Find some place comfortable to read this post.
Sit back, relax. Close your eyes. Empty your mind of all thoughts and worries.
Now I want you to go to a special place, a place in your memories. The memory is of a good time, a happy time, a time you want to last forever.
The memory might involve a family gathering or a time of recognition. For many, the memory is connected to a holiday or social event. For many in the Western world it will be a time from childhood and Christmas time.
Hold that memory. We will return to it shortly.
A Modern History
Johan Huizinga begins his book. The Autumn of the Middle Ages, with these words:
When the world was half a thousand years younger all events had much sharper outlines than now. The distance between sadness and joy, between good and bad fortune, seemed to be much greater than for us; every experience had that degree of directness and absoluteness that joy and sadness still have in the mind of a child.
It is impossible to understand the deep despair of an event unless you lived through it. We can read all we want about the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918 to 1921. You still only know facts. There is no risk to you from the event; it is history.
I am writing this for Christmas 2021. Contemporaries will understand what I am about to explain; those who stumble across these words decades from now will never understand what it was really like to live in 2020 or 2021. Rather than spew facts, let me do my best to convey the emotions of the event.
January 2020 was a time filled with preparation and hope. Another tax season was upon my team and me. Plans were in place for a smooth execution of affairs. Client work would flow through a well designed process to assure accuracy and timely filing.
Early February was like any other tax season and I had no worries. There was a rumbling in the news of a disease in China that was spreading the planet. I paid no heed.
Within a few weeks nervousness took hold as the virus was spreading rapidly. Hospitals were filling and people were dying. Rumors began of locking down the United States. This kind of thing hasn’t taken place here in living memory.
It still wasn’t in Wisconsin, where I live and work. I prayed this virus would hold off long enough to finish tax season. Then the calendar turned to March.
On March 9th two Wisconsin residents tested positive for COVID. The writing was on the wall. This would be a tax season like none experienced before.
Two days later a basketball player tested positive. Game over.
March 13: All Wisconsin public and private schools were closed by order of the governor until April 5th. Any hope I could finish tax season before the full force of the pandemic hit home evaporated.
Three days later several counties closed bars and restaurants.
Another three days and Wisconsin now had 155 confirmed cases of the virus. Hospitals were filling fast and people started dying.
March 23: Wisconsin governor, Tony Evers, by order, closed all nonessential businesses. I called my attorney to find out if I was required to close my business. It wasn’t. It didn’t matter.
Soon, an eerie quite descended. It is hard to explain the sound or the lack thereof. The closest I can come is a particular Christmas morning. I wrote about that experience here.
You have no idea how much noise humans make. The sound of machines is everywhere. Even out in the boondocks where I live it is noticeable. Now it was all going to stop.
The sound of traffic disappeared. There wasn’t a plane to be found in the sky. With nothing to do, I walked out my office and stood in the middle of the normally busy highway. There were no cars in either direction as far as the eye could see. All sounds of human activity had stopped. It was surreal.
Eighteen months later 6% of my clients would be dead.
More than 1 in 17 clients died in the following year and a half. I may have attended more Celebration of Life ceremonies during this time than the rest of my career combined.
COVID did not kill them all. In fact, the virus played a relatively small role in direct deaths. However, the restrictive rules (wear a mask, social distance (even from loved ones), shelter in place) took a toll. Many clients that left this world were clients from the early days of my practice. People do get old and die sometimes.
I would tell you about how old I feel, knowing I have worked my business for so long clients who seemed young when they first arrived have aged and now died. Perhaps the feelings I feel is a late arrival mid-life crisis. Or maybe, just maybe, I’m getting older, too. I don’t feel old so that can’t really be it.
Yet, I would be absconding my duties if I did not share the story of a client who died a few months ago.
It was about this time of year. Not Christmas, but New Year’s Eve. I don’t remember the exact year, but it had to be somewhere in the years 1992 -1994. I know this because my office was in the basement of my home at the time.
Christmas is important; New Year’s Eve, not so much.
It is rare for me to leave the house on the last day of the year. Normally I stay up late and read a book until midnight. I smile at the new year and go to bed. This New Year’s Eve would be different.
Around 11 I was snuggled into my easy chair with a book on my lap for the year in question. Mrs. Accountant was in bed and we had no children yet.
A loud scream interrupted my reading. I turned to look out my living room window to see a woman fall from the window of a car. She fell hard and lay curled like a child on the pavement.
Earlier it rained, turning to freezing rain. The ice on the road had sharp dimples.
The woman cried as she lay in the roadway. She was half clothed and was not wearing shoes. If a car happened by she would be hit and killed, or worse.
I quickly put my book down and ran out the door.
“You can’t stay on the road, ” I said to the woman as I reached her side. “If a car comes you will be hit. You need to get to the side of the road.”
She tried to stand. The cold, sharp needles of ice and a heavy level of intoxication made it difficult for her to move. I held her hand as she gingerly made it to the curb.
I questioned her about what happened. She stammered about her abusive boyfriend.
Getting nervous he might come back, I encouraged her to let me take her into my home. She could not walk the distance in her condition so I carried her. I set her down inside the entranceway. She slid to sitting.
I told her I was going to call the police. She begged me not to call the police. “Call my brother. He will pick me up,” she said. She gave me the phone number.
“I have an office in the basement. I will call from there. I will be right back,” I said. I went to my office and called the police.
Within minutes the police were in my home and Mrs. Accountant was awake wondering what her husband has gotten into now. The injured woman ducked when she saw the red and blue lights. The police made her nervous.
Paramedics came. The woman was helped. The boyfriend returned to the scene of the crime before the excitement was over. The police had a serious talk with him. Then, all was quiet. Like the moment on the highway 25 years later.
By now it was midnight. Time to say goodbye to the old year and welcome the new.
But the story doesn’t end there. The gooseflesh part of the story is yet to be told.
A few months later I was deep into tax season and totally forgot about the prior New Year’s Eve’s event. A husband and wife client came in to drop off their taxes. They owned rentals and the husband even did some repairs and maintenance on my rentals owned at the time.
The wife started telling me this story about a tenant that was in an abusive relationship and was pushed from a moving car New Year’s Eve. “A kind man helped her, even taking her into his home and calling for help,” my client said.
A lump developed in my throat.
The client told me how the injured woman finally was able, due to the events of New Year’s Eve, to leave the abusive man.
I finally said, “I know about the woman pushed from the window of the moving car.”
“Yes. It happened between my driveway and the corner,” I said pointing in the direction of the road.
I paused, concerned about what my client would say if I told her my involvement. Finally, I said, “I was that nice man.”
We filled in details for each other on the woman’s situation for the next half hour before life once again returned to normal. Well, as normal as this accountant’s life ever seems to get.
What are the odds? I lived in the Fox Cites at the time. The metro area has something like 300,000 people. What are the odds a woman would be thrown from a moving vehicle in front of my home and that she would be a tenant of a client? How long are the odds I would help a woman in an abusive relationship before the year is out when less than an hour of the year remains?
100%, it seems.
For some reason, everything we do comes full circle. You have experienced similar situations where one action leads to another that leads to another that brings you around back to the beginning.
All our thoughts and feelings do not happen in a vacuum. What you say, do and even think, will play a future roll in your life.
And that brings us full circle in this blog post. Remember how I asked you to close your eyes and think of that wonderful time and place in your memories? Well, we are ending up at the beginning.
Christmas Every Day of the Year
In Huizinga’s quote he lays out the dichotomies in life from time past compared to the present. He states how in times past the highs and lows were much wider, and that only the experiences of “that joy and sadness still have in the mind of a child” comes close to the extremes of historical times.
How can anyone reading this even come close to knowing what it felt like to live as the middle ages crawled to a close? Can anyone in the room understand what it was like in 1918? With a war raging in Europe and a disease killing by the truckload? Not a chance.
Kind readers, even if you lived the pandemic I currently live in, it will be hard to fully grasp the world I describe. Your children and children’s children will have no clue what the world of 2020 and 2021 was like. The pain is so great many contemporaries deny the reality of what is happening. What is the chance a future generation can comprehend what we are living as I write these words?
Those memories of wonderful times will be different for each of us. They will not be the same as being there, of course. Like the stories above, there is no substitute for living heightened emotions of the time as they happen.
Yet, there are only a few things you can do that nobody can stop you from doing. Namely, you can control what you think, about how you interpret what happens to you and to others around the world. You control how you respond mentally, unless you give that up, allowing others to think for you.
You can be forced to take a vaccine or refuse to take the medicine that ups the odds of ending the pandemic sooner.
You can wear a mask or rip the mask off another. The choice is yours.
You can act responsible, talk responsibly. This is not 100% in your control. People or natural events can restrict any physical action you take.
But not your thoughts! What you think, how you think, that is up to you and you alone. You choose. The only way to loose that right is to give it away voluntarily.
Marcus Aurelius reminds us: Feel as if you have not been harmed, and you haven’t.
This is knowledge as old as the Stoics. It is their major tenet. We can learn a lot from wise people of history.
People are dying. They always have been. And in the end we are all dead. It is what we do in the interim that counts. Do we go to that special place in our memories? That place where life was carefree? Back to our childhood and Christmas Eve? Or do we give away the only thing we have complete control of?
Do we get vaccinated because it is the right thing to do or do we whine about our rights? Yes, vaccines are not perfect. But the vaccine will up the odds the pandemic ends sooner and that we survive if we get our virus lottery ticket. We also reduce the chance that we spread the disease. Do you come to the aid of an abused woman, pushed from the window of a moving car? Or are you the kind of person that worries about your comfort so much, that the abuser may return while you are present, that you turn your back and risk additional injury or even death to an innocent victim?
The same applies to wearing a mask, social distancing and other behavior that reduces infection risk.
The latest variant of the virus, omicron, is very contagious. More contagious than any pervious variant. The good news so far is that it seems to be less deadly.
Still, old variants continue to roam the populace. And omicron still kills, if only at lower percentages.
You might get the infection. It may not harm you. But. . .
As every gambler knows you have to play to win. You only need one ticket to win the lottery.
Happy New Year
Hold your dearest memories close and commit to doing the right thing as you create new memories.
It is all any of us really have.
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