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Opinion >  Column

Shawn Vestal: A year haunted by all that we did not do

Talk about cancel culture.

Our calendar of events was cleared completely by COVID.

Bloomsday. Get Lit! The Friends of Manito Plant Sale.

The Spokane Bike Swap and Expo. The YWCA’s Spring Fling fund-raiser.

The Shadle Park Spring Craft Show. The Spokane Speed and Custom Show.

From our largest traditions to our smallest gatherings – canceled. It’s been a year haunted by the not-done, the rain check, the unperformed.

A year without festivals – without Hoopfest and ArtFest and Musicfest Northwest and the Coeur d’Alene Blues Festival and the Spokane Blues Festival.

A year without concerts – without Cher or Allen Stone or Sleater-Kinney or Ronnie Milsap or The Flaming Lips or Wilco.

A year without dinner and a show. Without movies out or theater. Without “The Book of Mormon” or “Jersey Boys” at the First Interstate Center. Without “Matilda” at the Lake City Playhouse or “Cabaret” at the Civic Theatre.

Canceled. The things we do every year – undone. The special events we planned for – unscheduled. All the connections we make with our people – unconnected. At best, we Zoomed.

A lost year.

It started a little more than 12 months ago, as it was becoming more and more obvious that the pandemic was big trouble. The governor would not issue his stay-home order until March 23, but the cancellations and postponements were already piling up.

Looking back, it is striking how many organizations announced that they were merely postponing things, rescheduling events for a few months down the road. Before long, it became pointless to keep track of what was canceled and what was not.

Everything was.

The big, broad effects of those cancellations have gotten the lion’s share of the attention, naturally – schools shut down, restaurants shuttered, workplaces emptied. The major losses to life and well-being have been the rightful focus.

But there’s been a massive loss in cultural, community events, too.

Almost all of the gatherings that signal our seasons and rescue us from solitude – gone. Graduations. Potlucks. Proms. Weddings. Funerals – in the darkest of ironies, in a year of such loss, even our ways of grieving together have been lost.

Chess club and Math is Cool and volleyball. Poetry readings and car shows. Fairgrounds and libraries. Gyms and senior centers. Climbing walls and rec-league sports and drinks out with co-workers.

Hooptown lost its hoops. The NCAA tournament was canceled, and with it Spokane’s round of games. Hoopfest was postponed, then canceled. As the pandemic dragged on, a particular cruelty was visited on Spokane basketball fans, as the undefeated Zags – the apotheosis of a decadeslong development of a basketball dynasty – composed their perfect season before cardboard fans, in echoing gymnasiums.

The sacrifices were necessary, of course. The greater losses, to life and well-being, compelled them, and still do. And yet these past 12 months have been so strange, so divorced from the community’s cycle of life, that it has left us starved for culture and connection.

Will we get that back soon? Stand shoulder-to-shoulder at a Wilco concert, crowd into the Cracker Building for Terrain, see “Cats” again, swarm around the gleaming engines at a car show or see our neighbors at a flower sale or bingo game? Stay out too late at a bar, pack a table a little too full at a restaurant? Hear the roar at the McCarthey Center or Reese Court or Union Stadium?

Of course we will. We’re getting there now, though it could not possibly come fast enough. The calendar will fill, and our points of connection and culture and community will return.

We’ll arrive there, in that life of the uncanceled calendar, on the other side of this lost year, as though we are landing on a lovely new shore. A place we know well, seen as if for the first time, with fonder hearts and fresh eyes and a raging hunger to be among each other once again.

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