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The indefinite temporary: 2020 teaches lessons in gratitude, personal growth

A man walks around the woods during a hike.

Nick DeCicco, 60th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs Tailwind editor, hikes Oct. 11, 2020, at Rockville Hills Regional Park in Fairfield, California. Amid a chaotic year, DeCicco found hiking to be an activity in which he can self-reflect and grow as a person. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Jonathon Carnell)

A man is touching a map near the beginning of a trail.

Nick DeCicco, 60th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs Tailwind editor, hikes an unknown trail at Rockville Hills Regional Park in Fairfield, California, Oct. 11, 2020. Amid a chaotic year, DeCicco found hiking to be an activity in which he can self-reflect and grow as a person. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Jonathon Carnell)

A man stares off into the woods during a hike.

Nick DeCicco, 60th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs Tailwind editor, gazes out over the Rockville Hills Regional Park in Fairfield, California, Oct. 11, 2020. Amid a chaotic year, DeCicco found hiking to be an activity in which he can self-reflect and grow as a person. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Jonathon Carnell)

A man stares off into the woods during a hike.

Nick DeCicco, 60th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs Tailwind editor, gazes out over Rockville Hills Regional Park in Fairfield, California, Oct. 11, 2020. Amid a chaotic year, DeCicco found hiking to be an activity in which he can self-reflect and grow as a person. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Jonathon Carnell)

A man looks in to the camera and grins.

Nick DeCicco, 60th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs Tailwind editor, poses for a photo Oct. 11, 2020, at Rockville Hills Regional Park in Fairfield, California. Amid a chaotic year, DeCicco found hiking to be an activity in which he can self-reflect and grow as a person. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Jonathon Carnell)

A man hiking on a trail.

Nick DeCicco, 60th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs Tailwind editor, hikes Rockville Hills Regional Park in Fairfield, California, Oct. 11, 2020. Amid a chaotic year, DeCicco found hiking to be an activity in which he can self-reflect and grow as a person. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Jonathon Carnell)

A man takes a drink of water during a hike.

Nick DeCicco, 60th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs Tailwind editor, takes a break from hiking to rehydrate at Rockville Hills Regional Park in Fairfield, California, Oct. 11, 2020. Amid a chaotic year, DeCicco found hiking to be an activity in which he can self-reflect and grow as a person. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Jonathon Carnell)

TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. --

In April, as much of the world was cooped up indoors, waiting out the first, deadly batch of cases during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, I was binge watching every episode of the classic American TV show “M*A*S*H.”

One of my favorite episodes follows the gang at the 4077th through 1951 in a series of chronological snapshots—doctors innovate a machine to treat kidneys, a knitting project evolves from a potholder into a blanket and Maj. Charles Emerson Winchester III bets overconfidently on a Brooklyn Dodgers team that lost on the final day of the season.

Revisiting the show was a nostalgia trip from my childhood. It was a respite in what ranks among the most tumultuous years of our lives.

Recently, I looked back over 2020, taking some snapshots of my own.

On New Year’s Day, I hiked up a nearby hill to watch the sunrise. I had no idea how many times I would return to that same spot in 2020.

In February and March, Travis AFB was among the first places in the nation to confront the coronavirus pandemic as Americans quarantined at the base’s Westwind Inn hotel.

When the pandemic began uprooting all of our lives in mid-March, putting many out of work and leaving others telecommuting, our plans for the future turned into question marks. A goal I set at the end of 2018–to hike to the summit of Half Dome in Yosemite National Park this summer–vanished.

In April, as I stayed indoors and watched “M*A*S*H,” I realized so much about the pandemic was beyond my control: the economic turbulence, working from home, the closure of parks and trails I enjoyed and the vacant Bay Area concert venues in which I’ve spent so much time.

I focused instead on what was within my control. It’s been a time for self-reflection and introspection. I’ve poured my energy into my mental, emotional and spiritual health. My friend called life during the pandemic “the indefinite temporary.” We don’t know how long it will last, but we know it won’t be forever.

In March, April and May, I hiked trails close to home, such as my New Year’s Day spot, watching the lush, green landscapes of winter recede into dry yellow and brown hills.

I grew tired of hiking the same areas, but worked to appreciate the fact that I could take refuge in the trails, that I was healthy and that I had a safe place to be during a pandemic.

The summer months were a time to connect with my values after the death of George Floyd, and the nationwide Black Lives Matter marches and protests. I read and learned, working to evolve my ideas and viewpoints in the same way I was my own internal life.

As the protests lasted into late summer, the yellow and brown hills through which I hike became prime real estate for a voracious and deadly fire season. I limited my hiking because of the poor air quality, but that sacrifice is minimal compared to others, some of whom lost so much more.

The fires and smoke meant even more time inside. This time, I watched the Stanley Cup playoffs. Unlike Major Winchester, I thankfully did not bet on my own “boys of summer,” the Colorado Avalanche, who were a favorite to play for the Stanley Cup, but instead exited the postseason earlier than expected.

I’ve been fortunate that I have not felt the impact of the calamity of 2020 to the same extent as others. I feel as though I’ve hit the accelerator pad on years of emotional, mental and spiritual progress. My time out on the hiking trails creates a space similar to meditation, a place to get distance from the plethora of problems 2020 presents, to clear my mind and reflect.

I don’t know what lies on the other side of our “indefinite temporary,” but I feel like the work I’ve done in 2020 has prepared me for it. It’s made me discover resources and depths within myself I didn’t know I had. It’s given me gratitude and perspective.

And it’s given me resolve. Half Dome is not going anywhere. I don’t know when it will happen, but I remain committed to standing on top of it.

As we look ahead to 2021, Col. Sherman Potter’s words from the “M*A*S*H” episode convey my hopes for us all: “Here’s to the new year. May she be a damn sight better than the old one.”