As we come to the end of another difficult year and the beginning of another holiday season, we look for reasons to be grateful and, dare I say it —even reasons to be hopeful for the year ahead. No, the pandemic isn’t over, though some act with such bravado that you’d think it never really happened (and they probably do). But there is a fresh-start feeling in the air, a renewed, if cautious sense of optimism and hope. If we have learned anything from two years of this pandemic, it is to embrace the fleeting moments of joy we may experience every day and to take comfort in our simple blessings, even as they may be hard to count during times of hardship.
Buoyed as I was by seeing my art quilt in person in exhibition in Houston late last month (see last post, November 9), I spent this long Thanksgiving weekend determined to finish and submit my latest entry into yet another global exhibition. And I made the deadline! This piece, called “Cuisine Locale” (pictured above), has been adapted from a photograph I took in Arles, France, in 2019, the last overseas trip we took before Covid. Reliving the memories of that 50th anniversary trip to a country we love brought me happiness and, believe it or not, I found the 22 hours of hand-beading that paella to be calmingly meditative.
Chief among the blessings I count, of course, is that we are still here, along with our closest friends and relatives. A couple of them came to visit from out-of-state the week before Thanksgiving. Again, encouraged by a boost of confidence through limited social interaction, not to mention those third Covid shots, we were able to plan outings and activities here that involved minimal health risks and they were able to fly in non-stop (from Tampa and Seattle) without long layovers in congested airports. During that week, we mostly just sat and talked and ate and drank, but it was glorious, especially since we hadn’t been together for over two years. What a joyful way to begin this holiday season!
While almost 800,000 Americans have died during Covid and we are still losing about 1,000 lives a day, at least the availability of vaccines has slowed the spread of infection and stemmed the tide of fear, notwithstanding the latest threat from the Omicron variant. No, vaccines haven’t provided the immediate “cure” and the immediate “return to normal” that everyone (especially politicians) anticipated earlier this year, but they have uplifted confidence in those of us who have been cautious and conservative in our pandemic responses all along. Through it all, we have learned a few things: that vaccines work, but may not last forever; that break-through cases can occur, but aren’t likely to kill you; that masks protect self and others, even from ordinary colds and flu; that personal space and social distance help deflect infection; and that practical, provable, preventative measures in a public-health crisis are NOT a matter of individual choice, but a collective responsibility to the larger society.
These are important lessons going forward, because it doesn’t look like Covid or its myriad mutations are likely to just go away anytime soon. In fact, many scenes of a “pre-pandemic normal” are destined to become Rockwell-like images of nostalgia on future Christmas cards, even as more of us realize that we don’t really want a return to some of those “pre-pandemic normals.” Risk assessment, reasonable choices, common sense, simple courtesy — these are the best ways to manage life in “the new normal.” If we weren’t so bogged down in the politics and craziness of our dystopian “present normal,” maybe we could see that these attitudes offer the best ways to live under any circumstances.
All in all, I am feeling well going into this holiday season. I will decorate and bake and wrap a few gifts; we will erect our new, first-in-our-entire-lives 9’ artificial tree (and get our no-longer-needed decorations over to Goodwill in time for someone else to enjoy); and I will write those Christmas cards and letters, even though I haven’t much exciting news to report this year (and even though they may not arrive until after the New Year). Our Christmas will be quiet, spent with what I have come to call our little “social triangle” (my husband, our son and me), but a three-legged stool still stands, and I am grateful for that.
Comfort and joy — key words of the season. And this year not just empty longings.
I, like you, want to feel more hopeful as we cautiously return to a semblance of normality, but until more of our country and the world is fully vaccinated, we will suffer through this pandemic while more and more mutations form. I decorated and baked last year and plan to this year because I want some semblance of comfort and joy despite having to remain cautious. The greatest gift we can give each other in this season is to encourage vaccination and boosters.