There was a time (less than a year ago, in fact) when the mere smell of hand sanitizer would transport me across the world. Just the faintest whiff and I’d be sitting awkwardly in a toddler-sized chair in a school in the hills of Ecuador pulling out a canned peach sandwich (because host families are adorable like that) or on the side of Mt. Kilimanjaro preparing to dive into honey and shredded carrots between two slices of Wonder bread (yep, about as good as it sounds). Hand sanitizer: the sweet, sweet smell of backpacking. The smell of adventure. The smell of the World (or the smell of washing one’s hands while out experiencing it in all its raw glory, rather). Well, it was anyway.
Just two weeks before the sweet, sweet smell of hand sanitizer became forever compromised, the smells (and sights and sounds and tastes) of India surrounded us as Nekky and I ventured into new territory this year with a dental brigade. Despite the new location, familiar gratitude and humility would once again overwhelm. The dichotomies we would experience – joy and pain, chaos and tranquility, abundance and scarcity, beauty and brokenness – perhaps foreshadowed the metaphors that would so aptly describe the year that was yet to come.
Much of March saw me afraid to be productive. Afraid to be joyful. It seemed wrong. And selfish. People were in pain, even if I was not. It was heavy. And when no amount of masks sewn or hamper deliveries made could lift the weight, it seemed that supporting those doing the heavy lifting would have to do. And so began the joy and pain of simply staying home. I tend to welcome (probably a little too much) seeing how much I can do with how little. And so, I thought, I got this.
Craving the satisfaction of creating and of doing, I got up from the tranquility of my newly proclaimed home office space (where a pillow atop my wooden kitchen chair would serve as my not-so-smart solution to ergonomics for months to come) and unceremoniously took a hammer to my crumbling kitchen tile. Just to see what would happen. (Surprise, it makes a big mess. And also feels pretty amazing.). And it pretty much spiralled from there. Chaos. In the months to come, demolition, diy’ing, and dutifully trolling Kijiji served as a distraction, soon spilling beyond the confines of my kitchen. I have painted. I have plumbed. I have tiled. I have drywalled. I have electrocuted myself (just the once). In the process, I’m pretty sure I sanded off my fingerprints. I all but surgically removed a through and through splinter the size of kindling from the side of my thumb. And just yesterday, I drained the blood from beneath a blackened fingernail. Doing is not without its share of damage.
When I wasn’t indoors desperately seeking distraction and a sense of satisfaction, the abundance of the outdoors served, predictably, as the antidote to anxiety. And, just as predictably this year, outdoor adventures were, let’s just say, fluid. An early season mountain camping trip with a friend turned into a two-tent masked affair; a sore throat suspended the first attempt at this auntie’s inaugural backcountry adventure with the kiddos (but we rallied in the fall!). Nekky and I lost the war with mosquitoes in Blue River, BC, but surrendered to a pretty spectacular Plan B kayak and trail running trip. I third-wheeled a hiking trip when Nekky sprained his ankle, and a middle-of-the-night backcountry bear encounter (or was it?) threatened to turn the annual Girls Gone Wild trip into Girls Gone. Period. The outdoors offered a scarcity of people, a reprieve from worry (if you don’t count the terrifying bear part), and an abundance of peace (if also mosquitoes).
And while it was not always easy to drown out the conflict in the world this year, the resounding drum of people stepping forward to help each other, the undeniable rhythm of people standing together in solidarity, and the overwhelming echo of people standing up for each other – for good – despite the distance between us, and at times because of it, also proved positively thunderous. And what a beautiful thing to emerge from brokenness.
Though the heavy is still here, the struggle to find purpose persists, and the sweet, sweet smell of sanitizer now tends to transport me into worry for the World rather than across it, my blessings continue to be many. And so, the year is ending the same way it began, with gratitude and humility, and with a meditation on dichotomy. Thankful that the year delivered levity with the lonely. Hopefulness with the helplessness. Gratitude with the fear. And yes, beauty with the broken. I know I am one of the fortunate.
My year will not be characterized by a camera roll full of far away places and faces, but instead by before-and-afters. And after the dust settles, after we heal, after hugs and handshakes are once again the norm, after our smiles are no longer hidden, I look forward to the absolute best after photos the world has ever seen.
Wishing you comfort and joy when you don’t always got this; levity, abundance, and beauty when there is a bear at your door, and the presence of mind to capture the occasional before photo along the journey to look back on as a reminder of all that’s been overcome.