Holiday Season 2020:
A Whisper of a Place I’ve Been Before; A Reminder of What’s Important
A Whole New Meaning to “Home for Christmas”
A Covid-encumbered Christmas season reminds me a lot of the year I lost my job at a big law firm. I was two years out of law school and I’d been at this firm for a total of six. I was a single mom of a six-year-old and the stress of my life had me underperforming. No one was happy with me, least of all me.
I was fired the Monday before Thanksgiving. Shock didn’t even approach the roiling sick feeling I had as I walked out of the firm at 9:30 a.m. with no savings account, no plan for a backup, and no juice in my energetic tank for trying to figure out where my next rent payment was coming from let alone Christmas presents for my son.
This is not the situation I’m in today, either with my bank account or with my support system, but the Covid lockdowns of 2020 have brought all these feelings back to the surface.
Like the governmental unemployment rescue benefits of 2020, my law firm was gracious enough to give me a severance package that bought me a few months of grace while I figured my life out.
I was in the situation that so many people in our country are in today. Living paycheck to paycheck, running on empty from day to day, trying my best but always feeling behind. The main difference being that the lockdown sent everyone home this year even though they were not underperforming. It’s a larger and different kind of stress when it genuinely had nothing to do with you.
But, this shock to my career life gave me a new lease on life. It sounds cliché but it gave me a little space to breathe. I had just begun writing again after a 10-year writer’s block (please don’t come at me about how writer’s block doesn’t exist) and I used the time to write and found a few freelancing gigs. I even freelanced my legal services for awhile.
And most important, I spent time with my child. I exchanged full-time corporate-lawyer-mother status for full-time mother-with-work-to-be-done-when-he-was-in-school-only status.
Today I don’t have school-age kids at home and that addition to so many people I know has been the energetic equivalent of working double-time all at once. Two hours worth of work and attention during every actual hour. Many people are up for this challenge. Many others are wilting under the stress. Bandwidth is low for every single human I have come into contact with this year.
I know all about low bandwidth. I became a single mom when I was in my second year of law school. I was working two jobs and managing a falling-down home and a 2½ year old by myself. Losing my job a few years later was just the logical outcome of the message: Susan’s bandwidth is unsteady.” Eventually, you get booted out.
Back then, because no one was cutting me a uniform paycheck every week, we chose a frugal Christmas. As it turns out, it was more abundant than ever. I’d prepped my little one for a scaled back Christmas morning.
Instead of feeling cheated, he rallied with me in finding ways to honor the season without laying out cash. He was the consummate helper when he was that teeny. He felt included and necessary in the goal to save money and share our time with each other. He knew that another office job would afford us a present-heavy Christmas but would also mean before- and after-school care for him. Even at six, he could understand this.
Instead, I got to take my son to the bus every morning and was there waiting for him when the bus rounded the corner to bring him home. We would linger over chit-chat every afternoon while we rifled through his backpack to see what news there was from school. We cooked dinner together instead of choosing the fast food du jour together.
I cleared my schedule for all the times he was home instead of cramming in our few precious moments at the end of a long and harrowing work day before bath, snack, and sleep. I told him that time together is irreplaceable and that money cannot buy it. Even at six, he somehow could understand this.
Connecting in a Whole New Way
My little is now almost 25 and we are Zooming this year to watch It’s a Wonderful Life and open presents even though he only lives 3 miles away. Covid has also deleted any interest I have in a present-heavy Christmas. It just feels this year like all any of us needs is some time together, however that has to work out. We spent Thanksgiving socially distanced around our campfire with coats and mittens. We’ll spend Christmas on Zoom.
Even though I’ve been working for myself now for 15+ years, the one thing I miss about not working in an office at this time of year is the camaraderie. There is a community in the frenzy. There’s that fateful sigh at 3:00 on Christmas Eve when the corner boss finally announces that everyone can go home early to be with their families, as if it’s a surprise every year.
As a lawyer, I didn’t have to wait for the corner-boss’s okay, but I never felt morally able to leave when the support-staff (all women, nearly all with families to tend to) were required to stay. I do miss the cheery wishes as everyone bundled up for the snowy drive home, that feeling of family with those people I spent more time with than my own family. I miss the people. Try as we might, staying in touch was too cumbersome for most of us.
This year, so many people are working from home still instead of working in their buzzy offices or other type of workplace. It’s been a tragic year in so many respects. So many. But it is my fervent hope that the quiet of the holiday season and the spareness of our larders will give us all time and pause to breathe. To remember that nothing under the tree matters more than the rejuvenation of our spirits and the vitality of our hearts.
Solitude has weighed heavy on people this year. I was not alone this year but I felt very, very alone all those years ago and the imprint of that feeling is still with me today. Zoom is a substitute for the touch of flesh and the sparkle of laughter unmitigated by technology, but it is also my hope that the substitute will find us all the cup of grace we need to be with each other in whatever way we can and to let that be enough.
The quiet of Christmas and Yule and Hanukkah and Kwanza may leave us feeling melancholy this year but may it also leave us feeling grateful and more ready to connect with each other and seek that which keeps us safe in the new year.