Ron McAllister from York, Maine looks back on 2021


A Beatles song by their Sgt. The album Pepper (1967) came to my mind last week: A Day in the Life. The track ends with a crash, a loud orchestral crescendo and complete musical chaos. It’s a crazy ending that matches the crazy year 2021 was. Maybe that’s why it came to my mind. [Thank you, John and Paul.]

I read the news every day and often find it rather sad. It has been a depressing year for many because of the pandemic (more people died with COVID-19 in 2021 than in 2020); due to climatic disasters (ie tornadoes in Kentucky, forest fires in Oregon and California, flooding in Arizona); because of mass shootings (ie Oxford, Michigan); because of civil unrest (January 6) and congressional madness. How do we put our problems in perspective? How can we find stillness in what Yeats called the deep-hearted heart? [Thank you, W. B.]

I tried to figure out how to handle it all. Looking at the dismal year we have had, I can see some things that have helped me; strategies accessible to all. Here are the lessons I learned:

Be creative. I write, but I’m sure any creative expression can be healing, whether it’s photography, drawing, painting, sculpture, ceramics, or whatever. My writing this year resulted in 27 columns for The York Weekly. Most of them could not have been written in a previous year. The act of writing is cathartic to me. In 2021 I wrote about what troubled me: COVID (multiple times), climate change (multiple times), DJ Trump (multiple times), the insurgency, the weapons, the false claims of BLM and CRT, the death of our friend David Newman. [Thank you, David.]

To be generous. I bake sourdough bread every week – ten loaves of bread a month on average. I give most of it. Cooking and giving help me stay in touch with people. I hope that my breads will satisfy people’s bodily hunger, but also satisfy our mutual thirst for contact. [Thank you, Maine Grain Alliance.]

To be connected. COVID has been an isolating experience, cutting us off from others but you have to log in, even if only through Zoom. I have participated in at least 50 Zoom (or Zoom type) calls this year. These sessions could not be done face to face. Of all the meetings and conversations I have had, these are the ones with friends that have helped me the most. [Thank you, all.]

Go outside. This year, I have cycled several mornings because cycling helps me keep my stress at bay. Map-My-Ride counts my rides and maps my mileage, so I know I’ve done 128 rides this year. You don’t have to ride a bike, but getting your body moving helps. [Thank you, Nat, for the e-bike.]

Read a book. By this point, last year (2020) I had read over two dozen books, but this year (2021) I read a lot less. I don’t know how many books I read this year because I stopped following in March. I have often found it difficult to concentrate and I blame 2021 for how distracted I was. I’ll read more next year because I know that reading a good book is a great escape from painful reality. [Thank you, George Saunders and Karl Ove Knausgaard for your work.]

Don’t just sit there, do something. Receiving two COVID vaccines and a booster made me feel like I was attacking the virus and not just staying home and waiting for it to break into my house and attack me. How would my year have been without my three vaccinations? I dare not think. [Thank you, Moderna and York Hospital.]

Don’t just do something, sit there. Contemplation, meditation, not thinking, prayer, call it what you want. It is important (but not always easy) to be present to yourself and to others. [Thank you, Krista Tippett and the On Being Project.]

Be grateful. See above. [Thank you, Judith.]

Now, at the end of another tough year, listening to “A Day in the Life”, I think of another poem on a day: “A Summer Day” by Mary Oliver. The poem moves from nature’s prayer to the nature of prayer and ends with this line: “Tell me, what do you plan to do with your only wild and precious life?”

A great question to help put everything in perspective. [Thank you, Mary Oliver.]

Ron McAllister is a sociologist and writer who lives in York.

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