The Second Covid Christmas
A Year of Essays: December 25, 2021
The second Covid Christmas, this Yule no snow. Last year’s Christmas snow seemed to insulate us from the pandemic; this year, the warm, windy, gray day just reminds us of the scourge still with us. Our Christmas Eve plans were scuttled because of a neighbor’s inconclusive Covid test. Yet this is life as we know it, the need to be flexible, to pivot at a moment’s notice. A sense of uncertainty permeates every waking moment. No wonder I take solace in sleep.
I’ve been prone to clinical depression, and I know one sign is the desire to sleep. However, I don’t think this is the case this time. The fatigue of the year — the uncertainty, several reparative surgeries, notable losses, my own Covid infection — has drained me of energy. Though the hematologist hasn’t yet prescribed a course of treatment, I have started an iron supplement. The days are getting better (and longer since the Solstice), yet that uncertainty remains.
Yet, what is certain on Christmas morn is I’ll awaken to the coffee brewing and some stellar concoction being prepared in the kitchen, anticipating a scrumptious meal later in the day, and Bruce and I sitting on the porch, regardless of the weather. This morning, I chose Dad’s coffee mug. I have three mugs — Dad’s, Mom’s, and my sister’s. Most mornings, I use a simple white mug, but on weekends and holidays (and birthdays), I’ll use the family mugs.
This Christmas differs. I am the last one standing — my brother died in October, one of a string of passings this year, too numerous to remember. I feel no loss, and at the same time, a profound loss. I felt this when I found the Christmas photo of 1964 — my siblings still teenagers, Dad in his 40s, Mom still in her 30s, and on the end of the sofa, a towhead in a thin bowtie and shorts, a precocious almost four-year old.
I recall the details of that photo. The wooden holly leaf that cradled real holly branches and the lit Christmas candle. Dad’s focused on pressing the shutter release cord when everyone was smiling, except him. The positioning of my sister’s hands on her lap, identical to my mom’s, a model’s pose. Being awakened and stuffed into that little suit for the family portrait, squinty-eyed because I’m still mostly asleep. A time long ago, and I’m the only one alive.
It’s time to take stock on this life. Today, I start a year of essays — musings about life, love, and the world, probably peppered with some politics, prose, and existentialism. My teaching assistants chose Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale for our spring class, a book I reluctantly admit not having read, though I know it’s one I should have by this point. We’re pairing it with Colleen Murphy’s new(ish) play The Breathing Hole, a tale spanning 500 years in the life of an Arctic polar bear. What will I learn from these and from my students? I am eager to discover.