Looking Back on 2021

On some levels, it is so easy to say “good riddance” to 2021. It was a year of so many losses and catastrophes. Escalating global health crises, social isolation, and environmental disasters profoundly changed our world and lives in unpredictable ways. Despite the costs involved, those of us in relatively privileged circumstances turned to technology as a way to work and connect with others.

For me, it was a time of painful losses. But 2021 also brought many blessings I never could have imagined – reconnection to friends and colleagues from the past and opportunities to make new connections that enabled me to explore the world. I was forced outside of my comfort zone as a technophobe (although not a luddite) by the need to solve technological puzzles in order to communicate and connect. Of course, I have yet to learn how to use the block editor in WordPress, and I wonder if I will ever make the time for that endeavor…

Some of the 2021 losses were almost more than I could bear. My beloved companion, Pinto, passed in July.

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Pinto – February 17, 2014 – his second winter with me – “the winter of the polar vortex

I realized after his passing that he is irreplaceable.

My little parakeet, Queenie, has had to fill the empty space Pinto’s death left in my life. Of course, I can’t take Queenie on neighborhood walks, so I don’t go out very often these days. My connections to my daughter and grandchildren have also changed. They’ve become remote, the result of our differing choices for dealing with COVID, both made because of our love and concern for the wellbeing of others.

I have shed a lot of tears, but I have also experienced moments of joy and found many reasons for gratitude. I can’t list them all here, but I want all of my blogging friends to know that you have enriched my life in so many ways. There are a few I would like to thank for unexpected gifts of connection.

Early in 2021, I was asked by a dear blogging friend, Robyn, to be part of a Yarning Circle to honor connections to the land where we were standing. The experience widened my horizons and introduced me to new friends and a better understanding of the wisdom and challenges of Indigenous Peoples in Australia. I am deeply grateful to Robyn, David, Sheila, and Annette for sharing their knowledge and stories. Chi miigwetch (Ojibwe “thank you”) for your kind and welcoming presence.

Not too long after Robyn’s kind invitation, I received an email from a friend and colleague from my university days, Mel Morgenbesser. He reached out to me in his role for Alumni Relations and Development for the School of Social Work, UW – Madison. He asked if I could write a brief article about myself for the online newsletter the School published. I told him I would think about it but let him know I was buried in student papers and wasn’t sure I could promise to do anything soon. I sent him a copy of my resume (Curriculum Vitae in “academic speak”) and a link to a few things on my blog to consider. Mel graciously took the initiative to pull the pieces together and drafted an article on his own:


Mel’s kindness touched me deeply. Ultimately, his article led to another gift that I will return to after acknowledging another unexpected reconnection.

In a recent post, I briefly mentioned my experiences on a commune. In part, those memories were triggered by another email in September from a friend I hadn’t heard from for several years, Judy. She asked if I would be willing to review a book a friend of hers had written. Once again, buried in student papers, I told her that although the book sounded interesting, I couldn’t make any promises to take on other responsibilities because I was too busy teaching. She replied, “That’s okay. I was just looking for an excuse to reconnect.” And that was the beginning of our long phone conversations every other week.

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Reflections about our friendship and shared experiences deserve a separate post, but again, here I am, faced with too much work at the beginning of another semester. Let me just say that her presence in my life has continued to be a blessing. I look forward to our scheduled time together with eager anticipation on alternate Mondays. We arrived on a rural Massachusetts commune from very different places as young mothers of mixed ancestry toddlers. Together with another mother from Montreal, we started a daycare center for more than 20 children and then, each went on to other things.

Judy and I got jobs in a city 50 miles away from the commune and still laugh about the adventures we shared hitchhiking to and from work. I remember looking up in awe at the clouds in a clear blue sky as we hiked along the interstate on June days while we waited for our next ride. We both had two jobs at the same places for a while, a fancy restaurant, and a greasy spoon less than a mile away.

Yet, things changed. As the commune became ever more successful, we found ourselves in different positions with little time or opportunity to stay in touch even before we both left and ended up in different states. I severed my ties with people from the commune for many years, reconnected briefly, and then said goodbye to past connections and Facebook forever. But the connection with Judy remains deeper, different, and special. Reconnecting is an unexpected gift.

In November, another thoughtful email opened up a new opportunity. Mel’s article included a link to my blog. Chelsea (Schlecht) Rademacher, Senior Writer and Publications Manager for the Wisconsin Foundation and Alumni Association, read Mel’s article and visited my blog. She asked if I would be willing to write a poem for the November issue of Badger Vibes.

I agreed to try, adding that I didn’t see myself as a poet, but sometimes words flowed through me in a way fit into a poetic format. Chelsea was a joy to work with and I want to express my deep gratitude to her for the opportunity. Here is a link to her lovely work:


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As I looked back at 2021 to say a final goodbye today, I am grateful for gifts of connections to friends old and new, and for the opportunity I had to work in partnership with dear colleagues and exceptional students who have so many gifts to offer others in the years ahead. Sending my heartfelt thanks to all who made the journey kinder and worthwhile.

31 thoughts on “Looking Back on 2021

  1. 1) A lovely, important poem, Carol. 2) So glad some connections got even better. 3) Pinto was adorable! 4)(but not least) I’m sorry about the remoteness that has entered into your family, as it has in too many, and hope it gets better in time. May your ’22 be a year of much joy.

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  2. Oh, Carol, it has been a deeply moving year, indeed. I am glad you had some positive experiences to balance out the painful ones. I lost 6 people in my family, including my mother and my first husband – so many opportunities to reflect on relationship, impermanence, and my own mortality in the process. Many, many other events, just like in your life as well; it’s difficult to find the time and space to reflect on one event before it is superseded by the next one. I am glad you took the time to reflect in this post.

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    1. Dear Annette, thank you so much for your kind words. I am so sorry to hear about all of the losses you have lived through during the past. year. As you point out, it is hard to find time to reflect and balance in between losses and daily doses of bad news. It felt important for me thank at least some of the people who have made the past year bearable. And I am grateful for the chance we had to connect and hope we will have a chance to do so this year as well. Sending my gratitude and best wishes to you! 💜

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      1. It seems like this sense of gratitude is spreading 🙂 I wrote a 3-page letter to my 96 year-old (ex) mother-in-law for her birthday to let her know my appreciation for her and the memories I have of her. Then I encouraged several of her grand children to do the same. Let’s not wait until her funeral to do this! She needs to hear what she means to others now, while she is still alive. A practice of gratitude and appreciation really slows us down, and is a gift we not only give to the recipient but also to ourselves. Grateful for your presence, too, Carol.

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  3. A great read Carol, as always. Sorry to read about Pinto’s passing. End of year is always a time for reflection, both joyfull and sorrowful. I’m grateful for the support of my family and friends since the death of my wife, Christine on 2nd December, just had her funeral and I’m feeling lost just now. However, because we can reflect on the past, I have many wonderful memories to hold in my heart. I hope the new year brings you good health and happiness and… keep writing, you are a delight to follow. Love from over the pond xxx

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    1. Ah, dear Pat. I was so sorry to hear about Christine. I always loved reading the kind and gentle way you referenced her in your posts (“the lovely Christine”). I am so grateful for your friendship over the years. Sending hugs, love, and blessings, dear friend. Please know you are in my thoughts and please stay in touch! 💜


  4. Despite how difficult the year was, finding gifts is important, Carol. They’re always there if we look for them. I wish us all a much improved 2022 as we bring the best of the last year with us and leave the rest behind. Hugs.

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    1. Ah, Diana, it’s always delightful to hear from you! I loved reading through the responses to your “TBR” challenge – such a wonderful idea that sparked so many creative responses. Yes, there are always new things to learn, even in the darkest times. Reading and nature have always fed my spirit with new things to explore and decipher. Thank you for your kind words and blessings. Sending my gratitude, hugs, and best wishes to you, too. 💜

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      1. Thanks, Carol. It I didn’t find ways to have fun and engage, I’d be so depressed about the state of the world, that I’d barely be able to function. Thank you for all you do to lift the consciousness of those around you. You’re one of the hope-bringers. ❤

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  5. My dad always says take the bitter with the sweet, and you seem to be living that for sure. Some good things HAVE come out of 2021, and even 2020, unbelievably, but that’s always the case, right? It can’t all be all bad! And although your dog has moved on, thanks for sharing the opera video. What a set of pipes he had on him, lol !! 🙂 🙂 🙂 Fond memories.

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