It will be a different Christmas this year

I have struggled to find my voice this week, emotions and feelings are mixed. Every time I start to write, I end up down the rabbit hole of COVID. Like some toxic vapor, it has insidiously seeped into virtually every facet of our lives. It is the proximate cause of my mental discomfiture.

The story I struggle with is a personal one; it is also a selfish one. I want the world to be my way. It is not, too many things are beyond my control. There it is again, that damned disease. Its impact is not just direct and physical, which it certainly is. Millions have been infected, many have become ill and been hospitalized, too many have died of complications associated with its pathology. Yet this is only half the story.

The other part, the intimate one, is what it has done to us psychologically, socially and spiritually. We are different today than we were a year ago. There is an angst that lies over us like some weighted blanket. Virtually any decision is affected. Is it smart to meet friends? Is the gym safe? Should I attend church? Is it worth the risk to do…anything?

So mostly we stay at home. And here I will admit that I have probably lived my life as fully as is possible today, so my lamentations might ring hollow to someone who has been truly sequestered by the pandemic because of severe underlying conditions. It has no place in comparison to a family that has experienced the death of a loved one. But there it is: I still feel betrayed by the “new normal.”

Personally, the impact has been more subtle, not the “in-your-face, I will destroy your life” effect. Rather it has skewed the picture. Mostly, it has removed the things that have tied me to community, friends, and family. Existence has become a black-and-white photo, barren of color.

There are few collective gatherings. I have missed football. We always went to Tennessee football games, not this year. A focal point of our social life simply did not happen, gone without so much as a whimper. We had an annual Virginia Tech tailgate with my kids and friends. It was far more than entertainment; it had become a bonding experience with an extended family. An almost decade long tradition just smoldered away leaving another small hole in the fabric of our lives.

Perhaps the greatest impact has been on family. My kids have left the area. We have not really been together since a ski trip in March, which ended as the town shut down around us: ski slopes closed, restaurants shuttered and a sea of vacationers wondering what to do. As we boarded our flight, the terminal was flooded with people whose plans had collapsed, like refugees scrambling for the last flight out of Saigon.

Now I face an empty Christmas. We had plans to visit them this year, the first time one of my sons would host the gathering at his house. Apropos to the year, the decision came in a family Zoom meeting. Given the increased spread of the disease, they have opted to be prudent and forgo the gathering of people from outside. After all, we are a “hotspot” of infection.

So, this will be a different Christmas. It will be bereft of the communal gathering that makes things so special this time of year. In the face of the macro impact of the disease, this may seem petty, but these are the things that bring joy to our lives.

Yet, in my self-absorbed musings, I realize that I am missing the real meaning of Christmas. It is not the joy of wrapped packages under the tree; it is the celebration of rebirth. I seem to have lost the greater importance of good news. “And the angel said to them, Fear not, for behold I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.”

I do not pretend to comprehend the theological underpinnings of the moment, but I know what it means to me. Despite the current circumstances and all of our faults, we have been given the gift of Grace – forgiveness, love and mercy; generous, free and totally unexpected…undeserved. It does not imply a debt to be repaid; not earned but given none the less.

It portends a better life ahead in this world and beyond. It is the singular means to reconcile our existence with its pain and suffering, as well as our transgressions. It is the only way to accept an imperfect life with its negative consequences and not let it define the future. It does not erase our actions or the real pain in our lives, but we get to start over.

Grace allows us to accept that there are things we simply cannot change and move forward with the understanding that life begins anew each day. The choices we make going forward stand on their own merit. The atonement for the past is in the hands of someone else.

And so, as we approach the Christmas Season, I hope all of you can find it in your own hearts to accept the world as it is and begin tomorrow with the knowledge that it really is the first day of the rest of your life. Live it that way and be thankful.

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