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Happy New Year?

The Worst of Times Still the Best of Times

Photo of Sarah in nice red dress, braced left arm in sling, left foot in orthopedic boot with Christmas tree and Santa in background, lit-garland stairway railing at forefront.
Sarah, with fashionable sling and orthopedic boot, readies for a New Year's Eve dinner date. Photo by Eric Minton.

When Sarah broke her ankle—this was after she broke her wrist—I was ready to throw in the towel. But there were no towels in the laundry basket that she, without a workable left arm to support herself, attempted to carry down the stairs. However, I did throw the entire basket into the laundry room with such frustration-fueled ferocity I later found panties hanging off the back of the dryer.

While I had no towel to throw in literally, figuratively I gripped the towel of surrender that evening. I took stock of how my wife's mental and physical misadventures derailed Christmas on top of everything else 2020 had derailed in our lives. "Hang in there," my spiritual voice told me: "There's only three weeks to 2021 and your promise of a new beginning."

2020 did get worse: three weeks was too much time for it not to. And 2021 launched with compounding crises, both geographically (we live in the DC suburbs) and professionally (a fallout from my poor work performance in 2020). Now, as troubled waters still continue to pass under the bridge, I'm here to tell you I have put away the towel. I am not surrendering.

I'm also here to tell you of the impending return of

First, this fact: I actually had a good 2020, relatively speaking. Here's how our year went.

  • Sarah's dementia—which in the spring was diagnosed as Alzheimer's—has continued its steady progression. Or regression. I'm never sure how to describe her path through the various stages of cognitive dissolution. Her condition is now an omnipresent factor of our lives.

  • I had my most challenging year as a professional writer and editor. The psychological toll of dealing with Sarah's situation combined with a dogpile of personal and professional responsibilities battered my own intellectual capacity. I suffered many mental lapses, made poor decisions, and missed deadlines.

  • I had to give up two long-term freelance gigs, and I put on hiatus in May (though I didn't admit it, even to myself, until July). I finally determined to relaunch on January 1, 2021. Then December happened.

  • December started promisingly with a friend recruiting me for a government job to follow on my job as editor of the National Commission on Military Aviation Safety, which ends March 1. Then…

  • On Thursday afternoon, December 17, the day after an ice storm, Sarah came in the house and called to me from the laundry room in a pained voice: "I think I broke my wrist." Oh, my clumsy wife, I thought, walking toward her from my office at the opposite end of our house. "What happened?" I asked as I started pulling back the coat sleeve of her left arm that she was holding up. "I was pulling in the trash bin," she said, "and stepped sideways…" "Oh, s***!" I said, cutting her off upon seeing the new angular shape of her arm and springing to action. That she fell is the only thing we know for certain with the clarity of X-ray images showing displaced fractures of both bones in her lower arm. We spent six hours in the emergency room, where they moved her bones back in place and put on a temporary splint. The next day, we miraculously got in to see the orthopedist, who scheduled surgery for the following Tuesday, and I coordinated with Sarah's cardiologist regarding a pacemaker checkup on Monday. Then…

  • That Saturday afternoon, I took my eyes off Sarah for two minutes, a period of time that ended with a loud thump and a yelp coming from the bottom of the stairs. There, I found her with the laundry basket in her right hand, and her left hand—she's left-handed, by the way—still in the sling (thank goodness). Upon taking off her shoes, I found a left ankle twice the size of her right ankle. Her medical adventures come in pairs: heart disease and thyroid cancer in 2015 (pacemaker inserted on a Monday, thyroid removed three days later); epilepsy and dementia in 2018 (seizures controlled by medication, dementia handled with patience and understanding). So much for patience as the laundry basket flew into the laundry room. So much for understanding, too. Only later did I realize she was in a delusional state, even forgetting she had a broken arm when she decided to fetch the laundry. X-rays led to an initial diagnosis of hairline fracture.

  • Three days later, her orthopedic surgeon screwed a plate into her left wrist and put a boot on her left foot, determining that she had a sprain rather than a fracture.

  • We headed into Christmas with her out of commission and me watching her like an omnipresent security camera. In addition to mentally caring for Sarah, I was physically caring for her: dressing and undressing her, bathing her, cutting her food, writing for her. I didn't get much else done.

  • But I did get the job candidacy requirements done by the December 30 deadline. Late that afternoon, my friend called to tell me I didn't get the job.

"Let's hope 2021 is better than 2020," people say to us in lieu of "happy New Year"; "It can't be any worse." Ah, but as Edgar says in King Lear, "And worse I may be yet: the worst is not so long as we can say 'This is the worst.'" That is likely something you don't want to consider after 2020, but for me, I know 2021 will be a worse year. Alzheimer's offers no other option. With Sarah's December injuries, I also got a clear vision of our future, not only the physical care and mental attention she will require someday, but also the emotional toll. Christmas is one of our shared passions, and every year we go all out with themed decorated trees in every room (including the Shakespeare grove of four trees in the library). This year, I did much of the decorating by myself, giving me a taste of the loneliness and sense of futility to come.

Yet, I still feel incredibly fortunate. We've had a steady income throughout the year thanks to my Commission job. We've nearly climbed out of the debt we incurred two winters ago when we were both unemployed and Sarah's medical bills and an onslaught of unexpected household expenses mounted. No one in our families has lost a job or contracted COVID-19. In my circle, one coworker and one commissioner had COVID-19, neither serious cases. Not until New Year's Eve did I learn of someone I personally knew who died from the disease. Sarah and I have lived in relative comfort and security, except for how, like the rest of our nation, we've been suddenly transported to the cusp of a 1950s Third World country or 1930s central Europe.

That's why I wrote "relatively speaking" above. My heart aches for the theater community impacted by the pandemic. I've got friends who have lost two sources of income, as so many actors work in the service industry. I've seen too many people whom I admire lose their jobs. I've seen too many theaters permanently shutter. I've seen too many dreams dashed. I wish I could help more beyond rounding up to the next dollar at the grocery checkout to help food banks but—and please excuse my selfishness—I'm obligated to make sure Sarah's future care and keeping are secure.

What I can do is apply my talents to the cause.

This weekend, while some are threatening destruction, I'm promising construction in line with Martin Luther King Jr. Day's dedication to community service. I will begin a long-planned redesign, reorganization, and infrastructure upgrade of The state of our theatrical world has changed, and so must the state of Shakespeareances. I will be creating an On Line section, revamping Bard on the Boards to include more web-only content, and working toward accomplishing a film and/or online version of my 2018 Shakespeare Canon Project. The site will also serve as a clearing house for initiatives intended to aid theater artists in need. Please send me your suggestions and links.

Due to overwhelming demand, I will resume Sarah's Chronicles, filling in the events since May (I've got a full notebook of adventures and emotions). We're progressing on Shakespearecurean, racing against the Alzheimer's clock to get Sarah's contributions on as many menus as possible. And I am resuming work on completing the book Where There's a Will: Shakespeareances Through the American Way (what was relevant in 2018 has even more dimensions in 2021).

Can I do this while taking care of Sarah and earning her keep? I vow to try.

In Christmas 1988, the nascent stage of our love story, Sarah and I were separated by an ocean. As the distance deepened my longing for her (and, to my amazement, she continued longing for me), I bought a couple dozen different Christmas cards and sent her one each day from Thanksgiving to December 25. For each I composed a sonnet devoted to a particular seasonal theme along with a note recounting my personal experiences pertaining to that theme. Sarah held on to those cards.

Throughout 2020 I had been reading a Shakespeare sonnet to Sarah as a daily devotion (I started before Patrick Stewart nabbed the idea). Upon finding Sarah's old cards, I switched from Shakespeare to my Christmas sonnets on Thanksgiving, revisiting these sonnets for the first time in 32 years. A couple were actually quite good (most are pretty pedantic, some reminding me of the Moody Blues).

The last card, for Christmas day, had this sonnet and note:

Peaceful dawns the sun on Christmas Day,
Happily wait the parents for shouts of glee,
Eager-eyed children moan at each delay
That keeps them from the treasures under the tree.
Never has mankind smiled any brighter
In the annals of our time on earth
Never do we see our paths look lighter
Than Christmas Day, the day of man's rebirth.
We celebrate God's greatest gift today,
A baby born, God's self and word in flesh,
Whose life of faith and acts of love should stay
Our focus on his spirit, not the creche.
It's Christmas Day, the day we joyfully give,
And share God's love and faith, with blessings live.

Christmas is my favorite time of year, for all the life, love, excitement, and joy it holds, for the dramatics of nature the season features, for the aesthetic beauty of the holiday. It is also the time when my life takes on a great aura of hope, and I experience a reaffirmation of my faith—in God, in life, in me. But Christmas is one day, its celebration one week or three, its season two months. It is my determination from henceforth to keep all the attributes and feelings of Christmas persisting through all the days of my life. That is my Christmas dream this year, and to dream that dream with you. I want to share Christmas with you, Sarah, now and always for the rest of my life.

Upon reading this, I decided that this would be my 2021 New Year's resolution, to "keep all the attributes and feelings of Christmas persisting through all the days of my life." Though in 2020 I experienced the haunting reality of my future with Sarah, I move into 2021 with a guiding light that has bathed my life these past 32 years. To cop a famous baseball quote, thanks to the bliss and fulfilled memories Sarah has given me, even now I consider myself the luckiest man in the world.

Here's wishing you a happy and prosperous New Year. May 2021 move us all to a safer, secure, and happier place than what the worst of Mother Nature and human nature have put us through the past 12 months.

Eric Minton
January 13, 2021

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