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Some people may consider me old-fashioned, perhaps even a dinosaur. Why? Rather than relying on a technology-based system for keeping track of my schedule, I use a paper-based datebook.
I enjoy reviewing my entire month on one large page, and on following pages I add details of my week and then each day.
Moving into the next year’s datebook in mid-December, I look for recurring events to copy into my new calendar, and I add appointments already booked in the new year.
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I also use this time to reflect on the year about to end. Though the following admonition from The Hidden Words by Baha’u’llah, the founder of the Baha’i Faith, refers literally to “each day,” at year-end I try to contemplate my past year as a whole:
Bring thyself to account each day ere thou art summoned to a reckoning; for death, unheralded, shall come upon thee and thou shalt be called to give account for thy deeds.
Perhaps you’ve already guessed where this 2020 story is going. As of early March, almost everything changed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. My datebook shows dozens of previously scheduled items—dance classes, sporting events, arts and culture presentations, outings, travel, special events for civic holidays, coffee dates, service projects, and more—all crossed out.
As the pandemic wore on, we all devised alternatives for some events that would normally occur in-person. I live in the Canadian province of Ontario, and our regulations and guidelines are issued at a provincial as well as a regional level. Your town’s situation as well as your personal interests will differ from mine, but everyone who lived through 2020 has their own version of this story. Running races became virtual events. Concerts were streamed. Libraries and essential businesses offered curbside pick-ups. Coffee with friends became sitting at a distance in a local park with folding chairs and mugs brought from home. Yes, we each found alternatives, though I am yet to find a substitute for dance classes, just to offer one example.
Many facets of community life for Baha’is—the 19 Day Feast, Holy Days, and meetings of the Local Spiritual Assembly—shifted to computer-based virtual events. Similarly, I relied on technology for various committees and volunteer efforts, even if that diluted the outcome.
A few weeks into the pandemic I started writing down items that previously I would not have bothered to record. Here’s a simple example: To avoid non-essential travel and in respect of physical distancing, I started shopping for groceries only every 10 days, with a well-planned list, and during the designated time for seniors while wearing a mask. I also scheduled purely mechanical tasks, such as doing the laundry, to help fill empty spaces. I have never been bored, and I always have something to do. But I felt it important to write down tasks in order to offer some structure to my week and to have evidence of time passing.
Sadly, my 2020 datebook has notes when I learned about friends around the world who became ill with COVID or even died to this physical life. As I honor their memories, I continue to be grateful for my own good health, even as I know that my future is as uncertain as anyone else’s.
As a retired person with no children, I am spared from some of the difficulties many others face. I have not lost my job or my workplace; and I am not separated from family members. Nevertheless, I am the same as everyone in this life—subject to tests and difficulties, each according to our capacity. Many times I have had to accept disappointment or to readjust my daily life, when even previously simple tasks were transformed into a problem to solve. That being the case, both my husband and I learned to adapt so that our household continues to function well. Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the Baha’i Faith, offered this perspective in a letter to an individual Baha’i:
Each problem one meets makes the next one less difficult. One learns the method of handling them. A pleasant surprise is that once one has met real difficulties and risen above them, he is in a position to help others.
The Latin phrase “tempus fugit,” attributed to Virgil over 2000 years ago, reminds us that the fleetness with which time passes is not new. Considering how my 2020 datebook changed from my previously full schedule, already I wonder how 2021’s calendar pages will look when this time next year I move into my 2022 datebook, God willing.
We cannot predict how the pandemic and its mounting toll will continue to unfold, when it will end, what the residual effects will be, or what may be considered “normal” at any given time or place in the future. I’ve learned that I cannot rely on my own schedule or lists to put meaning into the year, either. To help make sense of so many unknowns, and to maintain optimism, I need only to consider these words from the Universal House of Justice in a letter dated 19 March 2020:
Humanity will ultimately pass through this ordeal, and it will emerge on the other side with greater insight and with a deeper appreciation of its inherent oneness and interdependence.
As I finished moving into my new datebook, I resolved that my review of 2021 will be a fulfilling experience. Through conscious effort I want it to be a year of purpose, growth, joy, and love. Wherever you are, whatever 2020 has meant to you, I wish you well in 2021.