In the Suburbs: 2020 is over, but what will 2021 bring?

It’s over! The year 2020 finally ends Thursday night.

But for 330,000+ victims of this COVID-19 pandemic, the year has been ending everyday over the past eight or nine months inside the walls of hospitals. And as we try to ring in the New Year with the usual fanfare, it’s just not happening. All I can visualize is tables around the world with empty chairs and empty hearts.

And those unnecessary deaths are only one part of the loss for me.

Since we left school in mid-March to go remote, I feel like I’ve been unplugging parts of my life and my jobs while living in perpetual quarantine. And many of our students at the charter school in Bridgeport where I work have experienced a range of feelings, including isolation, depression, apathy about school and real sadness among other unexpected emotions and behaviors. Sadly, even with our return to an adjusted hybrid schedule in early September, students were still feeling similar behaviors.

Our Fairfield University Book Store officially closed on March 25 and I experienced unemployment for the first time in years. Suddenly, I was in a pool of millions of other part-time employees, hoping for the promised COVID-19 temporary unemployment. I was relieved when I received the call to return to work in early June.

Within weeks of the pandemic shutdown a large percentage of us were walking around asking, “Who is that masked man or woman?” My wife and I started with basic looking masks and within weeks, our array of masks of many colors and patterns were hanging on our car mirrors so we wouldn’t forget them. Today, we wouldn’t be without them, and even with the advent of a vaccine, people won’t be giving up their masks so quickly.

Our vocabularies have expanded to include Zoom and Google Meets and each important holiday from St. Patrick’s Day to New Years — along with birthdays, anniversaries and any special occasion — routinely include virtual calls. Granted, we can’t hug our loved ones and friends, but we can be with them.

While we’ve missed hugging our daughter and grandsons often, we’ve managed beautiful walks and informal barbecues on Mother’s Day, Caleb’s and Lucas’ birthdays and the distanced lighting of the beautiful candles on the last night of Hanukkah. And we have sneaked a few hugs when we can.

Distance picnics with close friends helped us relieve loneliness and isolation during the long, hot empty summer. And we got used to sometimes eating “cardboard” food from our favorite carry-out restaurants. Just as that practice was becoming the norm, stage two took place and restaurants were opening inside and outside.

Missing our regular Monday night quilting meetings, we started using Zoom to keep up with what our fellow quilters were accomplishing. And we continued through the spring and summer until we decided we could meet safely at our meeting place, Lordship Congregational Church. We were so grateful just to be back in person and with our masks in place, we felt like we were part of the new normal under COVID-19.

Then the weather changed and the cases throughout the country began exploding again. Suddenly, in mid-November, we were forced to move to remote learning again. That was difficult for our administrators and staff and, of course, the students.

Meanwhile, we survived (I think!) a controversial election that will place a new president in the white house in less than a month. Our country continues to be divided as it never has been before and we spent months mourning the deaths of victims from the irresponsible behavior of certain police officers. And protests around those killings have continued indefinitely.

After one of the most draining periods of our lives, my wife and I have survived in reasonably good health, never contracting COVID-19. Sadly, our daughter and son-in-law in Michigan had it, but their cases were mild. We still share a special closeness that has carried us through much the isolation the quarantine has created.

Fortunately, we’ve been able to get out for occasional breakfasts and dinners and celebrate holidays like Thanksgiving with carry-out prime rib and our traditional Chinese take out on Christmas Eve.

So, on the surface, I have survived a very difficult and frustrating year in reasonably good shape emotionally. Despite that survival, I have more highs and lows than I’ve ever experienced in other years and I feel a gnawing emptiness about being unable to be with family, friends and work associates.

As we turn the page to 2021, I am trying to remain upbeat, but I know that we are hardly out of the woods with this pandemic. We can only hope that the vaccine will make the critical difference over time, but the reality is that it could be months before we notice a measurable change and decrease in cases and deaths.

Nevertheless, I am looking forward to what this new year will bring and to what I hope our new president will accomplish. I remain a firm believer in something my grandmother talked about - Right Mental Attitude (RMA). I intend to apply that RMA to everything I do in 2021 and I am still hoping for a better 2021.

I hope you are also thinking more optimistically. Happy New Year!

Steven Gaynes is a Fairfield writer, and his “In the Suburbs” appears each Friday. He can be reached at stevengaynes44@gmail.com.