As summer draws to a close, people across the nation flock to campgrounds, beaches, and parks to enjoy the final moments of the season that we yearn for in the other 9 months of the year. Weekends filled with football, foliage, and hapless men being dragged to pumpkin patches for pricy family photos are on the horizon, but one glorious long weekend allows us to enjoy the spoils of summer one final time.
Labor Day has always been a bittersweet holiday. A three-day weekend that marks the end of the part of the year where we show a little skin and stop taking life so seriously. As a kid, Labor Day always felt like the ultimate Sunday night. Even if your school year had already started, everyone knew that the significant coursework didn’t actually begin until the ice cream stands closed and the final guests left Waldameer. Every kid knew that the ultimate Monday morning actually happened on the Tuesday after Labor Day.
I know that I always maintained the love/hate relationship with Labor Day for these reasons. I can’t remember a Labor Day in my life where I wasn’t reflective as I laid in bed that Monday night. Every summer brought cherished memories and pleasant weather. Fall brought unwanted responsibilities and a frosty reminder of the encroaching winter that would prevent me from partaking in every outdoor activity that I loved. I felt that I was putting a special part of myself on hiatus for nine months. I’ve learned that I felt that way because I had yet to experience the cursed year of 2020.
Much like many in this country, I laughed when I first heard about the worldwide reaction to the Covid-19 pandemic. There have been many pandemics in my lifetime, but most of those were easily treated by doctors in the first world and only seemed to maintain strongholds in developing nations thousands of miles away. I saw it as a way for predatory hucksters to sell overpriced masks to vulnerable senior citizens at an extreme mark-up. Then, things started to close.
Within a two-week span, many of us saw the pandemic going from an unfortunate ailment happening on the other side of the world to an imminent threat to our way of life. Schools, sports, and businesses shuddered in quick succession and seemingly everyone was sent home to watch Tiger King and prepare for the toilet paper wars. Uncertainty became fear. Fear became anger. Advertisers told us that we were “all in this together” while our country went to battle with itself.
Although I was sent home from work with a laptop and some well wishes, I was one of the lucky ones that were able to keep my job. I came home and set up a makeshift home office that I had intended to have as my temporary home until this hysteria went away in a month or two. That was six months ago. I’ve upgraded my setup, but I still have no idea when or if I will return to the office. I can’t pretend that it has been a terrible development. I used to iron slacks and have a rotation of shoes that straddled the line between comfort and class. Now, I wear basketball shorts and work barefoot every day of the week. Still, my new setup embodies one of the greatest curses of 2020: ennui.
As humans, I’ve always felt that we relied on milestones to deal with the banal nature of everyday life. Whether it’s something big like a vacation or Christmas or something small like sleeping in on a Saturday, we all need to look forward to something. 2020 has stripped that from us all. Places that I loved to visit are either closed or stricken with regulations that strip them of what made them enjoyable. Public events that galvanize communities have been postponed indefinitely. Even the brief escape of scrolling through your phone during downtime has been ruined by ill-informed diatribes clogging social media feeds with lies, anger, and conspiracies. Between the pandemic, racial tensions, and political strife, it seems that 2020 aims to keep us in a constant state of anger, fear, and melancholy.
So what do I do when circumstances put my beloved milestones in peril? I stop looking forward to anything. I wake up, put on my basketball shorts, go to work in my home office, eat dinner, play video games, and go to sleep. Motivation seems to become more elusive and any search for anyone sharing my unease only turns up 1000-word Facebook essays on Donald Trump. I’ve been angry. I’ve been sad, I’ve been drunk. Mostly, I’m on autopilot. So, it should come as no surprise that my late-night Labor Day weekend reflections have less to do with the special part of me that is lost at the end of summer and more to do with the part of all of us we lost when the world turned upside down in early March.
This year, I have learned to embrace the negativity in life. Without it, the highs aren’t as high. I think about the years I spent as an avid Pittsburgh Pirates fan watching them stack 20 straight losing seasons and continuing to watch. Then, on one perfect early-October evening, Russell Martin took Johnny Cueto deep in a wildcard game and all of that long-suffering fandom felt worthwhile at the moment. Those arduous days at work that seem to drag on forever until you come home to have your favorite meal with your loving family that reminds you of why you go to that wretched job every day. Those moments in life that are made sweeter by what you went through to have them. I would have enjoyed them regardless, but without the pain, they’re just a home run and a tasty dinner.
It is for that reason that I maintain optimism about the future. I know that we will eventually all have our day where everything in the world seems to be going our way and we will enjoy it more than ever because of what we lost. That next vacation, concert or packed sporting event we have without pandemic fears will be exhilarating in ways we never considered before this year. My news feed will eventually be filled with observations from Christmas and the Super Bowl and it will be heartwarming in comparison to the daily musings on hate and division. Still, I remain realistic while understanding that none of these things will happen anytime soon.
This weekend, I intend to spend some time with my family while enjoying the waning moments of a summer that never occurred. Perhaps, I’ll be able to golf with my dad or have a few beers with my friends. Hopefully, I will have the ability to sleep all weekend. I will do all of these things without expectations or disappointment. It won’t be bitter or sweet, but I plan to enjoy myself. The seasons will change and I will continue through each day trying to enjoy those brief moments of joy between the long stretches of autopilot. I will do it all while knowing that someday I will again lay in bed on the first Monday of September mourning the loss of another unforgettable summer. I suppose that I can look forward to something.