20 of ’20: #20. Estonia

This is my second annual “Best Of” series of year-end posts. Some, I assume, will be brief. Some longer. All, varying degrees of serious. I’ll try my best not to use the words or phrases “unprecedented,” “new normal,” or “unpresidented”, but I can’t make any promises.


I’m cheating a bit on this one, because the first eight days of January were a continuation of my 2019 post-Christmas trip to Tartu. But a week isn’t an insignificant amount of time within a year, so I think I’m well within my bounds to include it in my top 20 moments/things of the year.

In reality, much of the rest of the year was spent longing to return to my vacation “home away from home.” As the random January reports of a virus in Asia turned into heightened concern of a worldwide pandemic in February, I did what every good poor, budget traveler does, and took advantage of plummeting airfares by purchasing tickets for my birthday week in September. Surely, I reasoned, we would figure a way to manage this thing within a few months. Sadly, mounting hospitalizations and deaths weren’t enough to keep many us at home or to compel us to place pieces of fabric over our mouths for the good of our neighbors, and so borders remained closed. My return has been “on the horizon” ever since. Right now, the horizon looks like May.

I did manage, back when we all thought we we should become at-home Facebook and IG Live stars, to get in a good conversation with my friends Simone and Sasha from Barlova in March, where we talked about the pandemic, the bar, and how to support local businesses during lean times. (I didn’t know how it worked, so I had to save the conversation on an unusually large QuickTime file.) On many Sundays I watch the worship service of Salem Baptist Church, where I understand roughly 1% of everything that is being said, but remind myself that the worship of God isn’t about how much we do or don’t understand. And I spend probably an inordinate amount of time staring at the Live Cam from Raekoja Plats (City Center) in Tartu, hoping to see some of my friends walk by.

I try to remind myself, however, that I am privileged to only have missed out on an overseas trip to a beloved place this year. Perspective has been helpful. Students missed graduations, grandparents missed the births and milestones of their grandkids, and far too many people missed the laughter and stories at the dinner table from someone who died alone in the hospital, missing the dignity of a loved one holding their hands as they passed from one world into the next. Of all the things we remember 2020 for, I think the longing for what was missing will be among the most prominent.

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