Christmas is always a special time – you feel a sense of renewal, of peace, and of hope. This year has been especially meaningful for me. So many things have changed for me this year, not the least of which is that I don’t go to work every day and I live in a foreign country. But even more than that, the world is changing in ways that we couldn’t have imagined a few years ago. Covid just will not go away and continues to reinvent itself in newer and more deadly forms. You have to wonder where this will lead us, as we are all now slaves to this disease. I don’t like thinking about this, but I fear that masks and restrictions will be part of our lives for a very long time, if not forever.
Our youngest grandchild, the only girl, is eight and probably won’t remember much about life before Covid. She started the first grade during the height of the first round of restrictions. She didn’t know the joys and mysteries of going into that school building for the first time and starting down a path that would inform her future. She started school at the dining room table. Her second grade experience is more normal, she goes to the classroom, but has to socially distance and eat lunch at her desk. The best parts of second grade are not socially distancing and the magic of the lunchroom, when rules are relaxed and kids sort out who to believe and what tall tale could be true. Our oldest grandson, who is 21, will be one of the old codgers who begins sentences with “I remember when. . .” to the amazement of youngsters like his cousin who won’t remember when. The old folks like us will continue to scratch our heads and wonder why we couldn’t lick this disease like we did smallpox and polio and so many others that threatened to destroy us but didn’t.
I’m not sure any of us believed that we would be facing a new variant this Christmas which followed the other variant which will likely be followed by yet another variant. But here we are. Many people are amazed and probably very confused by why we chose to make this lifestyle change in the middle of all this uncertainty. One of the things we humans do during crises is to stick close to what we know and are comfortable with. We like to nest. To say “Now’s not the time to do that” while we wait with great anticipation on a better time. But for us, this disease was the catalyst for making us see the world through another lens. It emphasized to us that there are no guarantees in life. Quite the contrary, life is one big question mark that we try to decipher each day. We’ve had this dream of living in Italy for so long that it almost became normal for us to dream it instead of do it. How many people do you know who talk about dreams and plans and you know that thing is dear to them, but somehow they never do it or realize it? They talk about it and dream about it and say they will but they never do. We didn’t want to be those people.
I cannot begin to tell you how frightening it was to make this move. There were many times when I felt like the world was collapsing around me and I was destined for some very unkind fate. Covid was almost the least of my concerns. Now that I’ve conquered all those fears about moving here, I see Covid in a new light. I now live in a place that was devastated by this disease in the early days and has now vowed not to let that happen again. If that means more restrictions, then that’s the price we pay. But we also look at this place we live, Europe, and how compact it is and how plentiful and arbitrary its borders are. We wonder why one country has a high infection rate and another one doesn’t. Disease doesn’t recognize boundaries no matter how much we wish it did. And if one country has restrictions, but its neighbor doesn’t, then what does that mean?
So we find ourselves at Christmas again and we reach for what comforts us and makes us feel secure. Family, friends, treasured decorations, familiar foods, and rituals. For us, these things are even more precious than ever because we don’t have them. All of those things for us are in the US. So we look to new friends and lean on each other for family. We start new rituals or we observe the ones here because we want to live where our feet are. We are stripped of all the traditional expectations and obligations and we feel freer as a result. We savor every moment and want to experience every offering. For we are but visitors here on this great planet Earth and we want to revel in all that it has to offer, no matter how unfamiliar.
When my brother, Steve, was serving in Vietnam, my mother was beside herself with worry. She used to say to me often as she looked up at the sky, “That’s the same sun that’s shining on Steve.” It was her way of feeling a connection, no matter how distant. I feel that way now as I look at the full moons and the sunrises. Those celestial beings are a constant for us and are universal. And we all share them equally. They are among the many things that connect us and give us routine. We regulate our bodies by them and they guide our instincts. It’s also where we place those who are no longer with us but want to hold on to. We imagine them looking down on us, being with us, but from above. And so it only makes sense that we chose the heavens as the way of informing the world about the birth of Christ, the seminal event for Christians. So on this Christmas Eve, look to the heavens and think of those who are and were meaningful in your life and smile. Feel the peace and comfort that it brings you to think of them and know that that same sky is blanketing them, whether they’re under the blanket or a part of it.