the pandemic sharing our lives in a junior-high school style romance. Eventually, he would come back to DC to see me and the kids and then sometime after that we would realize that we wanted to be together, always. That was the story of 2020 for me, out of all the many others I could tell.
But it all started because of this goal I had: to run in a direction that made me happy, toward something I knew would fill me with joy. And when I got to that place – when I was sitting on that dirty bench on the side of a busy street, wishing that the conversation with Chris would never end – I was able to let myself enjoy the sunshine that was there.