February 2020: Leap Year Changed from Adding a Day to Losing a Year

As Facebook is wont to do, on Monday it shared “Facebook Memories” with each of us from one year ago.  What the algorithmic gods of Facebook offered to each of us differed significantly within the context of the snapshots that popped up on our feeds.  Yet, the different photo memories actually connected to a specific point in time, and together they point to a starkly common deduction:  the meaning of Leap Year changed from adding one day at the end of February to leaping through a year of our lives in what feels like a blink.

Brian’s Facebook photo memory marked exactly one year ago when he started GWA’s 2020 Winter Break by taking an Air France flight from hometown Casablanca to Paris and on to Prague for a week spent with college friends Nic and Lyle.  Based in Prague, they toured the city from top to bottom; took day-trips northwest to Terezín to pay respects to victims of the Nazi concentration camp there and east to Čelákovice to see the delightful town with the Elbe River wrapping gracefully around its north side just a block from the house where Lyle lives with his family; and savored deep conversation on illimitable topics at all hours, just as they had more than 30 years prior in their undergraduate days at Claremont McKenna College.  Traveling solely on public buses, subways, trams, and trains, Brian applied his early global awareness of COVID-19 developments in areas around Asia and other hotspots like the United Kingdom, Iran, and Italy.  He heeded his germaphobic tendencies (before germaphobic tendencies became cool) by avoiding direct contact with buttons, handrails, doorknobs, and the like as much as possible, and steering himself into as much open terrain (the precursor to what the world has come to know as “social distancing”) in enclosed spaces as he could find.  Otherwise, COVID-19 was more a topic included in their deep conversations as they pondered epochal trends in human history, politics, science, philosophy, and theology.  (Yes, their wives were happy to have them away for a week.)

Meanwhile, Audrey’s Facebook photo memory marked her start of GWA’s 2020 Winter Break – and her break from the culinary limitations of Brian’s shellfish allergy – with a commemoration of her cooking multiple seafood extravaganzas in a week split between Casablanca Staycation and a few days of time luxuriating with Charlotte an hour south in El Jadida at the elegant Mazagan Resort.  [Reflecting back to this, our stateside chef-daughter Margaret offered, “I remember Mom calling me all excited a year ago just to let me know that she was going to cook seafood every day.”  Meanwhile, Charlotte-in-Morocco reposted pictures of her mother-daughter Mazagan escape with a note that said, “I miss my mommy (and pops).  Can this pandemic end so I can see them again and so they can meet their grandson?”]

We both loved how we spent our vacation time, and we loved coming back together at the end of it on the quadrennial Leap Year day of February 29 to share with each other our respective details of the week.

And then the world changed.

Rather than enjoy a final 24 hours of relaxation before putting on our school leader hats, we spent the last day of the Winter Break strategizing with the rest of GWA’s crisis management team in the school’s Board Room over the sudden seeming inevitability that at some point soon the growing pandemic would force us to close on-campus operations.  Little did we know how soon that actually would come (not even two weeks later, as detailed in a March 2020 posting, https://expatexpedition.com/2020/03/22/dealing-with-pandemics-covid-19-comes-to-morocco/).  In mid-February we had shared our observations about how all the development around us during our Moroccan tenure was captured in seeing 48 construction cranes along just one short span of road by our apartment.  (https://expatexpedition.com/2020/02/12/the-changing-landscape-craning-for-a-view-in-casablanca/)  Just weeks later, that development came to a screeching halt as the totality of our personal and professional routines derailed.

Yet, at the same time, running off the tracks did not mean life stopped.  It continued, but it changed into something both much more simple and much more complicated.  The many ways in which life seemed to slow or stop from the pandemic – living inside, no social interaction, no changes of scenery, everything “outside” coming into our lives through two-dimensional rectangular views on the screens of digital devices, and no physical contact with people outside one’s bubble (a particularly difficult accommodation in Morocco where handshakes and hugs and bizous occurred too many times a day to count) – were counterbalanced by how other things in life seemed to speed up, strike with more immediacy and randomness, and require much more energy and concentration to manage them.  The more each day felt like the day before and people had to remind themselves not to put on the same clothes, the more we pushed forward to define unknown territory and forge a path through “life goes on” for all the good and bad that meant.

Like everyone, we did a lot of unimportant things.  We have logged more Netflix and Amazon Prime time than we ever could have imagined possible.  We have repeated the same conversations multiple times before remembering that we have had them already.  We have become experts in Zoom and other face-to-face digital communication platforms.  We have played more Cribbage in a year than perhaps either of us did in our lives up to the pandemic’s start.

We also did some very important unimportant things.  Chief among them:  spending time not only with each other but also with our daughter and son-in-law who moved in with us from the start of Casablanca’s lockdown until the start of Ramadan when Charlotte and Zak went back to his family’s house for the holy month.  We have not merely survived the pandemic together, we feel blessed that our relationship stands stronger now because of our time together during the pandemic.

And, as much as we often feel like the “unimportant” and “very important unimportant” have governed our last 12 months, we also feel like we have done some “very important important” things.  We worked with a great team to keep a school running successfully throughout the most challenging semester of our education careers, then continued working with them to plan – as best could be done amid government and public health circumstances that changed constantly – to structure the upcoming school year there even though we would move from Morocco to Panama before the school year began.  We gave our daughter a baby shower in as socially-distanced conditions as we could create.  We packed up our home and shipped it across the Atlantic, then navigated our own relocation with the assistance of incredible people in the U.S. Department of State in a process that took weeks instead of days.  We set up our new home in Panama and started adjusting to our new life here, with Audrey assuming leadership of a school as the new Director in unparalleled virtual conditions and Brian setting up his new routine that does not include going to an office or classroom for the first time in a long while.  It helps to remind each other of what we HAVE accomplished along with all that we have not in this year.

Reflecting on this year leaves us processing the incongruent pieces of one reality that in the time we blinked through a year we worked very hard to do some important things and, when we escaped having to do important things, we worked very hard at not doing much of anything.  As a result, a year after we slipped into the vortex that took us from the world we knew into a new (still developing) world, we feel tired.

Not like “new parent” tired, when weeks after bringing a baby home from the hospital we celebrated getting the first four-hour stretch of sleep.

Not like “frontline healthcare worker” tired, when the superhero nurses and doctors of the world (including those in our extended family) doubled down on their exhaustion after seemingly endless stretches of days trying to save COVID-19 patients (or just to comfort them as they died alone and without family in hospital isolation).

Not like “dinosaur” tired, when a meteor crashed into the planet, bringing a cataclysmic end to the Mesazoic Era and the big lizards worked hard but unsuccessfully to adapt.  But kind of like that, to a much lesser degree of planetary cataclysm.  Perhaps like the tired we expect people felt…well…a century ago when people trudged forward through the Spanish Flu pandemic that transitioned society from WWI’s end to the start of a very different era in the Roaring 20s a couple years later.

Future anthropologists will look at this time period following February 2020 like a societal fault break recorded in the bedrock of our sociological history.  Perhaps the suddenness and austerity of the break, like a societal earthquake, will make us more nostalgic about “back then” than we otherwise might have become.  Perhaps we will feel less tired as the pieces of what comes next settle more clearly into place and we feel more confident…more secure and safe as we keep stepping forward…in how we can adapt with less timidity and in more long-term ways to the “new normal” and the “new new normal” people have cited repeatedly for a year.

For now, we choose to appreciate our recollections of the very good week we had a year ago, leaving what came next for a different consideration.

On your mark, get set, here we go!

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