My path from fridge, to stove, to counter repeats more times than I care to count. Peeling, chopping and sautéing as I prepare favorite holiday foods. Christmas music and the tree’s piney scent fill the air. I hear Don‘s car. He’s back from O’Hare where he gathered Wes, Deb, Elly, and Lilly.

Deb and her girls rush in out of the cold. Lots of hugs, giggles and smiles happen right at the front door. Don is helping Wes grab packages and suitcases. When they enter, there is another round of greetings. Doug, Taylor and Reese will be here soon and once again all nine of us crowd into our small entryway to greet them. The noise and excitement could not be topped by the arrival of Santa himself.

Our family has repeated this scene for the last two decades. It will not happen this Christmas. Like many, we are playing it safe. We will have a tree, our outdoor lights, Christmas cards. We’ll celebrate Christmas during Zoom gatherings with family and friends. 

This Christmas Don and I will be alone.

Joni Mitchell’s 1970 song, Big Yellow Taxi springs to mind, “You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.” It’s so true. While I have always savored these family moments, this year brings a deeper appreciation of togetherness.

Don and I find comfort playing music from our youth. We like listening to songs by James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, Elvis, the Beatles and others. We also enjoy watching old films. Recently we watched “White Christmas” filmed in 1954. We were 10 years old when it came out.

Old movies and old music are medicine.

We are not alone in this feeling.

Researchers report that nostalgia is a form of self-soothing that helps us adapt to loss of the familiar. One study tracking the effects of COVID-19 on entertainment choices, found that more than half of the consumers experienced comfort in revisiting television and music they enjoyed in their youth.

Looking back over happy times can be reassuring. Looking at the gift in these Covid moments is harder. Alexander Graham Bell was quoted in The Winona Times saying: “When one door closes another door opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us.”

The ambiguity and disruptive changes that we are living through now make it so difficult to imagine another door opening. Bell’s quote leaves me asking,

“What door is opening now?

And then I see it…
Christmas is prying open the door of my heart.

I long for…
First embraces
A kitchen full of laughter and storytelling
Safe feelings of knowing our tiny tribe is tucked in under one roof.
Full chairs
Full tummies
Full hearts

Forced seclusion can heighten our awareness of how much contact with others means. An undefinable energy is transmitted between us when we are physically present. Part of what we experience comes through our senses; arms wrapped around each other, soft lips touching, their familiar scent of perfume or laundry soap. It is all of this and more. Flat screen cannot replicate the experience of human hearts pressing against each other as we hug.

However, Don and I are the lucky ones. We cuddle as we fall asleep. We hug and kiss. Many others are completely alone. We also do not have essential workers in our family who risk their safety to care for others. Our work life hasn’t dramatically changed. We have not lost family members and know but a handful of people who have caught Covid and lived through it. I can think of so many ways that we are fortunate.

And yet, there will likely be a few tears shed.

Our door will open to Instacart and Amazon deliveries. Not a joyful family. We’ll enjoy Christmas dinner for two at our dining room table. Tenderness, and fond memories will fill empty chairs.

This year we are all called to explore our hearts. To notice how much a smile, giggle or hug can mean. Life always has challenges. This year the challenges are felt all over the world. Many front doors will open without the excited rush of family members entering.

Many will experience heartbreak.

The Sufis say life will continue to break your heart open until it stays open. There will be a lot of broken hearts this Christmas. There will be lots of opportunities to keep our hearts open. 

May your beautiful heart open to precious loving connections.
May your memories of past Christmas celebrations soothe you.
May new doors begin to appear.