On a Christmas In-Between

While we long for the past, we need to be creative, bold and empathetic about the future.

Photo from Shutterstock

Christmas morning, 2019. I sit on my friend’s couch and stare out the window.

The fireplace is on, the tree is lit, Christmas music is playing, we’re on our second pot of coffee, and outside the sky is grey and tree limbs are bare.

No cars drive by, no one is out walking, the street is quiet, and outside all seems still, a serenity deeper than early Sunday mornings settles upon houses and lawns.

As someone relatively new to looking at Christmas as something other than a day off from work with a lot of basketball games on, a day I’d have to plan around even though it meant little to me, I searched for a religious comparison.

A Day of Rest

On Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement and the day I see and experience as the most spiritual, I go to Barton Springs pool to take in nature, the outdoors, the natural, cool water (in addition to going to synagogue, in non-pandemic times).

I’m usually there late in the morning in the middle of the week and the pool is emptier than usual.

“Ah,” I say to my companion, “this is like our Christmas, tables turned. We get to enjoy a day of serenity while the world around us continues as normal.”

Yom Kippur is also known as the Sabbath of Sabbaths, the holiest Sabbath of the year. And it dawns on me that for many, this is Christmas — not just any day of rest, but the biggest day of rest.

Staring out my friend’s window, seeing so little happening, I voice my thought. “What I like about Christmas,” I say, “is that it feels like a Sabbath, but for everyone. We all enjoy a day of rest, a day with family, a day of taking stock, a day of fun.”

As the day wore on, it felt like Sundays do, but sharper, heavier. Christmas was running out, and it would be a whole year until another one. That was the first time I thought about Christmas 2020 — it would be a year, I reasoned, until the whole world would once again be so quiet.

A Glimpse of a Quieter, Slower World

In March, when we started staying home, it didn’t take long for us to hear the chirping of birds more than we ever had. And the insects at night, and the stillness of the wind.

We saw wildlife begin to explore our habitat, we saw the air get cleaner, we all slowed down. And we’ve been living like that, for the most part, ever since.

And I wonder, will we feel a sense of Sabbath this Christmas?

Will the day feel different to us?

We know, bereft of parties and gatherings with friends and loved ones, that there will be far less Christmas joy this year than in the past.

Before this Christmas even occurs we’ve begun looking forward to the next one, when we expect, or hope, or imagine, that we’ll return to normal.

But I would urge us to not yet look to Christmas future, and to instead focus on this Christmas, with, for good measure, considering Christmas past.

How much is different this year than last? Do I have enough words to explain?

So much has changed, for each of us — this Christmas does not look like last year. On this Christmas Day I’ll be alone, isolated, in several ways, and I’ll long for what was.

In that regard, this Christmas won’t feel different than any day since March. Everyday, in some ways big, in others small, I’ve longed for what was.

It would be a mistake, however, when we envision the Christmas of next year, to yearn for the way it was.

Haven’t we learned enough this year that we can’t, that we shouldn’t, that mustn’t, return to the way it was?

We know for sure we don’t want next Christmas to look like this one. But what do we want it to look like?

The Future Is In Our Hands

This year has exposed how fragile our society is. This Christmas, we see the struggles of so many. Those who have lost family members, those who have lost jobs, their homes, their way of life, those who can’t find solace and rest because they live so close to the edge, so often.

And we realize now, don’t we, that minus the health threat created by Covid, this has always been the case.

The pandemic is far from over, and we’re likely to spend a good portion of 2021 much as we are now. At home, isolated, yearning if not for a return to normal, than at least something different than this.

That return is coming. And I imagine there will be a great sense of celebration and relief as we can get back to being social again. Indeed, we should celebrate that. A lot.

But we can’t close our eyes to what we’ve experienced and seen, nor can we forget.

Whether it’s our natural world, and the changing climate and destruction of habitat that is forcing wildlife closer and closer to human activity and threatening us with future pandemics (yeah, that’s right, there’s likely more to come) or whether it’s making sure we can educate our kids, provide health care (including mental health care) to everyone who needs it, or taking care of our care-takers, parents and teachers alike, we have a lot of work to do.

Silent night, holy night. All is calm, all is bright.

That’s not the case this year. But it can be next year, and the years after that.

This Christmas, this present, stuck in between the past and the future, is unlike any other.

Let’s work together to make sure we never have another one like it again.

Have any feedback? I can be reached at scottmgilman @ gmail.com.

Thinking and writing about my place in the world, and making myself (and the world) a little bit better.

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