Here and Now with Nina Lovel

Do you ever play the “This Time Last Year” (TTLY) game with yourself?


IT’S WHERE YOU LOOK AT THE CALENDAR AND REMEMBER what you were doing a year ago on that day. I’ve played it every day since January 28 of 2020, when I grabbed a screenshot of the new (at the time) Johns Hopkins World Coronavirus Map. The epidemiology-nerd in me sensed that something big was at hand, but the reality-nerd in me will never get over how big it actually got. 

February brought stories of worldly contagion from which I felt safe right here in Rome, Georgia, until suddenly I did not. As the virus crept through neighboring counties and into our own, life became a surreal blur of “this can’t really be happening”, and I stumbled into March with one eye on the news and the other on everything around me. 

I began doing things for the last time not realizing that they would actually BE the last time (remember that “two weeks to flatten the curve” thing?), and these are now the memories that pop up in that TTLY game. Visions of my last in-person worship (03/08/2020), last jazz night (03/12/2020), last day at work on campus (03/13/2020), appear, only to fade into the year-long fog of working from the dining room table and missing my kids, my grands and my friends. 

It’s not healthy to dwell on these memories. They’ve made me cry and they’ve made me stop taking things for granted, but most of all they’ve made me realize that there’s not room for them in my mind. They’ve taken up space that I need for more practical things, like where did I put the keys to my bike rack? Quelled, they must be. 

Not wanting to lose them altogether though, I looked for a positive spin and managed to work that out.

Now when I played TTLY I would think, “I’m so glad that I…” 

• Went to church on March 8, 

• Went to jazz night on March 12, 

• Understood the virus well enough to accept the shutdown on March 13, 

• Took time off for my granddaughter Maddie to come visit (it was the first time she wanted to come by herself ), 

• Prayed every day for healing in the world and comfort for the heartbreak, and 

• Stayed in and did what it took to stay well. 

And “I wish that I had…” 

• Stayed more active because I stopped running and sat still for too long and now I have catching up to do, 

• Worked more on the cookbook (it’s still not ready), and done more yard work, but oh well. 

Next thing you know, a funny thing happened; my playful mind created another game called “This Time TEN Years Ago” (TTTYA). In contrast to TTLY, the memories in TTTYA rolled in happy and soul-nourishing. I didn’t have to spin them. Even back in the cold wet winter of 2011, the sun shone on days filled with good health, lifetime adventures and personal victories. 

That was the year I trained up and conquered the New York City Triathlon. My kids and my friends cheered me across the finish line, and the things I did that year redefined the trajectory, the quality and, I am convinced, the length of my life.

TTTYA I learned to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. Highs in the 40s? No problem; the Berry Cage Center pool was indoors. Out of breath while running? Inhalers and more attention to pacing saved the day. Time management? I kept up my full-time work schedule plus adjunct teaching and jazz nights and did my swimming, biking and running in the margins. 

Looking back I realize it was so easy to do this because I was so much younger, but the self-knowledge and core health brought by the journey will last for whatever decades will come.

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My TTTYA (2011) reflections go like this: 

• I’m so glad that in 2011… 

• I took a chance and signed up for the triathlon 

• I did all that swimming, biking and running that strengthened my body and mind in ways that are still with me today 

• I learned it can be fun to step outside my comfort zone 

• I learned to be comfortable with being uncomfortable, because uncomfortable is going to happen and I might as well be ready.

 Okay, I see you glancing at the top of the page and wondering why I keep talking about the past when the title is “What Comes Next?” Your wait is over; here we go! 

See what I did above? I looked back for one year and then for ten years, and listed the things I’m glad I did and some I wish I’d done. Easy, right? Do this for yourself; the lists do not have to be long, but they do have to be about you. What are you glad you did in 2020? What are you glad you did ten years ago? Simple is fine; you may add your “why’s” if you wish but not required. 

Now pivot and go into your future. Go forward a year, to March of 2022. Imagine you’re sitting right where you are, but it’s now 2022 instead of 2021. What are you glad that you did this past year? What do you wish you had done? Use the template below and again, simple is best. 

You see this coming… next you’re ten years from now, in March of 2031. (How ludicrous does that sound?) If you have a valid reason that you don’t expect to see that year, pick one that you do, but realistically, most of us will still be kicking in ten years. My term life insurance won’t still be around, but I plan to be. 

There’s a name for this process; it’s called backcasting. It’s like forecasting, only you predict your life by looking back from the future. It’s much healthier than living in the past, and once you get your head around the concept you’ll find it positive, productive, hopeful and fun, not to mention it makes a great “to-do” list! 

Author’s note: I picked March 13th because (a) 2020 shutdown date, (b) 1993 blizzard date, and (c) when it lands on a Friday, all bets are off.

Nina’s One Year Backcast, from March 13, 2022 

• I’m glad I got my vaccine in 2021; it gave me the confidence to ease back into the world, even if we still wore masks most of the year. Confidence is a great mood-enhancer. 

• Even though it was hard because I had sat still for a year, I’m glad I got back on my road bike and also started running again. Exercise is a great mood-enhancer and adds life to my years. 

• I’m glad I refinanced and reorganized to make retirement easier whenever I decide it’s something I want to do. 

• I’m really really glad I finally finished our family cookbook because the kids love it and it’s even on some bookstore shelves!

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Nina’s Ten Year Backcast, from March 13, 2031 

• It was a good decision to switch from running to walking in 2023; I feel just as good and it’s easier on my joints. 

• I’m glad I started taking Calcium, Vitamin D and Prolia twelve years ago, because I’m still keeping osteoporosis at bay. 

• I’m glad I made time to hang out with baby Winn, because we have such a special bond. 

• I’m glad that Maddie and I have fostered our long-distance bond; she gives me such hope for the future. 

• I’m glad I updated my term life insurance when I was ten years younger, to help me have a good send-off and leave a little sumpin’ extra for the kids. Enough about me; it’s your turn now! Grab a pen and make these your own!

Your One Year Backcast, from March 13, 2022: 

I’m glad I _________________________ in 2021 because _______________________. Even though it was hard because ___________________, I’m glad I __________________ in 2021. I’m glad we rescheduled _____________ that we had to cancel in 2020 because __________________________. If I had not ___________________ in 2021, I would not be ____________ right now. Since it opened back up I have not missed a _______________________________ and I will never take it for granted again. 

Your Ten Year Backcast, from March 13, 2031: 

I’m glad I decided to _______________________ ten years ago, because it’s given me __________________. I have gained such pleasure from ___________________over the last ten years. I’m glad I made time to __________________________ since 2021 because ____________________. It was a good decision to __________________ in 2024 because ___________________. I’m glad that I redesigned _____________________ in 2025 because ____________________. The question: 

What Comes Next? 

The answer: (See your list, above.)

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