When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now, we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love. –1 Corinthians 13:11-13 NRSV
Without darkness, nothing comes to birth, As without light, nothing flowers.
– May Sarton –
For the last 25 years, we have hosted an annual holiday open house. It has become a part of our yearly routine, a way to gather friends, to celebrate traditions, to create connections among folks wherever we found ourselves local. Starting in Port Angeles when our kids were little, we’d invite the folks from our church and neighborhood to pop by for a visit, enjoy hot apple cider and sample cookies made from my Nana’s favorite recipes. The Open House became “la Casa Abierta” in Costa Rica. Over the next 12 years we added tamales and salty snacks to the menu and carol singing and soccer games to the order of the day. The open house became a full house that overflowed with food, laughter, story and song. Now the church in Santo Tomas carries on the tradition in their own way, more like a posada (a traditional progressive journey from house to house in the neighborhood to share snacks and songs) with familia Baits-inspired sweet treats, but still a way to gather friends, celebrate traditions and create connections. For the last seven years, we’ve hosted it from our little place near Squaxin Island, on unceded Coast Salish territory now known as Olympia, WA. Today would have been the day of the year when we’d be cleaning, rearranging furniture, heating apple cider and putting out the trays of cookies, a crockpot full of Mexican tamales, (an accessible adaptation for here) and vegetarian options (a lifestyle adaptation we’ve embraced) to prepare for the 30+ folks from our Emmaus House community to gather. This year, things are different. Because of Covid 19 contagion, the act of NOT GATHERING is the best way to care for others. I’m writing to you instead. I’m writing to re-connect and to remember what matters most. This year love looks different. Not bad, just different.
Psychologists Rebecca Schrag Hershberger and Yael Schonbrun of the Greater Good Science Center, offer tips for coping with the loss of holiday traditions.
As the reindeer Sven in the Disney’s movie “Frozen” once noted, “You feel how you feel, and your feelings are real.” Though we can’t change the reality of this pandemic or the general social turmoil all around us, we can make changes in how we frame stories about what is happening, as well as the day-to-day choices we make.
In the case of families who cannot be together, this may take the form of accepting the sadness of a holiday apart from loved ones. Offer yourself kindness and remember that you are in good company in your grief. From there, you can strive to savor small and unanticipated gifts and appreciate the blessing to have friends, a family and traditions to miss, even as you make space for sadness.
I received a text from my friend Jodi that said they would be having tamales, eating Christmas cookies and watching Christmas movies and thinking of us tonight. It’s a Baits holiday “closed house” at their house (not as fun, and missing us, but wanted to honor the tradition somehow). They will donate gloves and toothpaste to the homeless ministry in our honor as well, since we usually collect those. In response, I mentioned that I was busying myself with other tasks to cope with this Covid disappointment. She offered the following encouragement, “Sometimes doing something completely new and not thinking about what you’re missing can be a good strategy, too. We thought we would honor parts of the tradition and then add a COVID twist to it;). Pivot and adapt. That’s our strategy lately.” I imagine this like a dance move. I have been leaning into this wisdom as well. I see how over the years, even when we could be together at our Open House/Casa Abierta, we pivoted and adapted to our new realities. We learned what worked, let go of what didn’t and held onto what matters most. We’re figuring out new and creative ways to gather friends, celebrate traditions and create connections virtually and physically distanced, because caring for the health and safety of the community is what matters most to us.
This year when many of our expectations and traditions will look different, we might feel sad and disappointed, and that’s okay. “You feel how you feel and your feelings are real.” When things don’t go as you had hoped, can you let go, knowing you’re not alone while holding on to what matters most? What is emerging/being born in us when these shifts happen? As a Global Consultant, whose work has been defined mostly by travel, staying put and sheltering in place has been a big shift for me. Instead of boarding airplanes and facilitating restorative expressive arts workshops, I’m developing a new online presence, facilitating trainings via Zoom and doing arts-based research and study on collective healing of cultural trauma.
New questions have been emerging in the meantime while I wait to resume my typical work. What needs to shift and change in me, in us, so all not just some can live well and be free? How can we learn to dance, pivot and adapt in the darkness until the light of the new breaks in? What pivots and adaptations can we practice to live into faith, hope and love these days? I’d love to hear from you. YOU are what matters most to me. No matter where we are, apart or together, love abides. Let’s live like it matters.
Living into the questions. Will you join me?