Firsts For Me this Christmas Pandemic Season
By Jane Tawel
December 22, 2020
There are going to be a lot of family firsts this year, most of them foisted on us, or chosen by us for the newest “reason for the season” ; the reason being The 2020 Worldwide Pandemic. I was lying in bed this morning at 3:30 a.m. deciding whether or not to get up AGAIN! to let-out the old senile barking -for -no- reason Daisy the Dog and then wondering afterwards whether I should just stay up or try to fall back to sleep before starting my at-home temp job answering phones and taking payments for grumbling scared people (who just don’t have quite enough this year to make those payments but if they don’t they lose their job but I usually end up after we hang up feeling that at least they reached me and I am a good listener and empathizer so there’s that, so….) since I can rarely fall back asleep after rising any time after about 3:00 am, I decided — — well, here I am, aren’t I?
As the coffee gurgled, and the old dog ate her third treat, one from the TJ’s Advent Calendar for dogs that I bought this year, I started thinking about how many things were going to be different for me and for my family specifically this year. Starting with the dog. This is the first year Daisy will not have her evil step-sister, Jolie, the Golden-Coyote, to fight over Christmas stocking treats with. We helped Jolie across that Rainbow Bridge this past June and it was a sorrowful time. We miss that crazy coyote so much. (And yes, we did a DNA test if you can believe we would spend that kind of money on it and she is indeed, as we always knew half “Wolf, Coyote, CanFam”. Jolie was a street dog we rescued from the pound and she never got the “wild” completely out but we loved her almost as fiercely as she loved us, so….). Our first Christmas in fifteen years without Jolie, will be a couple of big black chalk marks on the negative side of life’s score sheet for all of us. On the plus side, we don’t have piles of shedded hair to clean up daily, a terrorized mailman, the hard times of watching Jolie be in pain, and Daisy gets to keep all her treats without getting beat up and bit, so…. Pros and cons but man, do I miss that crazy old coyote-dog.
So I started making a mental list, as any good mixed breed mongrel (I am part Native American, Scottish, Irish, German, English, and Godonlyknowswhat pronoun-ed she/her. And no, I haven’t done a DNA test because my husband’s greatest nightmare is for him to be falsely imprisoned and somehow he fears that if my DNA is on record, he will somehow be arrested for something he didn’t do, and no we are not first cousins and yes he is a scientist, so go figure, but anyway…..) Here are some other firsts I thought of at about 4:00 am while the coffee perked and Daisy farted (another sad thing about old dogs is they really have a lot of gas and it smells like the worst meat packing factory you could possibly imagine spewing fumes constantly in your very own living room but The Guys at my house swear that Daisy’s farts actually smell like what- ever we ate for lunch or dinner that day, and they are scientists, you know so I have to accept that as fact, and I feel for my sake and Daisy’s that from now on I will only eat rose petals or lavender bud so Daisy’s farts will smell like that, according to “The Guys”, so….). And so it goes, and so here is a short list I made this morning while the rest of the world slept-on, with pleasant memories and dreams of Jupiter and Saturn kissing (See!? A year of firsts!)
Firsts of 2020 Christmas
(which I hope mostly not to repeat except for maybe a few of them but mostly no, so…..)
1. We did not buy a Christmas tree this year. With a pandemic on, there were very few places to buy a tree and my adult kids were unavailable to go along and play “Who Picks the Tree we Buy this Year? Race”. Raoul and I went to Home Depot just the two of us, and he was fairly excited, knowing he would win this year, but when we saw the prices for the scraggly little Charlie Brown trees and the even bigger prices for the decent looking trees, we both balked. We thought about it for a few days and decided this year we would not get a tree. (Sad, but on the plus side, I am working down to the wire this year, and even though I am working from home, I don’t have the motivation or really the time to decorate the tree all by myself and pretend the rest of the family helped me because I make whomever is around put a few ornaments on so we can pretend everyone helped and I dread having to undecorate it all by myself, and that’s a positive, so….). But we love the lights and the smell of real tree. So I strung a bunch of lights inside on our windows and bought some pine and balsam scented candles –and Bob’s your Uncle! Win-win. And on the super duper plus side — Raoul and I decided that money we would have spent on a Christmas tree? — we will give the money to a charity like The Bail Project or Feeding America. For Pete’s sake, I said to myself when I felt a bit teary over no Christmas tree in my home for the first time in over 35 years, “Jane, Old Girl, there are people starving in, well, in your own backyard today and people who are in prison at Christmas time because they can’t afford bail, I think you can go without a Christmas tree this year, right girlfriend?”
And then I remember the year we got a call from Raoul’s dad that his mom was worse, and we had to literally toss our Christmas tree out on the stoop so it wouldn’t die inside our house and maybe catch the house on fire (okay, so not too rational in our frightened worry and while gathering up our two kids with another one on the way, quickly packing clothes and dashing to the airport) and we left a message for our neighborhood teen, Robin, who used to baby sit our kids, to ask if she could sometime come over and take all the decorations off the stoop Christmas tree for us because we were rushing across the country to see Raoul’s mom who had suddenly had a very bad turn from the cancer and so then, twenty-five years later — I remember what family is all about and how much I miss those who have gone on before us and how very much and how very many people will be missing loved ones for the first time this pandemic season, and well, not having a dead tree in my living room is small sacrifice to pay if instead this year I put some live people ahead of my traditions. Because while I love traditions, I hope, when asked, to love people more.
2. Our family of six will not all be together this Christmas. This is the big cry, the big waaa-waaaa for me and for my husband. Our eldest is stuck in North Carolina, a gazillion miles away during a no-travel pandemic. We have not seen Justine for over a year, having to cancel our plans to go there last spring and her plans to come here this summer, even for her big birthday event this past June. And while this makes me super-duper sad, I am so very, very grateful that all six Tawels are still alive. We have survived a year of a pandemic. And we all have jobs, and more than enough food to eat, and roofs over our heads, and no one is being conscripted into a war, and we aren’t being hunted down and persecuted, and as long as we wear masks we can walk our streets safely, even at night. So, to keep the world a little safer and my own family a little safer, not traveling, not gathering is a small price to pay, isn’t it? And when you think about the prices so many have paid and are still paying in this life to keep their own families safe, who am I to complain?
To be alive and able to say to Justine and all of us — “we will wait, and we will hope”, that is a wonderful spiritual gift when I think about it. That is the idea that Christmas is actually supposed to be about, not getting, not even giving, but “waiting and hoping”. Too many people have to live lifetimes with nothing but waiting and hoping to keep them going. For me to do it now in 2020 is a time to engage in more reflection, more empathy, and more “owning” of what being fully human in community with all humanity should be like — and isn’t that the message of the Christ baby who came to be human with all of humanity? Isn’t that what the God of the People of Jesus kept telling them: “Remember. Wait. And Hope.”
3. The rest of my list of firsts pales in comparison after the biggie of missing a family member, but here goes:
We will not share a fondue this year on Christmas eve (leaning over a communal pot with sticks is not advised I imagine, by Dr. Fauci and his ilk. Besides my daughter Verity who is our family’s Pandemic Health Czar has forbidden it, which is another positive thing about changes because your adult children sort of gradually take over bossing each other and their parents around and maybe they will forget all the bossy things you pulled on them as a parent when they were young, so….). And we will read our favorite Christmas stories wearing our pandemic masks (“The Nativity” with illustrations by Julie Vivas, “Wombat Divine” by Mem Fox, and this year, we will definitely add the classic version, not the movie version of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” because he really almost did this year for a lot of us, so….). We will gather with just our little family and sadly not be able to invite our various friends and “spares and strays” that we love to include in our feasts and our lives. We will wear masks when we talk and when we play Christmas trivia and Christmas bingo. We won’t snuggle except in our individual house pods as we watch Christmas classic movies and later I will sanitize all blankets used. We won’t pile into the car to go see Christmas lights, but we may take a walk around the ‘hood to see the lights.
And so, it will go, like a lot of things this past Pandemic Year of 2020, this Christmas Season, a lot of things will change; there will be a lot of firsts I didn’t plan on. They aren’t the fun exciting firsts of a new car or a new house or a new baby or a new citizenship. But if I can change my perspective, I can maybe shift my worldview into something more truly True and more worth leaning into and living out.
A lot of families will have much, much harder and more sorrowful firsts to lean into this year than we will. Far too many will have the loss of jobs and income, the loss of a place to live, the loss of the hope of gaining citizenship, the loss of a town and a place one grew up in, the loss of a place to worship, the loss of one’s health, or the loss of a loved one. So, I tried to make my list of “Firsts in a Year of Pandemic Christmas” seem as inconsequential and small as they are in comparison, and add a little bit of “Jane-humor” besides. Because in the scope of things, my own year’s changes, both foisted and chosen, are rather small when I compare them to how very, very, very much others have suffered and suffer, and how very, very much I have had my whole life and continue to have even in these strange and mind-bending, heart-rending times.
And just one more thing — when I think about a season of firsts this year, I realize that is what Christmas and the Coming of Jesus, the Messiah of God is all about. It was a first for Jesus, a first for his World Parent, Adonai. It was a first for human beings and a first for angels and the devils alike. Jesus came and for the first time the Son of God was without a Parent, without a home, without power, without a healthy environment, without resources, and without any security for future survival. Remember the “first Noel” was to “certain poor shepherds who slept rough in the fields”. And even in all those “firsts”, he brought hope. He brought joy. He believed that “the first would be last and the last first” in a new Kingdom of Humans centered around the Divine Love that humans were meant to live out. The Christmas Child grew into a human being and brought a new way of looking at life and a new way of living this life. When Jesus first became a human, he became one of us; and he lived and suffered among us, and he laughed with us and celebrated with us and he wept with us and he loved us.
I hope that is what 2020 Pandemic Christmas can teach me, and maybe enough of us to make a different world. I hope we can learn first, how to be more fully and divinely human; how to first, love more with less; how to first, care more for others than for myself; and how to not just be more grateful but to be more responsible and more worthy.