2021 Was the Year That…

Coffee steamed from our Rt 66 mugs. The sun wouldn’t brighten rooms for another couple hours. Everyone else slept. Rain tapped window glass. 

“…then the biologist said, ‘the captain has just informed me that sonar indicates two large shadows directly under the boat. Small fish hide in the shadow of the boat. The humpbacks have figured that out. Be alert, they could surface anywhere.’ On anywhere, the whales exhaled just off the stern of the boat. The sound was leathery, like a blacksmith’s bellows. They were twenty feet away. We could smell their breath! Briny. Fishy.”

“Yes,” she said, “I’m glad you’ve been able to see the things you’ve seen.” She paused; it felt like she was trying to convince herself of the truth in what she had said. I know she wishes I’d not moved to California. I know she’s not the only one who wishes so.

I’d not been home in over two years. 

Over a second cup of coffee, she told me stories of her work at the KoA campground – the comings and goings, a caravan of characters moving about the Midwest, all searching for something or fleeing something. Modern-day Joads. 

When I was in fifth grade, my mom and I read together Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. We hiked with George and Lenny through Salinas. Hid out with them on the banks of a slow and green river.

In Big Sur, I told her, I placed my hands against the trunk of a redwood, the crevices in the bark six inches deep, and looked up into the canopy. I imagined Steinbeck or Hunter Thompson doing the same and finding in the branches their stories. 

***

Not entirely unlike the Joads, three years ago, we packed everything that would fit, plus two cats and a dog, into a pickup truck and headed west. The dream we set off after has proven elusive. Where we expected to find flowing rivers, we found dry washes. There are many who would interpret any expression of regret as an admission of failure. Others, overtly or otherwise, have wished failure on this adventure. To be sure, the past three school years have been the most difficult of my career – of any teacher’s career, of any learner’s, I’d argue. The vision that brought us to California is now out of focus. The dream morphing the way dreams do. It would be a lie to say I have no regrets. 

I’ve never been one to make resolutions. Besides their inevitable failure, they have always seemed to me like apologies or regrets. A philosophy, however, of “no regrets,” I’m realizing, is an arrogant and selfish one. Brene Brown has written and spoken of regret as a tough but fair teacher, that regret is an aspect of empathy. Who among us hasn’t, with the clarity of hindsight said, “If I had that to do again, I’d have done it differently.” Of course I have regrets. What I want to guard against is for regret to degrade into resentment. Regret is healthy reflection. Resentment, a bitter toxin.

I still will refrain from making a resolution. I will, however, own my regrets. I vow to do better.  

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