The year 2020 was like a hospital. Riddled with illness. Full of tragedy and triumph, joy, pain, and some pretty intense moments. We sanitized and/or washed our hands every time we went in and out of a patient room. Wearing a mask became routine (then how come I still keep forgetting mine when I leave the house??!). And, just when you thought you’d seen it all, something else would roll in through the double doors that would prove there is, in fact, still a lot out there in the realm of possibility. We put our knowledge, skill, experience and gut instinct to the test. We learned and grew. Life, like medicine, is a practice.
What. A. Year. I always say this. But last year was exceptional! Right?! At this point, after watching all last year roll up from the Emergency Room, or out from the OR, I feel like there’s very little left that would actually phase me. Then again, just when you think you’ve seen it all, another impossibility gets called in. This year might be better, it might be worse. I’m here for it either way. I’m not sure whether to laugh, or cry, when I go back and read my first post of 2020 here on ExploreMoreCo.com. Sorry guys, I literally wished for more time at home. The other day, my Mister said, “when we got married, I bet you never thought we’d be spending so much time together.” Well, now that you mention it, no. It was our year of almost constant togetherness. The year we missed our families and felt the distance. We mourned our guests cancelled visits and a few of our own planned trips. I often felt uncomfortably close to the end of my rope. But dug, stretched, grew, leaned in, and found more length.
We stayed home so much last year. Yet somehow, I feel like I had more opportunity to explore than ever. Topics presented themselves that I might otherwise have never dug in to, and current events provided the gift of time to do so. I explored so much about myself, science, medicine, governments, media, social disparities and humanity. I learned some new skills and discovered stores of emotional and mental strength I didn’t know I had. We did some actual physical exploring, too. We went on so many bike rides around town and walks in the woods. We spent a weekend at the beach in Poland, and visited Krakow. We went on our big road trip through the Baltic States.
I’ve seen enough places now to come to the conclusion that a lot of the world looks exactly the same. You could be looking at the Baltic Sea, or Lake Michigan. You could be in Latvia, or anywhere. Some places, of course, are distinctive. Driving through the Netherlands, for example, that whole entire country is orderly. Another conclusion I’ve come to is that people the world over are fundamentally the same. I’m not the first to say this. And this isn’t my first time saying this. I’ll try to avoid sounding like a broken record in the future. People everywhere want love, good food, a good time, security. For our kids to be healthy and happy. If these things aren’t unifying enough, then lets throw in a pandemic. Whatever you feel about it, its affected you this year. Everyone’s experience has been different, but we’ve all been in it together. We’re all susceptible to new germs and their fallout.
We spent New Years Eve checking a little item off my Poland to-do list. It felt good to spend the last day of a weird year, doing something I love. It fit the 2020 mold of being a scaled-down and physically distant activity. We drove just north of Szczecin to Wolin National Park. One of 23 national parks in Poland, it ticked an item off my living-in-Europe bucket list, with its European bison preserve. Call me a biology nerd, I don’t care, I’ve been super curious to see these European cousins to the American buffalo, ever since I read The Zookeeper’s Wife years ago. Europe’s largest land animal, they were extinct, but as I understand it, biology and breeding basically brought them back with some hybrid genetics that I haven’t taken the time to fully understand. They have been reintroduced in wild lands in many European countries. So, of course I was thrilled to discover there is a small preserve a little over an hour drive north of here. We found a family of bison, a hairy gray boar, two roe deer and a pair of eagles, in habitats within the park preserve. It was an easy one mile hike through the woods to find the preserve and made for a nice morning. We packed a picnic and ate lunch in the car, parked along the beach, afterwards. Then we shook off the crumbs and took a stroll on a dune bluff above the Baltic Sea (it reminded me so much of my favorite dune hikes in Michigan) down a big staircase, to the shore, where we all threw rocks in to the sea and made our way back up the beach to our car and home. We left one hour after sunrise, were gone six and a half hours, and arrived home in the pitch dark. December days are short up here.
Poland issued a 7pm curfew for New Year’s Eve, until 6 o’clock the next morning. We weren’t here for New Year’s last year, so I really can’t say, but it’s possible that people compensated for any disappointment over missing parties by just buying more fireworks. Or, they were really, reeeeeeeally excited about saying “Do Widzenia” to 2020 and “Dzien Dobry” 2021! Poland lights it up for the new year. Fireworks started going off all over the city about two days prior, picked up to a fever pitch a few minutes before midnight, and just blew up the sky for the next 30 minutes-or so- after midnight. If you’re wondering if we joined in the fireworks fun, with a few of our own, the answer is yes.
2020, wasn’t a wash. I speak for myself here, and I know it sounds odd, but in a way, I can almost say I’ve lived more this year than ever before. However, kind of like landing in the hospital, 2020 was not a thing anyone really wanted to chalk up to life experience. Hospitals are full of uncertainty, pain and dying. We saw a lot of that last year and my heart goes out to those who suffered so much more than I. But moreso hospitals are full of hope, and healing. Most patients make it out of them alive. Many with a new outlook on life. I wish you both hope, and healing, as we begin this new year and look with cautious optimism to the twelve months ahead.