When I was in college, I had a good friend who was a normal, soft-spoken young man raised by a great family. He was handsome, kind, well-liked by guys and girls alike, and even known to lead a Bible study or two on campus. He drank alcohol on very rare occasions, and he seemed more mature at the age of 22 than any other 22 year old on the planet. When you saw him, you knew what to expect and there were no surprises. None at all.
One night, with no provocation, this same friend drank a little more beer than usual. Right before we left the house for an evening at the only college bar in our small town, he emerged from his room wearing nothing but a t-shirt and a bath towel wrapped around his waist. (I think he had a pair of gym shorts underneath, but I never checked.) For the rest of the night, Mr. Maturity walked around in public with a baseball cap pulled low and a towel covering his lower half as if it were the most normal thing in the world. Every person passing him would look at him and ask, “Is he wearing a towel?” In a flash, our forever reliable friend became “Towel Boy,” and no one knew how or what spurred his sudden transformation. Twenty-six years later, my college friends still shake their heads when we tell this story.
2020 became my friend “Towel Boy.” Everything we thought was normal in the world became abnormal, and quite honestly, life just got effing weird. To paraphrase the sportscaster Jim Nantz, 2020 has been A Year Unlike Any Other, and it will be a year we won’t ever forget. Most of us end the year carrying a couple more pounds than we started with, and some, myself included, finish the year with a helluva lot less hair than we had a year ago. Before March, I’m pretty sure I had never used the word “pandemic” in a sentence, and I’m also fairly certain I had never worn a surgical mask. These days, I do both on a daily basis. Social distancing sounds like a new break up plan with your girlfriend, but it’s now a way of life. We are all waiting and waiting to wake up from this bizarre dream and the only way I maintain sanity is thinking of William Faulkner’s words- “Even waiting will end…if you can just wait long enough.” So I wait.
As we head into 2021, I’m ditching the traditional New Year’s Resolution route. If 2020 taught me anything, then it would be that resolutions are pointless since this world’s greatest stability is its instability. But hope is always better than fear, and sometimes, our dreams can become reality. With that in mind, I’m just going to share my personal wishes for the New Year. Some are serious, some are not. But all of them are mine.
- I wish for the Boston Celtics to win an NBA championship. It’s been my wish every year since 1985 and it’s been granted every now and then. It’s going to take some personnel moves and perhaps convincing the Nets to move to another country for it to happen this year, but this boy can still dream of another banner for the guys in green.
- On a local level, I wish for a state championship for the Bayou Academy boys basketball team. Trust me, very few coaches work harder for their team than Wesley Aldridge, and the big trophies are coming sooner or later. I wish for sooner.
- I wish to see live music and live sports in a big crowd again. I miss the hum of a packed stadium right before kickoff when fans are filled with that unmistakable combination of optimism and Jim Beam. I miss the long lines at the concession stand and the bathroom. I miss waiting in line forever to leave parking lots. I miss the rush that comes with 60,000 people rising to their feet in unison for a single pursuit. I miss it all and want it back.
- I wish for the opportunity to coach my high school tennis team this coming spring. We were cut short by the virus last spring and I pray every day it doesn’t happen again. I passed my competitive peak many, many decades ago (where have you gone, forehand volley?) but I love teaching the game and pushing young people to reach their goals. My heart still breaks for the seniors of 2020. It cannot happen again.
- I wish for the chance to take Quinn to a baseball game and let him fall in love with green grass in the sun. There is not a better way to spend a sunny spring afternoon than at a baseball game. Please Lord let it return to our lives.
- I wish for cancer, the most vile of all diseases, to die an ugly death of its own. Although I was not personally diagnosed, it shrouded my life at every turn in 2020.
- I want to travel. I have not left Mississippi since January. I was 17 the last time I went that long without taking some type of trip. My parents taught me that you have to wander from the Mississippi Delta to truly appreciate her beauty. I crave the opportunity to wander as soon as possible.
- Above all else, I wish for normalcy to return. I want people to attend the church of their choice. I want kids to be kids again and I want restaurants and stores to be filled with customers. I want to hug a neck or shake a hand without the awkwardness of a teenage boy— Should I fist-bump or do I reach out my hand? I want to enjoy something as simple as tailgating in the Grove with my family and friends. Our regular routines don’t seem so mundane once they become nostalgia. Time waits for no one and memories are made in the moment. It’s long past time to have those moments again.
Am I too hopeful with my wishes for 2021? Probably. But I cannot let myself believe the black cloud of 2020 will last forever. It is but one year- 52 weeks-365 days- in the story of our lives. The human spirit is resilient even in the face of the strongest of storms. Albert Camus could’ve been writing of the great quarantine of 2020 when he said, “In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer. And that makes me happy. For it says that no matter how hard the world pushes against me, within me, there’s something stronger – something better, pushing right back.” 2021 will be something better, our own invincible summer.
For the record, “Towel Boy” returned to normal after his slight detour and is now a devoted husband and husband, just as we all knew he would be. His community and friends are better because of his work. Although we don’t talk very often, I am better because he is my friend. His days with a towel have long since passed.