Why Should We Remember the Year of the Missing Toilet Paper?

As I’m sure you do, I have some vivid recollections from 2020: grabbing the last dozen eggs (only to find that three were broken), figuring out which type of mask doesn’t drive me absolutely crazy after 10 minutes, and gazing at miles of empty toilet paper shelves. I now have enough toilet paper in the cupboard to last through “snowstorms of the century” like those I saw in my younger days.

I remember one of those storms vividly: the blizzard of 1993. More than a foot of snow accumulated in just two days in March. My daughters and I woke up to an amazing amount of snow piled on our second-story deck, which we promptly pushed off. The snow was also drifting, so we ended up with a massive pile right behind our house at the top of a steep slope. We had a small plastic toboggan that could fit two of us at a time, and we spent the entire day riding down the slide that we built out of snow in the backyard.

Other than a few vacations, I don’t remember a more concentrated time of pure joy with my children. They are long grown and launched into their own lives, but they still mention that wonderful day.

“There Is Nothing Either Good or Bad but Thinking Makes It So”

That quote comes from Act II of Hamlet, in which Shakespeare had the tragic title character tackle one of the great mysteries of being human: How can people experience the same situation so differently? While I was thrilled to have my daughters take turns with me in that little plastic sled, my neighbors alternated between being frustrated and terrified as they realized we would be stuck at home for a long time—same situation, vastly different experiences.

I’ve been lucky this year. The residents of the continuing care facility where my 97-year-old father lives have avoided the spread of COVID-19. My youngest daughter, a doctor who works with highly compromised patients, hasn’t been infected, either. While our occasional in-person gatherings have been odd—sitting eight feet apart and wearing masks indoors—her fastidious attention to safety has paid dividends for all of us.

But for me, two of the greatest gifts of 2020 have been greater mindfulness and appreciation.