new year’s eve musings on the miseries and delights of this most unusual of years

by christie shumate mcelwee

According to last week’s weather forecast, we were supposed to have a snow storm blow in for the new year, but, instead, the maps changed and now we will welcome 2021 with rain and perhaps a touch of ice and snow. Wet, gloomy weather for a wet, gloomy year. Seems appropriate.

And now I sit in the glow of lamplight in my upstairs office, pondering 2020, acknowledging the miseries that swirled throughout every household, somewhat like the ghostly presence in The 12 Commandments that ominously traveled throughout Egypt, taking some and passing over others. Families huddled together, praying the specter would not find them.

But instead of just one night, we are still in the midst of the plague. We are frustrated, yet hopeful. We see photos of first responders getting their first doses of vaccines. The reality show grifter and his band of sycophants are on their way out the door, while an older, decent man together with fierce women and men of all colors are ready, brooms and disinfectants in hand, to clean up the mayhem left by ignorance, selfishness, cruelty, and malice. 

None of this will be easy. We are a messy bunch. We argue and crow and brag and push our ways to the front of the line. Some are walked over. Some are sent back. Some are lost. Yet…I still believe most of us have the best of intentions. We want to do the right things, but it has been hard. So very hard in this year of finger pointing and accusations. Some bask in self-righteousness. Others cower in self-doubt. Most just ramble along, clutching at moments of civility.

In the midst of the miseries, though, I have found delights, simple joys that have forced me to pause and often gasp, hand clasped to heart.

I have discovered it in the changing of seasons: the brilliant spring, a sticky summer, our dazzling fall, and now, a damp winter. Living in the middle of the country, flanked by rivers, bluffs, and prairies, I know change.  All my life I’ve seen fields of corn and soybeans grow in tight rows. I’ve lived through droughts and floods. Tornados have torn through small towns. Midwest earthquakes occasionally awaken us with rumbles. 2020 gifted us with colors – neon pinks, deep purples, dark greens, and brassy reds and oranges. These shades went far beyond what any Sherwin-Williams paint chip could offer. Mother Nature reminded us to never doubt her wondrous power and glory.

I have uncovered it in the written word: authors who have offered escape, solace, and often uncomfortable truths. I began the year with As Bright as Heaven, a novel about the devastation of the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic, still ignorant of the parallels to present day. As the quarantine went into late spring, I finally figured out how to use Libby, the app which allowed me to download any available book from our library system. I still love the feel and smell of books, wandering aimlessly through aisles looking for titles, yet, Libby has given me the world when my own has been delegated to the confines of our little house. As of today, I’ve read 87 books, ranging from light feel-good romances to deep historical fiction. I’ve explored gothic mysteries, reread Stephen King’s The Stand, and followed Louise Penny’s Chief Inspector Gamache as he solved murders in the quaint Quebec village of Three Pines.

I’ve come across it in music: new and old artists who continue to amaze me with their magic. Through my Apple Music subscription, I’ve been able to download Brandi Carlile, Brandy Clark, Ashley McBryde, Jason Isbell, and, yes, even Taylor Swift. Diverse playlists have gifted me Chris Stapleton and Steep Canyon Rangers. Along with James Taylor, Waylon Jennings, and Van Halen, I plan to continue this magnificent musical journey into 2021 and beyond.

Where will the new year take me? I’ve pondered resolutions, but after surviving 2020, I’ve decided to live my life, Yes, I should cut down on screen time, eat healthier, exercise more, and drink less wine. You know, the top hits of resolutions, but 2021 offers more than shoulds. It offers promise, hope, surprise, delight, and, yes, mistakes. Here’s to all our mistakes. May they be life-altering and breathtaking.

I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes.

Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re Doing Something.

So that’s my wish for you, and all of us, and my wish for myself. Make New Mistakes. Makes glorious, amazing mistakes. Make mistakes nobody’s ever made before. Don’t freeze, don’t stop, don’t worry that it isn’t good enough, or it isn’t perfect, what it is: art, or love, or work or family or life.

Whatever it is you’re scared of doing. Do it.

Make your mistakes, next year and forever.

Neil Gaiman

Happy New Year.

storms and rainbows

by christie shumate mcelwee

Yesterday was stifling hot. Hot like 97 degrees, feels like 107 hot. Then in the evening a storm blew in without much warning. The skies went dark. Winds picked up. Temperatures dropped. I quickly gathered all the outside pillows before they were blown to the nether regions. Rain came down in sheets. Lightening flashed and thunder booms immediately followed. Our already flooded neighborhood lakes groaned as they took on even more water. After the storm moved on, I glanced to the western skies. Streaks of yellow and red and orange and purple graced the horizon, reminding us that beauty often follows chaos. But even as I admired the sunset, the rain began again. Too late for rainbows. 

Facebook photo by Terri Steffes

This storm and its aftermath is a metaphor for my (and I’m sure many of your) moods since March: dark, manic, scary, colorful, gray, hopeful, ominous, resplendent. One moment there’s a squall and then suddenly, calm. I’m continuously wobbly, attempting to navigate these circumstances we are in right now. So, I breathe and gather my strength for the next storm, because it’s inevitable. This is the rollercoaster we call being human in the late summer of 2020. The rains blow in and out, leaving us soaked. We stumble in the house searching for a dry towel, hoping it isn’t sour smelling from the last downpour. We scan the sky for rainbows, nature’s most optimistic symbol. Or as my brother Jeff wrote in an Instagram post, “Morning rainbow apologizing for an angry sky.”

Instagram photo by Jeff Shumate, Atlanta, GA

Life is both storms and rainbows, and acknowledging these two are intertwined allows us to pull on our rain boots so we may gleefully stomp in the puddles. 

Another secret of the universe: Sometimes pain was like a storm that came out of nowhere. The clearest summer day could end in a downpour. Could end in lightening and thunder.”

Benjamin Alire Saenz