We may have put a little too much hope into “2021.”

Of course we need to know that after the disruptions and losses and sacrifices of 2020, things can improve. Science, and time, will end the pandemic. The human spirit will find a way for us to be less terrified and alone, and to make sense of what we’ve gone through. Things will improve in 2021, I feel it.

But I might have been slightly too literal about the timing, too much in a hurry. The first 10 Blursdays of the new year find us in the same hunkered down position as before, our ERs and ICU beds full or nearly so, a terrible illness stalking us. Those of us who are lucky might snore too much, wake in the night with a dry, scratchy throat, freak out that this is finally it, but in the morning we’re not feverish, we’re well, and we go on.

The man with the to-do list can tell you that it’s an illusion that “once we make it past X” things will be better. In normal times I might have felt I just need to get to Christmas, all the dang presents under the tree in time, but as soon as the wrapping’s torn off and the meal consumed, the thing that’s next rears up and starts barreling this way. Too soon I’ll be hacking the tree apart on the curb, trying to shove it all in the green bin before pickup. And then. And then. Ready or not, here it comes.

Also, the promise of the end to the pandemic doesn’t mean other bad surprises won’t happen. (Thanks for the reminder, first 10 days of 2021!) We will always face surprise disasters, natural and human-made. Shit will get real, and then get more real. What’s lost will stay lost. Though hopefully we’ll heal and improve, and throw out the bad apples, too.

My mind yearns for a concrete event on the horizon. How many Blursdays until we can come out again, go back to school, resume being social, as is our nature? The vaccine is a modern miracle. But we don’t know the when. Summer? Fall? 2022?

For now we have coping.

Just as I dreamed I’d be the fun parent, I would have predicted I’d be amazing in quarantine. Maybe there would be an article about how I triumphed through adversity, inspiring many! Instead I’ve struggled to keep a good attitude, despite our great luck that we’re well and housed and fed. Sometime last year I ran into an acquaintance who told me sheltering in place was one of the best things that’s happened to him. He’s working less, his wife still loves him, he’s thrilled to get good time with his growing kids. This was wonderful to hear, and I promise I was happy for him, very very happy, even as I had to reflect that my own family hasn’t seemed any more impressed with me, forced into constant close contact, than they were before. We’ve managed fine, but in a truthful 360 anonymous performance evaluation I’m pretty sure I’d need to work on being controlling, disappointed, and moody. I’d get some nods for zen-power moments, but lose a few points for cursing. And despair. All understandable, but not a great way to rally the troops.

On the other hand, some other members of our service team might get dinged, in these imaginary performance reviews, for refusing to go on healthy, refreshing walks with the fearless leader. A gushing media profile of my leadership is unlikely if no one will even follow me around the block.

This is one skill I’ve honed in quarantine: walking the dog. I take a long, long walk with him every day, usually early in the morning. I sometimes repeat after work or dinner. The dog seems to have an uncanny sense of which direction is away from the house, and his goal is to steer me that way, making our walks longer and longer. Sometimes I check on Google Maps to be sure, and it’s true, even on meandering streets that are more or less parallel to home, the way he’s pulling is usually taking us slightly farther afield, stretching out the distance. Marking more and more of the terrain around us as his, all his.

There might be a slightly Ouji-board quality to it, as the hand being guided surely has an agenda. One 2.5 mile night loop found us passing place after place that we’d looked at in our home search (me and Jay, not me and the dog), some that we’d put in a bid on and lost, others that had made an impression as a home-that-might-be. But wasn’t. We tour the past, and alternate realities. We wander far.

The air has been cold, for Berkeley, and the stars bright. The rain we’ve desperately needed has been showing up and things are fresh. My legs are tired, and even the dog seems ready to head home. God-willing, we will make it through this next thing, and the next. Some of the improvements we dream of will come true. 2021 may be our year. We’re just not there yet.