I wore a lot of hats in 2020. This is neither euphemism nor metaphor. It’s a fact.
I also sported a large variety of shorts, T-shirts, sweatshirts and sweatpants – lots and lots of sweatpants. Coats and ties became a thing of the past. Button-down shirts, optional. Sneakers, flip-flops and slippers replaced work shoes.
Yes, comfort was king in 2020, but it was hardly comfortable. In truth, it was the most uncomfortable, confusing, contentious and calamitous year of my six-decades-and-change time on this planet. And while so many people are looking forward to a change in the calendar from 2020 to 2021, I know that we are still a long way from being comfortable again.
I don’t think I need to offer much detail into what happened – and what didn’t happen — as this tragic year comes to a merciful end. A global pandemic caused by a coronavirus labeled COVID-19 spread like poison oak throughout the world in seemingly no time at all, erasing the lives of more than a million people and counting around the globe and more than 300,000 and counting rapidly in America. It shut down lives, travel, businesses, schools, entertainment, sports and employment. About the only things the virus didn’t bring to a halt was political divisiveness and racism – the two longtime issues in the United States that really need to be eradicated most. The virus did not create this division and racism but historically times of crisis greatly expose any weakness in longtime systems. And boy COVID did that big time in 2020.
Yes, we entered the year in political flames fueled by a presidential race that included the most controversial and unqualified president in American history – a candidate who foments the division with fiery rhetoric, untruths, misdirection and gaslighting. He did not create the pandemic but through ineptitude made it much, much worse. And after losing the election soundly in November, he whipped up more fury by claiming the election to be stolen through fraud even though there is no evidence this occurred and his appeals have been rejected by nearly every court in the land, including ones he packed with his own judges. Conceding as all of his predecessors had done throughout history would take a little edge off the nation as we head into 2021. But he failed to do so.
The impact of the virus began to hit home here in North Carolina in late February and early March. The number of cases began to mount, fears of hospitals overrun with patients were real. A lack of the right equipment and protective gear had to be addressed. On the Friday before things shut down in March, I sat at amid a crowd at Burlington Beer Works at the bar with Hal Vincent, an Elon professor and advocate for downtown. We talked about downtown, the virus and ways to monetize my blog. The next day my wife and I met university co-worker Aaron Glancy for brunch at the Beer Works after he and Roselee had completed an assignment on campus. That was the last time in 2020 I would eat inside a restaurant. I’m not sure when I will again.
The following week Elon followed other universities in sending its students home after spring break and going to online classes. Staff members who could work at home were told to do so. And so reluctantly I did.
As it turned out, like a lot of people, I worked effectively at home. Really, all I need is a computer, a good online connection and a telephone. I dressed down a little, but not too much. I made sure to wear a shirt with a collar – most days anyway – and tried to be representative of a professional for Zoom calls. I did grow quarantine facial hair – of a sort anyway.
This is where we come to the hat thing. During our work at home period people in my office began meeting via Zoom conferencing, which evolved into a late afternoon Friday group Zoom meeting to close the week with an hour of social time with our University Advancement colleagues. I’m not much of a conversationalist even when there are things to actually talk about. In pandemic quarantine there isn’t much to discuss beyond what’s on TV. So my contribution was the weekly Friday Zoom Meeting Hat.
So yeah, I wore a lot of hats in 2020.
I also learned a few things during this first stay-at-home period. We learned to be more sustainable in our thinking and actions. We wasted far less water because we decided to use the dishwasher exclusively. I used plates or bowls for eating small amounts of nuts, muffins, cookies, etc. rather than paper towels. We had more time outdoors on our patio, we spent far less on entertainment and I began a regimen of walking 20,000 steps a day. We tried to support local restaurants by getting takeout once and sometimes twice a week. I learned that beer delivery is the best service ever. We had one or two friends or family over occasionally for socially distant drinks or pizza on our Pandemic Patio or the garage, which became the Covid Café. Roselee made me a slew of cool masks about everything from Harry Potter books to space aliens. And I learned we could enjoy Zoom happy hours with friends and family.
But the two things I will carry forward is first that I can, in fact, work productively from home. Up to the spring of 2020 I wasn’t sure I had the motivation or willpower to resist sleeping late or finding distractions. So if I want to stop working in an office and stay at home and write for myself, I think I can do it. And second, we are indeed lucky. We are fortunate to be working throughout the pandemic when so many others endured layoffs or reduced hours. We are lucky to have each other. We are blessed with family that understands what’s at stake when it comes to COVID-19 and are taking precautions but also understanding that we are also doing our best to remain physically distant, masked and at home as much as possible. Our traditions at the holidays looked very different this year but my hope is that we can be more normal in 2021.
As the New Year starts, the vaccination process for COVID is underway. It’s going to take a while, but I hope my 89-year-old mother with COPD and 59-year-old brother with diabetes are among the at-risk people to get the vaccine quickly. I hope I’m not far behind as a 61-year-old with COPD and a collapsed lung in 2006. We’ll see. There is room for optimism.
A new president takes office in January, but our political division remains. And we have a lot of work to do in the areas of social justice and racial equity. We need to understand that these are life issues that go beyond politics. If we learn anything from 2020 it is that justice must be applied equally for all in America. That’s a change in how people think, not legislate. No one should be shot by a police officer because they have a cell phone, ever. Black Lives Matter is not about politics, it’s about living without fear and in safety.
So even when the virus is tamped down, our longstanding issues must be confronted. There is no vaccine that will cure either, that takes human effort.
We have worked full time from the office since August but maintained our buffers everywhere else. There are a few places we go for shopping or services, but we remain masked and wash our hands frequently. For this school year ties are no longer required in my office but I think sweatpants would be a no-no. Little by little my quarantine facial hair disappeared until I was left with a goatee. I shaved the rest of it today.
After all, I want to go into 2021 with a clean slate. I hope most of us do.