Because of a global pandemic that began about a year ago, 2020 has been one of the most punishing and painful years in the lives of most of humanity. Many have died. Many are dying. Many more will die and millions have become ill, some with dire and long-term physical and psychological ailments.
There is widespread suffering at home and around the world. Food insecurity has ballooned. The economic consequences are the worst since the Great Depression. There are many millions of stories of struggle, of loneliness, of despair, of relentless anxiety, of hopelessness.
Still, there are just as many examples of transcendence, big and small, from health workers risking their lives for others to neighbours cooking and sharing meals with each other to small niceties and acts of generosity and gratitude.
Most of the United Kingdom, where a variant of the virus has exploded, is under severe lockdown and will be for possibly a number of months.
In yesterday’s UK Guardian, Frances Ryan, who suffers from a longstanding lung disability, shared her story of struggle and transcendence during the pandemic which has ravaged the United Kingdom.
Ryan has spent seven months and 15 days without leaving her parents’ home for fear of contracting COVID-19 and dying.
“I’ve been shielding at my parents’ bungalow since some time in the spring. That means none of us going out, ever, and not letting anyone in. For the owner of low-grade lungs in a respiratory pandemic, this was an easy decision to make, but it is surreal and unfamiliar, too.
“Both in their early 60s, my parents are retired and are making the sacrifice with me. They have had the pleasure of my company before the pandemic, when I’ve been too unwell to live alone, but being locked in together 24/7 is new, a kind of familial house arrest.”
Ryan details what such isolation and a perpetual lockdown has been like. She describes what she and her parents have missed (including seeing their new grandchild/niece), the sacrifices they have made, the emotional toll on the family, the longing for normalcy, the seizing anxiety, the tedium and boredom.
But she also writes:
“And yet I find myself overwhelmingly grateful. I have felt loved even when alone, safe in a time of fear. My motto is that if you’re alive or employed during a pandemic, you’re winning (double points for both).
“I don’t think anyone with a long-term health condition expects that life always goes smoothly; there will be bumps along the way, sometimes large ones. There is no inalienable right to go to the pub.
“But human beings have a remarkable ability to cope. We adapt. We make the best of it. I look to the small things. The orange and pinks of £5 supermarket gerberas. Recordings of my niece tentatively taking her first steps.”
Ryan’s story is one of extraordinary gratitude, which many here at home and around the world have also expressed. Sadly, too many at home are paralyzed with ingratitude.
The extraordinary sacrifice of her parents stands in stark and remarkable contrast to the selfishness of those who have been sometimes or often cavalier in following public health guidelines and who have endangered the health of others, indifferent to their neighbours or fellow citizens.
While much of the world is in a dire situation, with the pandemic readying to take an even greater human and economic toll, we are doing generally well in The Bahamas because of the work of health and other government officials and the compliance of many Bahamians who have followed the health guidelines.
Even as restaurants, retail stores and other businesses are closing throughout North and South America, Europe, South Africa and across Asia, there is some level of normalcy in The Bahamas.
Numerous aspects of Christmas celebration have been shuttered in many countries, while at home we are able to enjoy a greater level of celebrations. We should be grateful.
This gratitude might extend in a greater appreciation for the deeper splendour and light of Christmas that is the commemoration of the birth of Jesus Christ, full of hope for a weary world in need of rejoicing. This light of Christ has shone throughout the year in thousands of stories of light, of compassion, of generosity.
The light and splendour of Christmas has been resident in the hearts of many Bahamians throughout the pandemic.
We have witnessed the extraordinary generosity of those who have donated food to help the tens of thousands of Bahamians and residents facing hunger.
There is the story of a Family Island nurse who endured and ministered to others in Abaco during and in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Dorian, who cared for residents on another island during the pandemic.
In gratitude, the residents of that island gave her the gift of a holiday weekend.
An adoring grandfather made sure that the Christmas lights in the garden were just as brilliant this year so that he and his six-year-old granddaughter could enjoy the lights and Christmas carols.
This very same grandfather constructed a Christmas backdrop for the grandbaby for ZOOM calls for school online. A landlady forgave several months of rent for a tenant even though she has not worked for most of the year.
There is also the example of a prelate who privately offered support and encouragement to others during some of the most difficult and depressing days of the pandemic, when there was little light and when hope was a very distant star.
Some are giving gifts of food or money to friends in need this Christmas. Some families are preparing take-away meals for family and friends who cannot be together in person this year.
Columnist and author David Brooks once wrote: “Jesus is the person who shows us what giving yourself away looks like.” Think of those in your life who, in the imitation of Christ, continue to give themselves away. If we are fortunate, we might try in our own ways to similarly give ourselves away.
During Christmas and as a New Year approaches, such light and self-donation are necessary for healing of myriad wounds and brokenness. In his hymn of healing and light, “Come Healing”, Leonard Cohen invites us:
“O, gather up the brokenness
Bring it to me now
The fragrance of those promises
You never dared to vow
“The splinters that you carried
The cross you left behind
Come healing of the body
Come healing of the mind
“And let the heavens hear it
The penitential hymn
Come healing of the spirit
Come healing of the limb
“Behold the gates of mercy
In arbitrary space
And none of us deserving
Of cruelty or the grace
“O, solitude of longing
Where love has been confined
Come healing of the body
Come healing of the mind
“O, see the darkness yielding
That tore the light apart
Come healing of the reason
Come healing of the heart
“O, troubledness concealing
An undivided love
The heart beneath is teaching
To the broken heart above
“And let the heavens falter
Let the earth proclaim
France Ryan ended her reflection in the UK Guardian:
“As I write this, the arrival of a vaccine gives hope. If this last year has been house arrest, perhaps the next will bring probation. I tell myself that the trees lining my local park are merely waiting.
The cool of fresh air and the warmth of a friend’s hug are sensations on pause.
In the meantime, there is always home.”
Despite the many Bahamians struggling because of the widespread effects of the pandemic, here at “home” we have many blessings and examples of light for which we should be grateful.
Let us be grateful also for the “home” we have found in the hearts of others and in the love and generosity we have experienced that is the splendour and love of Christ found in those who imitate and express this love to us in profound generosity.
A blessed Christmas.