The year I turned twenty-one, the magical age when I could legally drink in the state of Oregon, my sister phoned to congratulate me and tell me how the day wouldn’t be all that special. “It’s just like any other,” she said. “You think you’re going to be different but you’re not.” Her wisdom spoiled the excitement I’d been feeling up to that point, and I wondered why she’d wanted to share such thoughts. I think I can count on one hand the number of times my sister has phoned me—probably the number of times I’ve spoken to her on the phone, too. And I don’t know if that’s because of her or because of me. Perhaps, mutual neglect binds us.

Shortly after that call, though, I set off to classes and to study at the library. On the way back to my room—in a rambling Victorian beauty—I made my first purchase of beer, enough for myself, my roommates, and to celebrate. Other than that purchase, the day turned out as ordinary as my sister had predicted. I didn’t even get drunk.

Her words have cast a long shadow, though. Not altogether dark. I’ve used them to console myself on birthdays considered hard: the shock of turning thirty, the disbelief of turning forty, the dismay of turning fifty, and the denial of turning sixty. The last happened in 2020.

I’ve also thought of them at the start of each new year, especially this one. Appropriate, isn’t it, recalling my sister’s words as the 21st century turns twenty-one?

So little seems to have changed from yesterday to today. Still, in a time when the devil of disaster spins close at hand, contrasts abound. I experienced dread and anxiousness last year, yet every morning, I woke with a tingle, happy to come into another day healthy and unscathed. I lost no one close to me, no family member or friend, but was denied access to them. Their absence made me ache for their company and long for “normal” times. I continued to work, having everything I needed already set up at home, but had to share my space with other family members working at home—their presence comforting. I sent off my stories, sticking to a rigorous schedule I’d created for myself at the prompting of several writers I’d met at the start of the year. Thanks to their encouragement to submit my work, many of my pieces found homes, one even earning a nomination for the prestigious Pushcart.

I’m pinching myself for last year’s personal successes. I’m also right back at my desk, my head down. There’s much work to do.

There are also last-year worries unrelated to the pandemic. Maybe this year is an opportunity for improvement or at least stability. I hope things don’t repeat themselves or worsen—

Ah, I’m being secretive; for that, I apologize; but here’s the lesson: this private concern and the pandemic have taught me that the list of Things Not to Take for Granted burns as long and bright as a comet’s tail. The cosmos of the unknown can be fearfully dark and unfathomable, yet it’s constellated with bright twinkles of hope. Fixations. Destinations.

How extraordinary for the ordinary to radiate so brightly in our lives, every day a pulse of light like any other—yet like no other.