This may not be a merry Christmas but there is joy out there if you look for it.
Sadly, there will be too many people humming “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” all by themselves and absent will be younger generations who normally provide the fun and excitement of family Christmas gatherings.
Those of us fortunate enough to have enjoyed warm and wonderful Christmases past with family and friends will find comfort in those memories and accept current limits on our celebrations.
Quite simply, it’s the right thing to do.
Even in our current environment of fear and anger and disappointment, we can find goodness, hope, and generosity that capture the true spirit of Christmas.
Think of the army of health and personal care workers and volunteers caring for the elderly and sick and making it possible for the rest of us to get vaccines that will hopefully get us through this.
What better example than drive-through clinics where workers stand in the cold for hours to treat the hundreds who lined up for their vaccinations.
Others are raising money, packing and delivering gift boxes, arranging visits, sorting and preparing food, and doing their best to provide spiritual comfort.
Yes, there is widespread disappointment and anger resulting from the pandemic. That’s human nature. And, let’s face it, we are a pampered people compared to billions around the globe.
Most of us have not lived through pandemics or wars and financial crises and we are poorly prepared when misery and tragedy show up on our doorstep.
We are not used to deprivation and living under state-imposed restrictions on how we live and travel and work.
We grow impatient with public officials who struggle to find solutions to this new experience and we demand to know when this pandemic will end. Mistakes have been made.
Mental health issues are just one of the collateral effects of what is happening to us. It is not uncommon these days to hear normally well-balanced friends wondering if they are going mad. Isolation and fear will do that to a person.
Professionals advise us that fear can lead to blame and anger and we can see that daily as normally placid people take on extreme positions and become impatient and intolerant of the actions and opinions of others.
A quick fix is to turn off the television and end any fixation with social media and cable news that hype a worsening health care situation and spread doubt, lies, and conspiracy theories.
The pandemic has caused behavioural changes in many. The constant barrage of disheartening news is hard to ignore (especially for a news junkie like myself who reads several newspapers a day and regularly follows broadcast news and public commentary).
My escape from it all is a daily visit to our nearby dog park, where watching the canines frolic with total abandon and the regular overhead flight of hundreds of boisterous Canadian geese remind me that life is good and will be better some day soon.
I admit that I have changed and I have watched my friends change, too.
I am anxious. I used to enjoy shopping. Now it is simply a chore. I run my errands and am so glad to take off my mask, get into the car, and return home.
Last week I was in Costco and noticed as soon as I entered the store a young couple with a boy about eight years old. The man was scolding the woman for being slow to make her choice of a comforter.
I groaned and felt sorry for the young woman and their son, who seemed to be embarrassed.
A few minutes later I encountered the trio in the vegetable department, where the man was again berating his partner in a loud voice. Another groan on my part.
Then we meet again in dairy products. Same story.
I turned to the man and said, “What makes you so miserable? You shouldn’t speak to your family like that.”
It occurred to me later that had this all happened in a less-friendly community (think southern U.S.) the headline in the local paper the next day would read, “Berated Dad stabs grouchy woman in grocery store”.
As luck would have it, the man simply stared at me and I proceeded to grab my bag of milk and head for the checkout.
As I thought back to the incident, I was stunned by my behaviour. It was impolite and it probably accomplished nothing. Over the past two years I have witnessed so many people losing their temper with others and I was shocked to think I had fallen into the same trap.
A few days later I was under considerable pressure to meet a particular deadline when I received a phone call from someone I had not heard from in many decades. She tracked me down through social media.
With decreasing patience, I listened to her for 45 minutes describe her rapture as someone who has become extremely religious and devoted her life to electing Donald Trump and re-electing him in 2024. Trump-appointed judges and politicians will ensure the next federal election is not ”stolen”, she assured me. She’s also homophobic and racist and an anti-vaxxer who extols every nutbar conspiracy theory making the circuit.
In pre-pandemic times I would have wished her well, agreed to disagree and suggested we have gone our very separate ways and no longer have anything in common. Goodbye. Click.
Alas, suffice it to say, you can now add blasphemy to my long list of sins. She had hit a lot of raw nerves.
Once again, I marvelled at my reaction—some would unkindly suggest overreaction—but I guess the pandemic devil made me do it.
And so it goes, the news of a turbulent world.
As I said at the beginning, there is joy to be found this Christmas if you look for it.
We find joy in being around our granddaughter Melissa, whose family has taken in a three-month-old foster child. Melissa, her husband, and three little girls of their own all love this new little gal and know they will be broken-hearted if and when the time comes and the biological mother is considered able to look after her.
In the meantime, they are selflessly providing her with a loving home and a greatly increased chance of having a good life.
There is joy in knowing our friend Cheryl, who every day like so many other frontline workers, puts her own health on the line for the well-being of the rest of us.
Because she’s single, this nurse has always volunteered to work over the holidays to give colleagues with children a chance to spend Christmas with their families.
This year, with a critical nursing shortage, she will work as much overtime as her energy will permit. So many nurses are off the job ill or simply burned out by an overburdened healthcare system in which unvaccinated patients suffering from the virus soak up limited hospital resources while victims of accidents, cancer, and other diseases wait in line for beds and treatment.
There is much I miss about Christmas as I remember it over so many years.
The pandemic may rob us of the merriness—but I will continue to search and be thankful for the joy that exists around us.
Best wishes to you all for a warm and wonderful Christmas.
Sally Barnes has enjoyed a distinguished career as a writer, journalist and author. Her work has been recognized in a number of ways, including receiving a Southam Fellowship in Journalism at Massey College at the University of Toronto. A self-confessed political junkie, she has worked in the back-rooms for several Ontario premiers. In addition to a number of other community contributions, Sally Barnes served a term as president of the Ontario Council on the Status of Women. She is a former business colleague of Doppler’s publisher, Hugh Mackenzie, and lives in Kingston, Ontario. You can find her online at sallybarnesauthor.com.
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