For most, the holiday season is a time of tradition, whether it be shopping for Christmas trees or making latkes for Hanukkah or something else entirely. In my family, and in my life in general, there have been very few yearly traditions, because circumstances surrounding a given day rarely unfold in exactly the same way 365 days later.
As this year draws to a close, I have been reflecting on my relationship with new routines in a chaotic world—how exactly is one supposed to grapple with daily patterns that offer only a semblance of sameness, immersed in an ever-changing environment? In adjusting my perspective, I realized that an appreciation for change and the alteration of routine is the only steadfast “tradition” that I have chosen to maintain. The only thing that has been consistent is that no year is the same as the next.
I’ve never been one for structure, and yet in the early months of quarantine, I slipped into a routine without noticing. Every morning, I’d have coffee and guilty-pleasure belVitas with my mom and dad. My brother and I would inevitably squabble at some point in the day, only to knock on the other’s door fifteen minutes later inquiring about what our next activity would be. I would arrive at my wit’s end with Zoom classes, struggling through problem set after problem set before finally throwing in the towel, shutting my computer screen, and folding the arms of my blue light glasses.
Just before sunset, I’d throw on some grubby Converse with my monochromatic tracksuit—some days blue, others pink—channeling early 2000s Paris Hilton, minus the Chihuahua. I’d sprint down the block, following the hideous squawk of wild parrots that had been flying past my window and disrupting my workflow all day. Stopping dead in the middle of the road, panting, I would take a few minutes to look up. The same pandemonium of parrots would always be sitting in the trees, traveling in pairs, with red feathers lining the sides of their heads. Over time, I came to appreciate their cacophony of shrieks. I researched their behavior online, listened to changes in their tones, and began to consider their existence in my small-town, Coronado Island home.
These parrots are not native to the area, and it’s posited that the remaining parrots escaped either from the San Diego Zoo or people’s houses in small, gradual migrations before populating several of the surrounding neighborhoods. No one really knows for sure, but what’s obvious is that they were resourceful and smart enough to adjust to an unfamiliar environment—enough to increase their population size and flourish in an inhospitable environment. At one point, there were probably just a few, but they’ve expanded their pandemonium and now capture an audience when perched atop telephone wires or when making a scene with their calls, governing people’s days and bugging the crap out of them.
In moments when I felt immense discomfort with the changes that this year had brought, I would pause to observe these birds who made a home for themselves against all odds, becoming a permanent fixture and a bit of a spectacle for the residents of my town. Watching the pandemonium of parrots just before sunset every evening, I was struck by their adaptability: their creation of new routines, new eating habits, new areas to inhabit on the island over time. As the sunlight diffused across the sky in a continuous stroke of purple to blue, the parrots would fly off, a pair at a time.
Parrots are monogamous and mate for life. Every once in a while on my walks, I’d hear a parrot squawk in a different tone—one of deep anguish and melancholy. As I instinctively raised my head toward the sky, my eyes would always be greeted by a singular parrot that had lost either the pandemonium or its mate. Eventually, I’d usually see the parrot reunite with another bird in the distance. This served as a continuous reminder that everything in life is temporary. Life is constantly in flux, and whether we realize it or not, this year has only evinced what the rest of nature already knew.
Many people attempt to maintain previously-established routines or traditions to ground themselves during unprecedented times, an effort that has always seemed futile to me. The unpredictability of the world is difficult to grasp, yet conditions like a pandemic force us to reckon with why we put so much faith in consistency, and why we should reconsider. That’s not to say we won’t solidify new patterns—it would be hard not to—but we can’t expect circumstances to remain fixed. After all, the things we hold as constants in our lives can be upended at a moment’s notice, and like it or not, there’s very little that can be done about it.
All the things that have come to an end for me this year—an in-person school year, living with my family over quarantine, an anticipated summer camp counselor job, and a study abroad session—reminded me of the dangers of relying on things staying the same forever. My high school physics teacher took care to impress upon me and my classmates that the universe tends toward disorder, and for good reason. Although he was talking about thermodynamics, this principle can be observed in all aspects of ordinary life: plans, reputations, careers, and lifestyles can take years to build and only seconds to come crashing down. In the wake of seemingly devastating destruction comes an uncertainty that can consume us and threaten our small-minded, inflexible outlooks. Despite our precarious situations, at the end of the day, we—singular parrots flitting aimlessly across the sky—will discover ways to go on until we manage to find comfort within pandemonium.
This December, returning to California from New Haven after four months, I probably won’t encounter the parrots on the same trees where I left them at the end of this summer. I’ll fall into new routines, or none at all. Looking back at my camera roll from a year ago, it’s highly unlikely that I’ll do any of the same things I was doing last December. Only one thing is for certain: I’ll close off the final days of the longest and shortest, best and worst year of my life with the knowledge that change can become a tradition one adheres to unfailingly. Ultimately, change is the only tradition I know.