The Year That Stopped… and Began Again: A Song of Hope

By Leslie Westbrook   |   January 14, 2021

Looking over my 2020 Filofax calendar (yes, I still use one of those) and reviewing the past year, it’s not nearly as full as previous years. 2020 stated out well enough: it went from meeting friends at Tharios’ Kitchen and Field + Fort, Sunday brunches at El Encanto, Miramar, Four Seasons Biltmore for an Edible Santa Barbara magazine story to city council meetings and musical events at the Music Academy of the West. Two trips to Mexico – for language lessons in Oaxaca and a Mexican women chef’s cooking event weekend in Vallarta Nayarit were preferable to necessary dental exams and teeth cleanings (now on hold) all kicked off the start to what was looking like a stellar new year. A long weekend for Modernism Week in Palm Springs with my mom. One terrific last trip was realized in the second week of March to San Luis Obispo and then the word, suddenly and ironically on Friday the 13, appears in large, capital letters outlined in bright pink on my pull-out calendar for the year: ISOLATE. 

In fact, things pretty much came to a full stop on March 13, 2020. The cancellations began: the trip to Baja, trips to Las Vegas to check out a new restaurant and Rome for a story assignment. Two weddings and a huge planned 90th birthday bash for my mom, Marcella (which morphed into a creative drive-by event). Suddenly this boomer became a Zoomer, with online meetings and check-ins with friends and family and some theatrical and musical events that I soon tired of (with the exception of phenomenal productions by London’s National Theater). Sound like your life? Oh, and then the cooking began. I made things I never made before in my life. From Dutch baby pancakes (once was enough) to The New York Times recipes, including one where I ended up shattering my favorite wooden spoon in the blender.

Delivery folks were my new best friends – from The Cheese Shop, Delgado’s (oh those margaritas on Old Spanish Days Fiesta weekend!), and The Farm Cart for my weekly produce supply. I was even thrilled to see the Cox Cable repairman. Three times.

 New York was the first “hot zone”; Los Angeles is the current one. My lonely life took on a slow burn of its own. Nothing prepared us for the holidays and what those would feel like.

A Halloween without trick or treaters. A Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve alone. A quiet New Year’s Eve – I can think of worse things.

Yet… yet… yet…. It’s also been a time to contemplate and be grounded. 

For me, this has been a time to deepen friendships with dear friends and former beaus who also live alone. Thank god for Jane Austen – oh, that Mr. Darcy! – and PBS, which saved my life when I had nowhere to go or, to put it more matter of factly, was allowed to go nowhere. And Netflix.

My former physical traveling turned into a mix of my dream world and the world of film journeys. As an only child the first nine years of my life, I had developed skills on how to entertain myself and use my imagination. I let it loose, writing some magical realism tales I hope to see published in the new year. 

I adopted an attitude of gratitude: thankful for a roof over my head, healthy food from local farmers and fishermen and women, supportive friends to commiserate with, a nail-biting election to be engaged in – and a U.S. senate race to be determined by the time you read this, which will control the fate of the country for the next four years. Still, I miss adventures.

What Do You Miss Most?

MSNBC news anchor Katy Tur recently said, “This year was garbage, but there were some bright spots.” For one, charitable giving surged in 2020. From Mackenzie Scott’s $4 billion distributed in only four months to hundreds of charities and educational institutions to a few dollars handed in passing to a houseless person, every bit counts. When we offer a helping hand to a neighbor, we make our life more meaningful.

I saw people display acts of kindness – many a result of connecting via Nextdoor and other social platforms. A lovely Sansum Clinic nurse and her daughter I connected with this way decided not to exchange presents with one other, but gift a needy family instead. Adam’s Angels was born to deliver groceries to those housebound and grew to feed and clothe the homeless. A Montecito woman cooked a turkey with plenty of trimmings that was donated to an appreciative family living in low-income housing. Those are just a few examples. Acts of generosity, both grand and small.

Other bright spots: a COVID vaccine and an incoming new president and first woman vice president, who say they plan to work with both sides of the aisle. Our hope of returning to a more normal version of life, one that resembles what we had before the COVID pandemic, if not exactly the same one. Our routines have been turned upside down this past year, but as sturdy Californians we have survived fires, debris flows, and now a pandemic.

There will still be difficult days ahead. That’s life, with or without a pandemic. But we can do this. We’ve got this. I believe we are better and stronger humans, not despite these challenges, but because of them.

With this column, printed on next week’s birdcage liner (the Summerland Bird Sanctuary needs your recycled newspapers, by the way), I bid a hearty adieu to 2020, and send happy, bright, and healthy New Year greetings to one and all. May peace be with you and may that which we have survived make us more thoughtful, considerate and kinder human beings. I believe that we are.


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