On 2020 and sacred objects

Nearly four years ago I wrote a letter to my boys. It was the night before Trump’s inauguration and I needed to frame what was about to happen; to wring and wrench some meaning from something that seemed meaningless.

I told them to think of the inauguration as Book 4 in the Harry Potter series. Book 4 is when Cedric Diggory dies. It’s when Voldemort returns and the dark side wins. But the series doesn’t end with Book 4. The fight continues through three more books.

For some reason I remembered that letter last night when I heard about Ruth Bader Ginsberg dying. I saw the headline and slumped over in my seat. I was supposed to be starting dinner but I just sat for a long while with my head in my hands, taking shallow breaths.

I honestly could’t tell you any more about RBG than wikipedia but I can tell you this: her death — and Chadwick Boseman’s before her — feels a little like Book 6. Book 6 is when Dumbledore dies. I’m not saying that Ginsberg was some grand, wizened and wise old wizard. Or maybe I am. What I’m really saying is that I feel the same despair. I feel the same despondency settling over me like a weighted blanket. We are losing our leaders, our luminaries; the ones we expected to fight for us, to show us the way, to tell us what to do.

Last night after everyone else in the house was asleep I sat in the dark reading through the tributes flooding my phone on social media. Many of them included something about 2020 striking again and I found myself ticking through all the ways the past nine months have left me doubled over like I was before dinner.

I thought about our last weeks of “normalcy” before school was cancelled and we were ordered to shelter-in-place. I thought about how we had to cancel our first family trip overseas. I thought about how I got Covid and how terrified we felt. I thought about George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor. I thought about how my dad is dying and can’t have any visitors. I thought about the wildfires. And I thought, not for the first time, that I can’t wait for this year to be over.

I can’t wait for this year to be over because we need a vaccine. We need a new president. We need a new system of policing and public educating. We need new ways to care for the Earth. We need to be able to visit our parents and hug our friends on their birthday — or any day — and go to the grocery store without holding our breath. We need something, anything but what we’ve got.

But another thought drifted over me almost as soon as I finished my mental litany of 2020 woes. I’m turning 2021 into a sacred object.

A sacred object is anything we hold out as crucial to our contentment. If I could just get a new job, a new house, a new spouse, a diagnosis, shed some pounds, get in shape, buy a bike, get more likes, start a business, take a trip. If I could, then I would be happy. Then I would be at ease in my skin.

I realized, as I sat there in the dark, that I’m holding 2021 out in front of me like the promised land when I know there are no promises. There are no guarantees. We don’t know that 2021 will bring anything but more of the same. I don’t say this to be morbid or depressing. I say it to remind myself that if I want to be content, I can’t wait for a calendar change or a vaccine or even a new president.

The hero of every story goes through a dark night of the soul. A loss of leadership, clarity and all guidance. A moment when she realizes that she must forge ahead alone. Ruth Bader Ginsberg is dead. So is Chadwick Boseman and John Lewis and Kobe Bryant. Our dark night seems to be at hand. Oppressive tyranny cloaks and chokes us.

Most days I want to get back in bed and bury myself in soft blankets until this all blows over. Some days it feels like the only option. But I can’t continue to believe the lie that if I just hold out for a few more months, all will be well. All probably won’t be well. January 1st will surely come and go without the relief I’m longing for and I’ll probably find instead that I’ve merely postponed what I should have been learning all along: how to keep going, how to get out of bed, how to keep agitating, fighting, loving, hoping, dreaming, and creating when all the guides seem gone and so many beloveds have gone to sleep.