These days, Labor Day weekend feels a little novel. If the novel were written by George R.R. Martin, anyway.
Maybe I should explain.
This is the time of year when I usually spend a lot of time looking forward and looking back. The looking forward is one that I share with millions of Americans as I try to stare into a crystal ball and put together two viable fantasy football teams. It’s an exercise in trying to predict greatness, injury, and whether you can scramble to the fridge for another Dr Pepper before the next Draft Day round pops up on your computer screen.
The looking back? That involves Missy. As I’ve sometimes mentioned here, September is when my wife Heather and I have to put together our annual guardian’s report on Missy, combing through receipts, bank statements and memories by the score. It’s time-consuming but oddly rewarding as well as we reaffirm another wonderful year together.
It’s a well-worn routine. In any other year, it’d be utter reflex.
Any other year isn’t 2020.
This is the year when football prognostication means guessing whether there’ll be a full season at all – not exactly a guarantee when the team stats may include points against, yards allowed and positivity rate.
It’s the year when most of Missy’s usual activities and expectations were turned upside down. No bowling. No softball. No hugs with her favorite band (Face) after a great show – kind of hard when you’re crowding the monitor for a livestream performance.
In many ways, life has become month-to-month, if not week-to-week. Grand plans for the future? These days, if we can figure out what’s available at the grocery store, we’re probably doing well.
It’s a little like living in a Paul Simon song: “I don’t know where I’m going, but I’m on my way.”
Even more, it’s like living in a novel.
Not reading one. Writing one.
Readers, after all, have the benefit of knowing how much of the book is left before major plot points have to be resolved. (Assuming the absence of a sequel, anyway.) They can cheat, skip ahead, look up a review on Amazon.
Writers don’t necessarily have that luxury. Oh, some laboriously outline everything – and still get surprised. Others go in with a starting point, a destination, and a loose idea of how to get there, discovering the path as they go. The reader is almost guaranteed to be surprised by the next chapter because … well, so was the writer.
As E.L. Doctorow put it (and many others have quoted), it’s like driving at night. All you can see is what’s in front of your headlights. But you can make the entire trip that way.
That’s our life at the best of times. 2020 just made it obvious.
The good news is, some truly epic journeys have been made that way.
It’s how J.R.R. Tolkien picked his way across the landscape of the Lord of the Rings, discovering each new bend as he came to it.
It’s how Stephen King walked every step of “The Green Mile,” staying just barely ahead of his readers as he wrote each new installment.
And it’s how we’ve survived crisis after crisis, both as individuals and as a nation.
That’s not saying foresight and planning are useless. When you hit a crisis, your preparation shows, as anyone knows who’s ever plunged the depths of a blizzard-bound grocery store in search of milk and bread. But however well we’ve trained our reflexes, we’re still living life at one second per second. We can only see so far ahead. And we may be wrong about that.
But as long as we’re staying aware – of ourselves, of the moment, of each other – we have a chance of building a story worth remembering.
Maybe we’ll even get a decent quarterback out of it.