I wish somebody would have told me babe
Some day, these will be the good old days
All the love you won’t forget
And all these reckless nights you won’t regret
Someday soon, your whole life’s gonna change
You’ll miss the magic of these good old days
So begins the lyrics to one of my favorite songs. This song usually reminds me about life pre-Covid, before 2020 rewrote all of our expectations of what life is all about. This year has caught most of us off guard right? I mean, if you saw 2020 coming, you’re probably a genius (I’m looking at you Bill Gates). But now, I’m wondering what will this song mean to me in the years to come, and how will I look back on this year?
Usually this time of year I get nostalgic for different reasons. Labor Day weekend marks 18 year anniversary of my grandfather’s death. He died of complications from diabetes my sophomore year in college. It was one of the turning points of my life. For the better part of my formative years he’d served as my surrogate father, attempting to teach me everything from how to shave (which wouldn’t come in handy for 10 more years), to how to change the oil in a car (which I never learned). But mostly, he taught me how to be a decent man. He was also the perfect foil to my grandmother, our family’s matriarch (they complimented each other in ways that I would later seek in my own marriage).
This being the beginning of my sophomore year, I had just recently started dating the woman who would later become my wife, Samantha. I’d only really talked about her with my grandfather and my uncle to that point. My grandfather’s advice when I told her that she was something special was, Sam, make sure you know what you’re doing. He knew I had a tendency to get ahead of myself and bite off more than I could chew. But he also trusted me, and gave me the space to become a man who could think independently (which was an important thing growing up surrounded by strong women). When he spoke, you knew it was from a place of wisdom.
So when he passed, it hit me hard. I remember coming home from school for the funeral and Samantha was with me. It was the first and only time she’d ever seen me cry. Later, my family tried to get me head back to school almost immediately after the repasse, but I wanted to linger. Funerals and weddings are those rare occasions where you get to see everyone and for those brief moments, regardless of whether the occasion is happy or sad, you’re thankful to be together. They kept saying that I needed to get back to school, get back to my future…but I wanted to hang around. I wanted to stay in that moment with all of my family around. Somehow I knew that once I’d left, things would never be the same for real. My transition from boyhood to manhood was already beginning. It was a changing of the guard in our family, and our lives would never be the same.
I’m starting to feel the same way about this year, for this too has presented opportunities for a changing of guards. Unsurprisingly there have been more tears in 2020. But the changes…they’ve been plentiful. In this year I’ve learned how to really slow down to the pace of everyday life. My grandfather used to all chide me, Sam, don’t be in such a hurry. Rome wasn’t built in a day. He’d say this about the way I rushed to cut the grass, missing key spots, or my inability to pay attention to detail when working on the car, trying to hurry to get to the next fun activity. He knew that my mind was rarely on the thing I was doing in that moment. It took 18 years and a pandemic, but I’m finally learning the lesson that he seemed to model so well: be present, because these are in fact the good old days.
Though it’s felt like we’ve had no choice, 2020 really has been about choosing to make better decisions about who we want to be and how we intend to live our lives each moment. I’ve been given the gift of time and space to remake my life in many ways. Sure, I miss traveling for work, but not every week which I was doing beforehand. Sure, times are more precarious financially, but we’ve learned to become more fiscally responsible in ways that will surely pay off in the future. Sure, this year has revealed even further the deep racial divide that exists in our country. Yet, it’s also gifted us with the opportunity to reengage in ways that will pay dividends for the next generation.
Andy Bernard on the last episode of The Office remarks, I wish there was a way to know you are in the good old days while they’re happening. I feel like I’m learning that lesson in 2020. We’ve been focusing on making new memories this year (I’ve made a video each month of our new memories). We’ve started biking and hiking (two activities I never envisioned us doing). This weekend we took the kids to Georgia’s Little Grand Canyon in the southwest corner of the state. It was glorious and I was all here for it. Grandpa would have been proud.