By Jolyne Kaar, MD

Dr. Kaar

Dear 2021, how to cap off 2020? A year’s review with highlights? January and February were my favorite months. And January 2020, like each year before, this year and now this new decade started with a list of new goals.

  • A course in Omaha – got canceled
  • CME trip to further a professional interest – indefinitely postponed
  • pray more – a lot of that, accompanied by fear
  • decrease screen time – variable success
  • and exercise – not so much

2020 goals, like no preceding year ever, have a way of being deflated, pushed aside sliding to the floor to become part of the ground on which we stand. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (shown below) illustrates the way we felt at different points this year.

Hierarcy of Needs

Shelter – check. Food – grocery store binging and more toilet paper. Never enough sleep. Then a need for reestablishing physical and emotional security in light of racial tensions, riots and election chaos. Our very health and that of our loved ones and patients was under threat with COVID-19. A new need emerged for life to be not so ever-changing. Our daily lives were now disrupted.

Larry, my stepfather-in-law, is Swedish and grew up by a lake in Northern Minnesota, a true “Northwoods man.” Larry can fish through a foot and a half of ice, carry the dock out to the lake end of spring and not be phased in snow in May. In a place where the mean temp is about 10 degrees in the winter, Larry chops firewood, hunts, and eats lingonberry jam on his homemade crepes. Larry, somewhere in the frigid forest surrounding his journey of fulfillment, saw it fit to build a second building in the trees of Lake Jesse to work on his favorite hobby. He constructed a place with an upstairs dance floor for ballroom dancing.

Most everyone, I’m sure, are facing readjusted expectations with the cold winter that lies ahead. For us: abandoned plans to go to Florida to see family and meet up with Larry, who we have not seen for eleven months. Larry’s Parkinson’s has taken a toll for the worse the past year. We decided to forego a second trip, a trip up to Bowstring – it’s too risky with Larry’s health. And now, Larry’s house, “the cabin,” is recently listed on the market, along with the building with the ballroom floor.

To travel or stay home? Have that party or distance? Gym for a much needed goal of exercise, pursuing health? A needed hug and a kiss and seeing family that won’t be with us forever. We are trained as physicians to weigh the risks versus the benefits in medicine, but what about the daily weighing of the small intricacies of living? The things we took for granted – dancing, parties, friends and family.

Recently I rethought my 2020 goal of exercise – now no gym, no yoga class and the present cold. But Larry would say “there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing,” and if there is one thing I’ve learned about 2020 goals is to reshape our plans, and more importantly our expectations.

So I put on layers in the evening, in the dark as the cold threatens to take my run. Even though I don’t like running, it feels great to be outside and meet my goal. I hit my stride greeted by open air, sky and silence – unmasked – with space to breathe.

So what can we say about 2020? The losses are great, but the small wins are still victories. You can set a goal, a small goal, to move from this state to a new trajectory of actualization and still make it. We might not be dancing in a ballroom of stars, but the cold shuffling of feet in the night air still moves us from ‘here’ to ‘up there.’

I’ve learned cold, when running, is not so cold and even the dark has just enough light, so the things that were holding you back no longer matter. Soon my jacket’s unzipped and the hat is off. I’m sweating. And by the time I’m home, there’s no reason not to keep going.

About the Author

Dr. Jolyne Kaar is a Clinical Assistant Professor the Department of Family and Community Medicine.