A Christmas Lament

Sorry this one is a bit negative, folks, but sometimes I have to say what must be said.

I’m writing this a few days before Christmas Eve. I live with my eighteen-year old son in a small two-bedroom apartment. Another son had been staying with us for awhile, bunking in the living room, but he moved out a few weeks ago. Now it’s just the two of us.

We put up our Christmas tree and other decorations at the beginning of December, which is a little earlier than usual. We wanted to feel some holiday cheer, and it does cheer the place up, at least a bit. We’ve been watching some of our favorite Christmas movies, as well as Christmas episodes of TV shows such as Family Guy, American Dad, and South Park.

Yes, we’re trying to get into the holiday mood, but for me at least there is a bittersweet feeling to it all. There are only a pitiful few presents under the tree because we won’t be able to have any visitors this year. It will be just the two of us. The large gatherings of relatives, many of whom live nearby, are of course cancelled. There are some lovely displays of lights around the neighborhood, and it lifts my spirit to see them, and yet…

I can’t help but be honest and say it: there’s something wrong with Christmas this year. It doesn’t resonate as it usually does. Too many people are dying from a horrible plague. Too many people face eviction, homelessness, and starvation while the government in D.C. wastes time infighting instead of caring for the people they have pledged to serve. We can’t even take our minds off it all by going out and shopping for presents and having a restaurant meal. It’s too dangerous.

I’ve lived through difficult times before. I almost got drafted and sent off to Vietnam, for God’s sake. History saved me from that one by bringing the war and the draft to an end with about a week to spare. That was traumatic to be sure. It was also traumatic when my passport was stolen and I ran out of money while traveling in the Middle East. I had to beg on the streets in Tehran for two weeks before I raised enough money for a new passport and an exit visa. However, that was in the nature of a grand adventure. It was exciting as well as frightening.

This, though… What’s happening in the world today is unprecedented. I realize there have been plagues before – but the plague combined with the instability and uncertainty… It all makes for a perfect storm of discouragement, depression, confusion, uprooted lives, suspicions, death, and despair. How can something as lightweight as the Christmas message in these films and TV shows possibly alleviate any of the dark clouds that surround us all?

The origin of the expression “May you live in interesting times” is unknown, but it is supposed to be a curse. If that’s true, then we are all cursed, because the times we live in are certainly interesting, to say the least. There may be no solution to the melancholy we feel this Christmas season except empathy and shared sorrow.

Besides the books I read and the films I watch, I find solace in my creative work, my writing. I work almost all the time, in fact. It’s better than sitting around and brooding, and besides, we desperately need the money. My son is taking college classes fulltime and that keeps him busy. So it goes.

Someday we’re going to look back on these dark days and breathe a sigh of relief that they are all over. In the meantime, we have to keep up our spirits the best we can. Hang in there, everyone. Do your work, read a book, watch a film, take a walk, visit your loved ones online. You’re not the only one who is going through it – everyone is, all around the world. We’ll get through this. Chin up; dry those tears. There are better days ahead.

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3 Responses to A Christmas Lament

  1. Pingback: What a Long Strange Year It’s Been | John Walters

  2. Lee McAulay says:

    Keep this. Because we will need this in the future – a reminder that times were difficult, and how hard it was to muddle through, that feeling of helplessness and uncertainty.
    In the UK, we’re told about “the spirit of the Blitz”: how everyone pulled together, sing-songs in the air-raid shelter and carrying on as normal; but for many, life wasn’t like that at all. Life was hard. People died, lost loved ones, were made homeless or disabled or psychologically scarred.
    Without personal letters, diaries and journals, those experiences would be lost or dismissed, so keen is the national narrative to paint everything as survivable. But for much of the war, there was no end in sight, and in the UK at least, no surety that our side would prevail.
    Those of us who write about our experiences now are making our own stories heard. Leaving records for others – and ourselves – to look back on, with wonder and sympathy and compassion. Creating social history, where small lives matter.
    “Someday we’re going to look back on these dark days and breathe a sigh of relief that they are all over.”
    Yes, we will. But first we must write of the dark days as they come, relentless, sunrise after sunrise, ours to live through as best we can.
    Spring is coming, in the north; hold on.

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