18 Dec 2020 Has Been the Dickens
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way—in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.” Sound familiar? While it seems like it could have been written just yesterday, it comes from A Tale of Two Cities, written by Charles Dickens (yes, that one!) in 1859. The passage suggests an age of radical extremes—and if that doesn’t describe 2020, I don’t know what does. Oddly enough, it made me think of an old quote from Mr. Rogers, “When I was a boy, and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping’.” And therein lies the juxtaposition of 2020—this year has been scary. Yet the tales of those helping others in every way you can possibly imagine has made visible the silver linings of this pandemic time and time again. There’s no question that the last 10 months have been the dickens. But, maybe just maybe, the story arc is more like the holiday classic Dicken’s novella, A Christmas Carol, instead.
I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, it might be the holidays, but it doesn’t quite feel like the holidays. It’s weird. Or at least it feels weird. But then I’m reminded of something my husband has said to me for decades. When we’re out on a date, having an especially great day, cooking dinner together, or enjoying some time when our family of four is all together under the same roof. He’ll look at me and say, “How do you feel right this very minute?” My answer is always one of joy and gratitude. Then he immediately says, “Remember this feeling. One day we won’t be feeling exactly like this and we’ll need to remember this day and exactly how we’re feeling to be reminded that there are better days ahead.” It’s a good way to lock the good memories in our hearts, but it’s also reserved as a dose of hope for later—when we’ll need it most. One of our teammates emailed us this morning to share with us the good news of an enormous milestone she was celebrating today. In the note she wrote, “Oh, holidays. They bring out all the feels. ❤” I hope she remembers exactly how she feels today, holds it in her heart and is reminded that—even in the year of Covid—life can still be good.
With 2020 being such an anomaly, the holidays might not look exactly like they have in the past, but they can still be memorable. Shortly after Thanksgiving, I shared with the CoFo team how my family never gets to enjoy the Thanksgiving meal (and often Christmas) with my husband. When you have a police officer in the family, that’s just how it is sometimes. Of course, we always make him an enormous plate with all the fixin’s. And he enjoys his piping hot microwaved dinner as soon as he changes out of his uniform. We usually spend the rest of the night watching movies together in front of the fireplace. That’s our normal and we make it work. Thankfully, pun intended, throughout the years, there have always been angels among us who have provided a Thanksgiving meal for him and many other frontline workers. At times it’s included turkey and mashed potatoes. Other times it’s been a dozen large pizzas delivered, tins filled with grandma’s most amazing baked goodies, or simply a cup coffee on the house at a local convenience store. Generosity big and small—all given with an extra helping of gratitude. Why? Because someone’s family member had a fender bender on the way to dinner and needed emergency assistance. Or, in the rush of all things festive, someone absentmindedly locked their keys in their car, and someone has to come to the rescue. Sometimes it’s for the love of the children when a newly divorced couple needs assistance to ensure that the kids are peacefully transferred from one house to the other. Whatever’s needed, the police are there to help so that your family has every chance of enjoying a day of joy and gratitude that they can reserve in their hopeful heart. So, the families of police officers have had years of practice adjusting and adapting. Our Thanksgiving and Christmas likely hasn’t ever looked like yours—until now.
Unfortunately, many of you out there might have sort of a police officer’s Christmas this year. Covid is preventing large groups from gathering and many of our family members are in a high-risk category, so we don’t want to expose them to unnecessary germs if we can avoid it. Many people are spending the holidays in the hospital this year. And likely, more frontline workers than normal are busy taking care of your family members when you can’t. Still, others will be grounded at home because they tested positive for Covid or were possibly quarantined because of Covid exposure. Everything’s just amok this year, but it doesn’t have to be bad.
On top of being the wife of a police officer, I’m also the mother of a soldier. For us, and many others, that means we won’t be able to enjoy Christmas day with our full family of four—at least not on December 25th. I’m not gonna lie, it’s a bummer for us. And if your family can’t celebrate like you have traditionally, it’ll feel like a bummer for you, too. But it will be fine. Trust me, I know. And I might be able to offer up some useful advice. After all, we can’t lose sight of all the insights that a wacky year like this has brought. Whatever version of normal we might return to one day doesn’t mean we should neglect to learn a few hard-earned lessons. In fact, it would almost be a secondary tragedy if we don’t.
Below are some things I’ve learned as we’ve modified our holidays in the past and some things I think resonate well with 2020—the year of Covid. Maybe they’ll speak to you too, as we take our lessons from today and decide whether we will become bitter humans or better humans. Choose wisely.
1. LOCATION IS IRRELEVANT. Once upon a time we thought all work had to be done from the office. And, while that is sometimes true, a laptop and Wi-Fi to Zoom has kept many employed while the work was still able to get done. I have to admit that I miss the community culture of our team and our office when we can’t be together, but we’ve made it work. Additionally, we’ve also learned that we can Zoom with our family and our friends. It’s ironic. We’ve always had this technology, but we reserved it for work. Now we’ve discovered that it can give us easy access to family on the other side of the world or friends in another state. All of this applies to the holidays just as much as it does the workplace because now, location is irrelevant—literally.
2. TIME IS OF THE ESSENCE. Joyce Meyer used to talk about being baptized in busy. As a working mother, that used to resonate with me. Time just seemed to fly by. That was until we were told to wash our hands through two complete stanzas of Happy Birthday. Is it just me or does that feel like an eternity when you’re washing your hands? It’s literally no more than 60 seconds. One stinkin’ minute. Wonder what else you could do in a minute? Send a text. Make an encouraging social media post. Facetime someone to tell them to have a great day. Buy somebody’s coffee in the Starbucks drive-thru. Make a donation in a Salvation Army bucket. A minute is more than you think—add 30 or 60 or 120 of them together and the possibilities of making the world (or your corner of it) a little brighter are endless. Play the game. Watch the movie. Bake the cookies. Take the nap. We have time.
3. GENEROSITY IS THE GREAT MULTIPLIER. Perhaps in the past, we thought we needed to be wealthy to give or that giving money was the only way to express generosity. As I received a care package at my front doorstep recently while I was quarantined, I was overcome with how thankful I was for the sheer expression of generosity. It contained the first Christmas decoration I placed in my house this year, some amazing tea to keep me warm in this chilly weather, my favorite Diet Dr. Pepper, and these awesome peanut butter filled pretzels that I hadn’t purchased since my kids lived at home—I’d forgotten how good they are! When chatting about it, I was reminded how I had delivered two care packages months ago—one that included toilet paper and butter and another that included tomato sauce and potatoes of all things. It wasn’t much, but it never had to be—generosity multiplies all on its own.
4. NECESSITY IS THE MOTHER OF INVENTION. It’s an old adage but still holds true today. When you always do the same thing year in and year out, you don’t have to put too much thought into the plans—that is until 2020 took all of our plans and put them in a Santa-sized bag and shook them up like a child with a brand-new snow globe. Then all bets were off. But that just forced us to be a bit more creative. Sure, we had to stop doing some things—maybe we should have a long time ago. And, yes, we had to invent new ways to solve problems—maybe we should have a long time ago. All I know is that this pandemic forced us to figure things out in ways we had never done before. And I, for one, hope some of these new solutions stick around long after Covid isn’t in our everyday vernacular.
5. EMPATHY IS THE REAL MVP. Once upon a time, a dog attending any kind of business meeting would have been the height of unprofessionalism—now they’re often our co-workers. In fact, I was on a Zoom call the other day when a toddler escaped the bathtub unexpectedly and went streaking through the background of the meeting. Things happen. The meeting continued and we progressed with our project—no big deal. Quarantines have caused last-minute cancellations, missed deadlines, and co-workers to donate vacation days to those who were ill and missed more work than their sick days allowed—and the world didn’t come to an end. The unpredictability that Covid has wrought from week to week has forced the spirit of empathy upon us. While we all understand the work still needs to get done, I’m hopeful that this empathy muscle we’ve been exercising more lately will remain strong post-pandemic because empathy is the real MVP.
That’s it, friends. Five things from 2020 that I hope to carry into 2021 and beyond. Perhaps it’s a good time for you to think about your five things or adopt some of mine. Maybe 2020 has been the modern-day version of Scrooge being visited by three ghosts in one night. And we all know how that ended—God Bless us, every one!