COVID took my neighbor’s mother back in the spring and another 300,000 other Americans since.
The holidays are different this year. Families are grieving and, for those of us not bowling alone and who still believe in community, their losses are all of ours.
As dim as it’s been, we have to rejoice in whatever light we can find and share it with others to see and pass it on down the line.
A few days before Thanksgiving, it killed a friend of mine’s brother, too. Young and healthy, he hardly knew he had it until he couldn’t breathe. My friend is as tough as the nails he hammers at work, but I saw tears well up in his eyes when he told me his brother’s two little girls needed Uncle to step up.
Meantime, we made Grandmama’s sweet potatoes and shared a steak for Thanksgiving. Frying a whole turkey felt extravagant for just us three. Nothing like a normal Thanksgiving reunion in North Georgia. No falling leaves in the white oak woods. But my little family played football and watched Tommy Boy and Royal Tenenbaums.
We started painting the soon-to-be baby brother’s room, too. But after the rain came we found a leak in the window, so we stopped painting to argue some.
Seven hurricanes came this season, and the wooden floor took a licking. John Prine tunes were playing, and we wound up laughing with paint everywhere it shouldn’t be. We forgot to worry about water damage and paint spatter and were better off for it, thanks to the Singing Mailman.
COVID took Prine from us this spring, but first he wrote and sang “Crooked Piece of Time” 42 years ago, and it’s as true today as a fir tree’s leaves are green. Good thing to fish and whistles still true, and wishing for a cigarette nine miles long. And forgiveness, too.
Vaccines are coming, though. Thank you, Dolly Parton. Soon, for the front lines. A bit of other good news is, Dec. 21 marks the winter solstice when days get longer—the oldest celebration in human history, because at the moment we’re furthest from the sun, it draws us closer once again. Light. That’s worth celebrating.
Also, in winter’s night, Orion hunts in the sky and reminds me of the iridescence I noticed in the sand earlier this spring during quarantine: an arrowhead, wet and glistening, that deceased PFC Ryen King dropped there in the creek for me to see.
Finally, we string lights on trees and give gifts to our loved ones. Santa fills in for us where we’ve failed. We do give for a reason, a tradition greater than any ad on television or any sing-along Bing Crosby inspiration. “Merry Christmas” is a synonym for saying “Happy birthday, Jesus.” The Prince of Peace, the perfect person of immaculate conception, who served all without self-interest, only kindness. An ideal for us to emulate. Happy birthday, Jesus, and thank you. I’m sorry we don’t live up to your example of selfless service.
Yet the reason for the season is still delivering us from evil. He may be coming soon, but he hasn’t given up on us just yet. The Casino Man lost the White House, praise God, but it’s not likely that old cur learns repentance before the last dog dies, so let’s fill his great void with fellowship and forgiveness. Let’s wrap up in a quilt of kindness by the fire and just gaze at the flame everlasting. The angel of John Lewis feels close by. The smoke of the old wood smells good, and the fire is warm. Watching it flicker is like sitting by a river. A constant replenishing. We look on, enlightened.
Alpenglow comes first in the morning and, with the blue dawn, a new year. If Sartre and the existentialists can remake a life in a day, imagine what we can do with a whole year.
We’ve a lot to grieve from 2020 and much to repair, but the glimmers of goodness remain in their places. Let’s chase after the light like the forest’s leaping Hart. We hold the light of all those we lost inside us, and we have to shine it for good. Let’s respect our differences and help each other. Let’s light the paths forward as we stumble along in our collective endeavor.
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