To push through difficult days, in the depths of my dark winter, I started to coordinate events in my head that I thought I could plan ahead to, giving me a sense of purpose and normalcy for our future. Let’s all chuckle together at this, since 2020 demonstrated over and over again, we cannot plan too far in advance. You know, just in case there is a global health pandemic that shuts down the world, erasing our best plans.

But in the winter months, coronavirus seemed foreign and far away. I never thought of it. I plowed through each day after our son's accident, first hour by hour and then day by day. I needed to plan to feel a sense of future normalcy.

To escape a bit, I skipped ahead in my day-dream planning to the month of August, just before we would move Hunter back to Grand Forks, N.D., for football season, his final year of college and his birthday.

His 23rd birthday could be a big bash. In past college year birthdays, we kept his birthday celebrations simple during fall football camp. This year, in my winter planning escape mode, I thought of renting a banquet style room, maybe booking a band and having a large spread of food. Getting Hunter back to the University of North Dakota for his senior year was the big goal we set for ourselves. Once we got there, we'd celebrate with a big bash, I quietly thought.

But, you know how this all played out over the past six months.

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First, I don’t regret thinking ahead in my dark days. I believe in all circumstances, we must continue to look ahead and think positively of and for the future.

We’ll have big family gatherings and birthday bashes again, just not safely in 2020.

Second, I learned more than ever before to let go of what is expected and to be in the moment. Cliché, but true.

Hunter’s birthday and return to UND still happened last week. Instead of the big bash, we celebrated in a barley field.

I also realized hosting a big birthday bash would have exhausted me. I learned after trauma, even though physically nothing happened to me, that just the emotional toll demands my body and our family to rest, to do less. Being home for the past five months healed us in bigger ways than I could have known or planned for this winter.

A birthday party with a field meal during harvest? Perfectly planned and better than anything I could know we needed back in my dark days of winter.

Birthday celebrations in the field last happened in Hunter’s early childhood years, before he was a football player with practices on his birthday. A birthday party in the field felt nostalgic.

When Hunter and the rest of our family arrived, the harvest crew had stopped for the birthday supper.

Juneberry cream pie, made by Jane Lukens for Hunter Pinke's 23rd birthday celebration in a barley field.  Photo taken Aug. 20, 2020. (Katie Pinke / Agweek)
Juneberry cream pie, made by Jane Lukens for Hunter Pinke's 23rd birthday celebration in a barley field. Photo taken Aug. 20, 2020. (Katie Pinke / Agweek)
Our friend, Alisha, who operates the local Aneta Café with her family and whose husband is a part of my parents' farm team, delivered bacon cheeseburgers with baked beans and potato chips in individual containers for each of us. My mom cut Hunter’s requested birthday dessert, Juneberry cream pie, handing each of us a large piece of pure summer deliciousness.

I paused and stepped back from the group.

In this harvest moment, I felt clarity, more than I had all of 2020. The COVID-19 clearing of calendars gave our family healing time, and the simple birthday party in the field was better than any big bash I would have previously planned.

My husband stood next to Hunter, who sat in his wheelchair in the barley straw. My dad sat on a cooler. Our farm team, like extended family to us, sat with our family as we sang “Happy Birthday” to Hunter.

And even in the perfect summer moment, I left myself plan ahead to next year, wondering if we could make my dad’s combine adaptable for Hunter by his next birthday.

Thinking ahead gives me hope. Celebrating in the moment brings me joy today. I hope you find your hope in the future and celebrate the joys in your present.

Pinke is the publisher and general manager of Agweek. She can be reached at kpinke@agweek.com, or connect with her on Twitter @katpinke.