Lauren Arnold
12 min readJan 14, 2021

Though it is never easy writing these annual recaps (aka distilling a year of life), this year is, for obvious reasons, particularly difficult. I thought about skipping this one altogether — but I know I will want to look back and remember something other than COVID-19, and it’s been a good mental exercise to write it. In a way, forcing an overly positive outlook filled with silver linings galore feels wrong — but I can’t look at the whole year as a write off. I recognize that the challenges I’ve had this year pale in comparison to the challenges others have faced — and the sacrifices many were forced to make. Lastly, I apologize if the following comes off as insensitive considering the current circumstances, but this reflection has become a tradition, and if it brings any amount of happiness to even one person — it will be worth it.

If you’re new to my verbose, yearly reflections — welcome! What a year to join. Prepare for run-on sentences, which has been the cornerstone of my writing style for as long as I can remember. This is the one time I don’t try to reign the words in. I started writing these when I noticed just how easily months and years were beginning to blur together — and of course time is relative, but I like being able to capture the memories held within each year — the highlights, lowlights (ha), and the small moments that made me feel alive. Sorry for sounding so corny, but if you know me at all, you won’t be surprised in the slightest. This is very much delayed, though, I suppose it would be unseemly for this to be my best recap to date, so I’ll cut myself some slack.

I started the year off with my first New Year’s kiss (that was not with a friend), so I began the year optimistic that 2020 would hold love for me, in a romantic sense — but life and my heart had other plans. Though I didn’t fall in love (except with Jamie Fraser and Simon Basset, Duke of Hastings), I felt love: for McMaster (I remember being filled with disbelief that I’d have to leave this year, looking for any excuse to stay), for moments of wood oven pizza collaborating with my dad and tomato sauce making with my mom, for friends who double and triple texted despite my horrendous reply time (I am sorry), for truffles (not the chocolate kind), for the feeling of sunlight on my skin after a series of grey winter days, for a snow globe kind of snowfall, for pink skies, for the backyard fire pit, for Scotsdale farm, for my incredible team at work, for the TikToks my sister sent me, and for myself.

Obviously, this year wasn’t all bike rides after wine tastings and sunsets by the lake. But I’m trying to hold onto those moments, because I need those memories to get me through the next few months. And it really doesn’t have to look or feel like a movie to make you feel alive. Sometimes it’s as simple as listening to Bon Iver in the basement on vinyl with proper speakers alongside family, and it feels like you’re hearing 33 “GOD” for the first time. Or a handsome stranger teaching you what wabi-sabi means over an Instagram DM.

Other times, it’s when someone looks at you and your favourite Siken stanza and you’ve prepared a candlelit dinner and he’s seen how moved you are by the silence of a fresh snowfall and thinks: Nope. I’m good. I’ll pass on a future with you. That shit hurts, and bad timing is a thinly veiled excuse for a bad connection. But I heard an interesting perspective this year — that you should really be more upset over the guy that passes on you at the bar than someone who has seen how your brain works and what your heart holds, because the someone who chooses not to be with you when they know you couldn’t be more wrong for you. The guy at the bar, on the other hand, could have easily made an error in judgement. The point is not to cry after an uneventful night out — rather, if you’re able to move on from the hypothetical bar guy (whose rejection you hopefully didn’t think twice about), you should give the guy that ended things after knowing you less power over you.

In early February, when wearing a mask still earned you looks of disbelief at an airport, I left to join my mom in Eleuthera. The memories are vivid — recognizing a flutter of sand as a stingray beneath me, hundreds of translucent jellyfish the size of quarters, the power of the Atlantic ocean on full display at Queens Bath, realizing a beer tastes best when you’re experiencing the type of blissful exhaustion only felt after spending hours under the water. I remember the colours — how the sapphire surface of a landlocked blue hole on the northern tip of the island sparkled at noon; the colonies of tiny red shrimp that I was looking at, but not seeing, until I really focused my eyes on the underwater rock walls; fuchsia bougainvillea over white fences; soft pink dawn and marmalade sunsets. I was able to see healthy reefs and lemon sharks, bull sharks, and nurse sharks twice my size. Spending the better part of an hour trying to crack open a coconut and the sweet — albeit lukewarm — taste of success. The race against time as we somehow made it on an international flight having arrived less than 20 minutes from our plane’s scheduled departure at the airport.

I recall snow so bright in late February while I was in Hamilton that it lit up my room at 2am and I remember starting (and nowhere near finishing) a Hamilton bucket list of places I decided were must-sees before graduation. Despite anticipating the cancellation of in-person classes due to COVID-19 — and knowing that was the right call — I, in no way, grasped the gravity of what that meant. I don’t even think it crossed my mind to say goodbye to my housemates on March 13. I suppose it is difficult to understand what a pandemic entails until you’re living through one. Again, I recognize my experience is not the norm and I am very privileged to have my health and a family I can live with (happily). I will never be able to adequately express my gratitude for frontline workers across different industries that have put the lives of others before their own. Taking the vaccine, when it is available, is the very least I can do.

Two internships I was interviewing for were cancelled before they could begin. Spring arrived slowly and the sunshine felt like a gift. Graduation looked different than what I dreamed it would; shaking my dog’s paw in a bikini instead of the University President’s hand while in a gown. Zoom became a verb and I finally learned how to do a 3-way FaceTime. I became far more comfortable in the kitchen and less intimated by the improvisation required when cooking than I was before. My fascination with plants bloomed with a passion, and the obsession was twofold — with ones I could grow in the garden and tropical plants (that now require a makeshift greenhouse, complete with a grow light and humidifier). I planted heirloom tomato seeds in an egg carton and watched them grow, then helped my dad build a new garden and revived the neglected one we had behind the shed. The attention gardening required gave each day a purpose (when I was freshly graduated and very much unemployed), forcing me to slow down and be fully present — reminiscent of raising baby bunnies with formula, as I did a few years prior. I gained a deeper appreciation for those who grow their own food and grow food for others, and the sheer level of skill involved. It was awe-inspiring being able to notice daily changes in the garden, the downright magical transformation brought on by a mere week.

I started learning more about regenerative farming — and how it’s really the only scaleable solution that stands a chance to make a punch in the fight against climate change. This was one of the most exciting things to come out of this year. I’ve always known I was passionate about climate change, but a) without focus on a specific area and b) in a slightly hopeless way — I hadn’t read anything that made me believe we weren’t headed for a very grim future. Due to our “legacy load” of carbon, even if we stop all GHG emissions (which of course, isn’t possible), the “legacy load” will still be there, warming the atmosphere for potentially centuries. So, focusing on reductionist strategies (which is all I hear about in the news) is not enough. To stabilize the earth’s climate, the photosynthesis of plants and the microorganisms in the soil are the most powerful ways to capture the carbon that exists in our atmosphere, which are dependent on soil health. The type of farming that prioritizes soil health the best is based on regenerative principles (which primarily include: reduced tilling, limits on nitrogen fertilizers, use of cover crops, and animal and plant diversity). I highly recommend a documentary on Netflix called Kiss the Ground to learn more.

And then it was summer, and I was thrilled about the potential of soil to save us all, trying to network and not panic about the whole unemployment situation, and spending perhaps too much time in the garden (worth it, because it kept me grounded — no pun intended). I learned that I had a lot more to learn, and work to do, with respect to racial injustice and police brutality. Though this year I recognize that I’m still learning and can always do better, and will continue to try and acknowledge my privilege while using it in a way that is helpful rather than harmful. In mid-July, during what felt like a serendipitous few days, I received offers for different opportunities, and spent the next few months feeling very fortunate to be busy, to be learning. I was happy and hopeful. Thank you to everyone who accepted my phone calls, who invested their time in me, who took a chance on me — I will always be incredibly grateful.

There were salads from the garden and loons at dusk, pink margaritas, and (almost too much) pesto pasta, paragraphs of texts with a boy I hadn’t spoken properly to in years. He peppered me with questions, humoured me by ruminating on Taylor Swift’s Cardigan. We talked Hemingway and idealized versions of Paris, music and books that have shaped us, and he brought a smile to my face that lasted for days. No one else had asked me what paintings stood out to me in d’Orsay or why I feel guilty when I’m in love. I treasured those conversations, the two hour Zoom-turned-phone-call during the thunderstorm when the power went out. It felt big yet make-believe, whatever it was between us.

Meals outdoors with wonderful humans, toes in the pool, lightning storms, jumping in the lake, fresh tomato sandwiches and rainbow caprese, shorts in September, Fairweather deliveries, and the trees starting to turn. Seas of dahlias in the backyard and weekend nursery adventures with my mom. My birthday rolled around and was filled with #distressinglygoodfood and words of affirmation (thanks to my friends for knowing that is my love language and the best gift I could ask for). I remember this guy I went on a few dates with the year prior (and things didn’t work out the way I had hoped) reaching out and wishing me a happy birthday, sending a picture of a craft beer he was drinking that night to celebrate me, which somehow felt like a testament to my character. The smallest Thanksgiving I can remember, sunshine splattered on the lake, and the musky-sweet, crisp smell of fall. I ate the first turkey (not the whole thing, to be clear) I’ve had in five years, because I’ve learned that eating meat from a regenerative farm is doing more for the planet than abstaining from eating meat altogether.

I spent two wonderful weekends in Niagara-on-the-Lake and cursed myself for not doing so sooner — I remember staring at the rows and rows of vines with childlike amusement, wide eyes. I don’t know why it was so fascinating and beautiful, but it was (and the tastings of wine certainly helped). I tasted cab franc in a glass and off the vine, felt small looking at the horizon by the lake, learned I was pronouncing cab sauv wrong. The second weekend spent there was nearly 25 degrees in November (scary, definitely, but glorious). Perhaps that was my most favourite day this year. My happiness reserve was filled up for the next few months with those hours of sunlight filtering through the leaves like an autumnal kaleidoscope, my blouse in the wind as I biked between vineyards, rosé at golden hour. Honeybee by The Head and the Heart was the soundtrack and after the second tasting, I truly felt like the main character. It hurts my heart to remember how serene that day was.

Someone recently asked me what I am most proud of, and my answer was the relationships I have. A relationship merely being a connection that adds value to my life. And 2020 absolutely reinforced that relationships are everything. To those that reached out via social media, over Zoom, picked up the phone to give me a call (despite my Do Not Disturb habit), or spent time 6 feet away to walk/talk in the sun or snow — thank you. I know I’ve developed awful communication tendencies this year — I don’t know why, but with everything that was happening (and also being very much an introvert), I started to crave less human interaction. I think that was maybe some kind of natural response or me adapting to being okay with lockdowns and social distancing. I’m not making excuses for myself — I know I need to pick up the phone more and cut down my response time to texts. But just know, if you felt that I was being distant, it wasn’t personal — it was all me. Here is me vowing to spend 2021 being a better friend, because I couldn’t have kept my head up last year without the love and support and effort my friends made.

I’ve also realized a big part of why I’ve been okay with far less human interaction is due to my family and my workplace. Without COVID-19, I never would have spent as much time with my parents and sister. Sharing movies and meals and finding new stories to uncover. I will treasure those months — the simplicity of searching for the happiness in each new day, together. Moreover, my first full-time job out of university has gone better than I could have imagined — each day is different, and weeks fly by. I don’t end each day craving time to hangout with someone because each day is filled with meetings and work that excites me, challenges me, and leaves me ending each day with a feeling of fulfillment. The personal and professional growth I’ve experienced over the past six months has largely been because of work, and I can’t wait to see what the future holds.

To be clear: I am grateful for all of the aforementioned moments and memories. I will always choose to feel than to not feel at all. I can take the sadness, disappointment, elation, but I can’t take feeling nothing. I started off 2020 incredibly happy and 2021 a tad on the other end of the spectrum — so maybe it’ll have the reverse effect on how the rest of the year goes. Ha. If you made it this far — you’re a superstar, thank you. Also, if our moments didn’t make it in this — it’s not because they didn’t move me, but because I prefer not to name names here, or write about something that’s easily traceable to a specific person.

I may take a while to respond to an Instagram DM or text, but I am always here. Probably best to call — though this year I will do better and will put more effort into the relationships I am so proud to be a part of. Thank you for sticking with me and for keeping me smiling.

Here’s to more life, more love, and hopefully more hugs. Life is too short not to write the letters.

‘Till next year,

L xx