Dear December, I needed you.
Updated: Apr 26
You’re here. Phew. Your timing is perfect.
Your tender sun, your long shadows, your cuddled nights, your season of light…all of it deeply needed.
I’ll be honest, though. As you neared, I wasn’t sure I could handle you.
Thanksgiving without friends or family I could swing. But Christmas? No bustling December, darting from holiday parties to our decadent anniversary dinner to family gatherings rowdy with games, cooking and crazy cousin fun? No stepping into someone’s cozy house, arms laden with gifts and faces awash with smiles? No hugs??
No thank you.
I spent about a week feeling sorry for myself, turning over and over in my head our decision to not see any friends or family. Maybe if we….? Or what about….? All sorts of alternatives presented themselves as doubt did its best to erode our good intentions.
Then I got thinking about last year.
Last winter, every Sunday I would look at the week ahead and wonder how I was going to pull it off. How all the jigsaw pieces were going to fit into place, each abutting another in the required two-way fit. Our family’s schedule was a house of cards, teetering on the edge of collapse. One small change (an altered practice time, a coach letting kids out late, slippery roads) could cause a chain reaction that could topple the whole thing.
My kids were on a combined five sports teams, one was in Driver’s Ed and we were routinely traveling on weekends, sometimes out of state, for sports. My wife was working into the evening most nights of the week and I was juggling afternoon massage clients with pick-ups, drop offs and supper, often crawling into bed an hour or two past ideal.
It was too much. I was hungry for time at home, downtime and quality time with my wife and kids. I was desperate for space to enjoy the life I had.
Like many people, my life now bears little resemblance to that. Many days I don’t even leave the house. (December, you are a remarkably blank page.) I have no real plans. I move slower. I rest more. I often don’t wear makeup and my wardrobe has become as relaxed as a straight line.
(It occurred to me today that since yoga pants have become my daily pants in the past ten months, I have shifted to pajama pants for relaxing evening attire. And jeans? They are the COVID equivalent of a ball gown.)
Having transitioned to full time writing, that is the work that comprises most of my days. The topography of my week varies only with a few small hills- a Zoom call here or there, Mondays and Thursdays with the girls at school, occasionally an appointment. Many mornings I wake up and stretch into the openness, grateful not to feel rushed.
Other days, when my wife leaves for work, I resist the urge to pounce on her and plead, “Take me with you!” I ache for a change of scenery, for a little adventure. (She works in a hospital with people’s airways. I DO NOT actually want to go with her.)
Then there are days in the middle. Ones where making dinner is akin to climbing a mountain and I wonder just how many times I can feed my family pasta and salad for dinner. Ones where my mood dips and lifts like a heavy sea. Ones where I see the dog hair on the stairs but can’t be bothered. Ones where a trip to the grocery store feels like a true accomplishment and the day-old syrup on the counter sticks to my shirt and I ignore it.
Regardless of the day, though, this all feels insignificant compared to what other people are contending with.
I think of all the frontline workers, the essential folks who still have to put real pants on and leave the house regardless of the state of things. I have huge appreciation for the health care workers, scientists and teachers who are proving their mettle over and over again to care for our society in such big, beautiful and selfless ways. I appreciate the retail workers, the janitors, the public works folks, the police officers and ambulance drivers. You all keep our world spinning. I thank you.
It leaves me wondering if I should do more. Sacrifice more. But that notion is as pointless as telling kids to finish their supper because people are starving in Africa (a popular totem from my childhood). Suffering does not earn me a place and it does not alleviate anyone else’s hardship.
My most powerful offering is to extend kindness, love and appreciation. Some people are working harder, some are working less. Some wish they were home while others wish they could leave. (I think my teenager would take nearly anyone up on an exit hatch at this point.) We all have our thing we are doing. We are all essential in our own perfect way.
As I help my girls nurse their own COVID disappointments, I realize once again the strange power of us all being in this together. It’s not just our city, our state or even our country. It’s our world.
It’s easy to think this year was mostly just hard. I see the pain and heartbreak on the news. Sometimes those staggering truths overwhelm me. My heart breaks for the families suffering the loss of jobs or members, for those who are hungry or hurting, for those who are displaced and chronically devalued.
But there are some beautiful things happening too. If I look for it, I see the unity, the community, the kindness and solidarity in the very realness of living through this unprecedented time. Even while we are more physically distant, there is a new intimacy, a vulnerability, that is palpable in the world. No one has to pretend they are fine. People can honestly acknowledge, “This is difficult. I am struggling.”
Hard truths are finally being spoken. And more importantly, heard.
I believe this is a gift we have needed, an openness we have called for.
There is something so raw about our existence being reduced to life and death. It rips off the façade most of us live behind, this false sense of permanence and guarantees. This is our single common denominator. Below race, money, class, health or sickness (and yes, masks or no masks), we are all arrestingly human.
It’s funny how we forget that this seemingly solid world we hang our hats on, this scaffolding we lean hard on to keep us upright, is fluid, transitory.
I remember how I felt when the Olympics got cancelled. I was like can they even DO that???
It humbled me to remember that nothing is guaranteed in life. Not the NCAA playoffs. Not the vacation we had planned. Not the school doors flying open each fall. Not even Christmas.
People aren’t forever. Childhood isn’t forever. Firm skin isn’t forever.
Life isn’t forever.
Who are we when the things that define our lives move under our feet or desert us entirely? Just ask people who have faced a terminal diagnosis, lost a staple tenant of their identity, the loss of a marriage, suffered a tragedy or reinvented themselves after retirement.
Has there ever been a time when the whole world collectively looked in the mirror and asked: “Who am I without that?”
It helps me to think of COVID as a blank slate. A new beginning. Rarely in life do we get a chance for a hard reset. Yet, here we are.
Our world has an opportunity to create a new normal. With our systems down, a paradigm shift is viable. We are reinventing. There is ingenuity at play, fresh ideas and new possibilities for a way of living that cares for this planet and its inhabitants in a more sustainable and conscious way.
There is so much hope for our global future.
So thank you, December, for reminding me that there is light in the dark, that joy still abounds and that cookies can always be delivered to someone’s doorstep.
Thank you for reminding me to appreciate simply being alive and to celebrate the irrepressible nature of our shared humanity and love in its endless forms.
All of which are greater than even Christmas. Or the Olympics.