I look happy here, don't I? I was happy. It was New Year's Day 2021. The worst of the pandemic was over, although it was still affecting our lives. But with vaccinations and masking, we could reasonably protect ourselves. We could stop swabbing down our groceries with sanitizing wipes. The internet had taught us how to look our best on Zoom, and we settled into a new normal that was imperfect but tolerable. So the beginning of 2021 was a time of hope for many - including me. On New Year's Day I played dress up and declared "2021 I'm Ready".
As it turned out, I was not ready for 2021. What I didn't know was that this would be the worst year of my life - the year my life turned upside down, when it all went wonky and wrong. When everything changed. It would be the year that death tried to come for me. I didn't know that my New Year's resolution should have been "stay alive" instead of "organize my sock drawer.".
For most people "the Before Times" means before the pandemic. I'm sort of ashamed to say this, but I breezed through the pandemic relatively unscathed. I was lucky to have a job I could do from home and a boss that trusted us to get our work done. Our weekly Zoom meetings felt more like milk and cookies in the break room than actual work. I made videos as a substitute for my patient education classes and online teaching and generally felt focused and productive. I was lucky to live in a walkable neighborhood where I could go out running or walking and see people doing seemingly normal things, shout a friendly "hello", and even chat from a safe distance. From the street view, the pandemic faded into the background.
But for me "the Before Times" means before illness, before disease, before death tried to come for me. "Before Times" means before leukemia. When I look at pictures from the past I wonder if I could have been that happy had I known what was ahead. I look at pictures particularly from the months before 2021 and wonder did I have it then? When did it start? When did a few malignant cells start to reproduce and begin their malicious takeover of my healthy body like a violent political coup?
In some sense, we are lucky that we don't know what's coming. Buddhist philosophy teaches us that we all will suffer at some point in our lives - probably more than once. All we can do is stay in the moment, trust that we have the strength to face the future, whatever it brings. Organize that sock drawer. Oh, and keep breathing.
Beth Kitchin PhD RDN