Greenpoint: Lessons from the year of isolation

Tribune News Service file photo

Tribune News Service file photo

The new year is here, and there has been much jubilation about leaving 2020 behind and getting a fresh start.

It’s been a hard year for so many. For some, it’s meant illness, death of loved ones, unemployment, unstable or unfamiliar education systems — uncertainty in all forms.

Some of us have been lucky enough to hold onto our jobs and do them from the safety of our homes, with the luxury of keeping ourselves and our families safe and healthy.

But for just about everyone there has been loss, isolation and the need to find new ways of life. That’s meant avoiding people and travel, recalibrating everyday errands, missing family milestones, meeting friends for outdoor walks instead of inviting them to dinner, and visiting loved ones via computer over the holidays.

No wonder so many are happy to be done with 2020.

This year, though, it’s more obvious than ever that turning the calendar page changed nothing. January doesn’t miraculously end what we’ve been through these past 10 or 11 months. Likely we’ll be in this pandemic mode for months to come.

Still, it’s a new year and I’ve been thinking, as I always do, about resolutions and examining how I live my life. I’ve been thinking about what I’ve learned in the past year, and what new habits should continue even after this pandemic is over.

I’ve been working from home since March, recouping about 12 hours of life and saving around 20 gallons of gas every week — and wondering why this system wasn’t normalized 20 years ago. Going forward, can companies or divisions that found they could operate just fine with employees working remotely keep at it, at least in part? And decrease a whole lot of unnecessary driving and the accompanying traffic, stress, pollution, crashes, wear on vehicles and infrastructure?

It’s been a year of not shopping for anything unnecessary and limiting food shopping to a few times a month. For many, that’s been an exercise in being more intentional about purchases — planning better, seeing what’s on hand that can be used, reused, mended or repurposed. Is that a habit that can continue, for efficiency, less waste and less driving?

For me, shopping less is a gift, not a burden, since I don’t even like shopping. I can go two or three weeks without hitting the grocery store because we garden and fill our freezer and pantry with produce, and we raise chickens for eggs and goats for milk and cheese. For clothing and household items, I buy secondhand whenever possible. But even the thrift stores were closed for months, and now there’s a new pile of clothing to mend or patch rather than discard and replace.

For those who started gardening during the pandemic, or raising backyard chickens, or baking and cooking at home instead of eating out — is that something you want to continue long-term? For those who discovered hiking and biking and family game night as safe-during-pandemic activities — is that worth taking into the new year and beyond? Just for fun, or for a new focus on simplicity, less waste and a stronger connection to the land and each other?

For those who reached out to neighbors and strangers, to share surplus and support those who found themselves in need — could that be incorporated into a new way of life? One that recognizes that we’re all in this together?

A friend says he’s become better acquainted with neighbors — as well as the plumber, mail carrier and local cashier — because people crave contact where they can find it. My eldest joined a local mutual aid society, focused on neighbors helping neighbors with everything from picking up groceries and medications, to trading child care, to donating food or funds for micro grants to ease a family through a hard time.

Yes, 2020 was a tough year, and I’m not sure it’s really over. But maybe we’ve learned something we can use, together, to make the future a little better.

Greenpoint appears every other Sunday. Look for it next on Jan. 17.

Reach Margaret Hartley at or @Hartley_Maggie on Twitter. Opinions expressed in Greenpoint are hers and not necessarily the newspaper’s.

Categories: Life and Arts

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