Last week I had to write yet another of those emails.
You know, the ones beginning “Dear friends, I am so sorry, in the light of recent developments….”
You know, the horrible ones that cancel something you were looking forward to, planned carefully, had encouraged others to invest their time, or money, or energy.
You know, you’ve probably had a few even if you haven’t had to construct them yourself.
News flash, just in case you didn’t know, they are every bit as bad to write as to receive.
I’ve almost lost count of such messages over the last two years. Family gatherings. Social activities. Work events. Not a great time to be working in creative and performing arts, let me tell you. At first, we were all so shell shocked that there was no question about it. Of course we had to postpone or cancel! These are (to use a much loathed expression) unprecedented times. No one knew what would happen next.
News flash, we still don’t know what’s going to happen next.
As the pandemic dragged on, appeared to retreat, then staged a comeback worthy of an ageing rockstar, we started to get a little more snippy on receiving those emails. Oh yes, I can understand why you might postpone but cancel? Can’t we do it later, next year perhaps, when things settle down? After all at some point, we’ll have to get on with life! Eventually things will get back to normal.
News flash, things will never go back to ‘normal‘ (I even wrote a poem about it last year. Not much has changed.)
Oh yes, we’ve bravely pivoted (another much disliked term) and embraced new versions of life online. We’ve zoomed, we’ve streamed, we’ve innovated (more or less). And me oh my, aren’t we all just tired?
Is it just me, or does anyone else feel the burden of summoning enthusiasm for even the best parts of our lives? No, it’s not just me, there’s plenty evidence out there about the exponential increase in mental unwellness, societal strains, and apathy. Of course Covid is not completely to blame for it. I was challenged and disturbed by this excellent piece by Stan Grant recently, for example. The plague of cynicism was already abroad before we ever heard of Wuhan. However, the advent of Covid has certainly brought to a head many a lurking discontent. Above all, it has exhausted us.
For these last few months I didn’t even want to think about Christmas. There were many reasons both personal and professional for this, the uppermost being the death of my mother earlier this year. As a friend said to me recently, so many of our Christmas memories and traditions are tied up with our mothers. My grieving has been poked remorselessly into flame again by the onslaught of Facebook Memories (what a two edged sword that is). Another painful punch last weekend was the passing of my mother’s only sibling, my aunt. So for my cousins, too, it’s going to be ‘first Christmas without mum’.
I successfully kept my head in the sand, not thinking about Christmas any more than necessary, keeping emotions firmly at surface level. Quite a feat when work involves helping with Christmas events and resources, and I’m rostered to lead worship for Christmas Day service at my own church. Then, the reintroduced mask mandate forced cancellation of caroling events I had been planning. Nothing earthshaking, just a couple small group sings over a weekend at local shops. But for me, it was the proverbial last straw. I cried and complained and cursed Covid. I was. SO. Done.
This is the part where I am supposed to say – and then! some lightning bolt, some epiphany, and the insight has transformed my current slough of despond!
News flash, the only lightning bolts round here come with the Queensland summer storms.
And yet – somehow, now it’s ok that it’s Christmas this weekend. I think I might be even looking forward to it a bit now. I can’t pinpoint any one thing that has been responsible. Maybe it’s a whole load of the small things. My husband putting up the Christmas tree for us while I was knee deep in last minute emails. Finally making myself a Christmas Spotify playlist and singing it loudly in the car. Finding just the right silly gift for the family secret Santa steal. Watching Love Actually yet again. Getting a gorgeous zany hat in the post from a colleague.
So, I’ve decided to enjoy Christmas, and that there are only three things on my wishlist. Firstly, kindness. For others, and from others. I popped into our local medicos this morning and the poor staff were inundated – navigating phones and people while masked and face shielded. (ICYMI, those things make it near impossible to hear). I tried to be as polite as possible, hoping others would too. We’re all under so much pressure, we’re all just doing our best in the moment. I want to be kind. All those small kindnesses I’ve already unwrapped have dissed my inner Grinch and helped me find some tidings of great joy once more. I’d like a bit more of that and I’d like to pass it on.
And a thing I think I need even more than kindness? Resilience. Previously I have prided myself on my bounce back ability, but I feel it’s at its lowest ebb ever lately. Somehow I need to rediscover how to look forward – really look forward – to the good things ahead, in spite of the certain curve balls 2022 will have lined up. I want to feel energised and excited again. And strange as it may sound, I want (eventually) the inevitable disappointments to show up so that I can put my restored resilience to the test.
I suspect each of these gifts will play a part in facilitating the other. I also suspect I can’t simply source them entirely by myself. But I am hopeful I will receive them for Christmas, because they’re a natural part of the gift of love. And with all the crazy and the Covid and the fatigue and the grief, I know there will still be love. Which is, of course, the biggest one on my gift list, and the one that is completely appropriate to gift and re-gift and re-gift.
News flash, love is truly the one thing we can always give to others if we choose.
Yes, Lou, even when it doesn’t feel like Christmas. Call it kindness, call it patience, call it resilience or generosity or faithfulness or goodness – call it what you wish, just embrace it this Christmas. Not the mushy, emotion driven ‘niceness’ many of us mistake for it, but the genuine commitment to compassion, to care, to ‘being bothered’ about others as much as ourselves.
News flash – love is the only thing that matters.