Octo Observations: The 2020 Holidays…..A Mixed Bag!

Somehow, and I do not know how, people are scurrying around our city as if this were a normal holiday season, with zero danger of contracting Covid-19. Parking lots are filled, and a little old lady like me feels she takes her life in her hands venturing into a big box store like Costco. So, I avoid large stores and malls as much as possible. I shop on line or write checks.

Santa’s 2020 pack  is indeed a mixed bag. On the one hand, we can all cheer joyfully over the FDA’s approval of 95% effective Pfizer vaccine to 21 million health care workers and 3 million long term care facility residents. YAHOO…..no one, but no one would have thought this could be possible ten months ago when the corona virus was first identified. To me and many others, this is a Christmas miracle. And to me this is the best news that anyone of us could possibly receive, regardless of age.

Last night I heard Army Colonel Gus Perna, COO of Operation Warp Speed, announce  on national news that by Monday, (tomorrow December 14), the distribution of vaccines will begin. The first wave of Americans will be inoculated. The implementation of this project is orchestrated to the most minute detail. Plus, sites of vaccine storehouses are highly secret, so as to prevent  sabotage. How do we ever say, “Thank You” enough to our Military for its role in such a tremendous effort? Col. Perva equated this effort to D-Day….in that “it is not the end of the war, but the turning point.” Glorious, Glorious News!

On the other hand, there are still thousands of people who have tested positive, too many occupied ICU beds filled with seriously ill patients, and countless bereaved families who have lost dearly loved ones to the disease. My heart aches for them. Not even the vaccines can bring back these loved ones. So, indeed, Christmas, Hannukka and NewYear’s are a mixed bag this year.

A front-page story in our newspaper caught my eye this morning. A  special gift for those Covid patients on ventilators in our local St. Mary’s hospital. For the most critically ill patients, a caring, creative nurse devised the idea of implanting voice recordings by family members in plush stuffed teddy bears. That way, although patients could not see their loved ones, they could hear their voices. The article related one man’s delight as he woke up from a medically induced coma to “deeply personal and emotional” messages sung or spoken by his entire family. What a precious gift of comfort to those in need.

Lest we wallow in the events of 2020, let’s upend our thinking and dig deep into our hearts for the grace and peace of this season of hope and joy. And it is all around us. It is up to us to embrace it. Yes, there is profound, viable sadness as small businesses are forced to close. Many  restaurants can no longer serve revelers inside or outside, and hard-working owners risk losing their homes as well as their businesses. This is beyond sad….no soothing words that can assuage the angst and hurt of watching one’s livelihood evaporate in a cloud of state-controlled restrictions that may or may not be effective.

I can only comment with compassion on what I see and live first hand. Perhaps these realities may help some of you…and perhaps there are those of you who could add your own stories to the effects the pandemic has had on you. Younger generations can save their stories for future grandbabies…and any of us can share our thoughts about life in 2020 for books that will one day line library shelves or fill mega giga bites on personal computers. Lessons have been learned.

Yesterday the phone rang. It was an Ohio friend whose wife , my good friend, died quite mercifully a few months ago after a courageous battle with cancer. Being a caring man and a retired orthopedic surgeon, this man inquired first about my John, his friend and classmate.. I updated him. I then remarked how much it meant to receive a note from his deceased wife’s daughter now perpetuating her mom’s successful jewelry business. Our friend admitted his grief is “still there.” Each evening he re-reads the cards and letters his wife received during her illness. Among them was one I wrote in 2017. 

As this friend read the contents to me, he choked up, as did I. Mopping up, we both realized the importance of cherishing each good memory, each good day. He then told me that as a leader of the Class Caring team, he contacted  a classmate’s new widow. The two of them agreed on a specific time for the call…..yet with time zone differences they realized they would chat on either side of the cocktail hour. Hence, our friend said he poured a glass of white wine, while the widow poured a glass of red wine. The two talked about their grief and their adjustment  to their aloneness for 30 minutes….”a virtual cocktail party for two!” The call was meaningful, as they could readily identify with the other’s feelings. 

Remarkable to me how the cycle of life and death has no guaranteed time frame. Yet the inevitability of our mortality comes to each of us the older we get. Nevertheless, we keep putting one foot in front of the other….and if we are caring folks, we reach out to touch another person in need the best way we can. That is what our friend and this lady in North Dakota did…..and they each felt better as a result.

For years I have exchanged birthday greetings and occasional phone calls with my very first good gal-pal whom I met as a bride in 1957. She is a one-time high school teacher with a master’s degree, a bright, well-read lady who is also a gourmet cook. Sadly, she has had a difficult personal life fraught with heartaches: divorce, major brain trauma to one daughter who was hit by a car, and her only son’s prolonged battle with kidney disease. We have not lived near each other in decades. Nevertheless, this lady and I share a bond that will not be broken. 

As I read her most recent email I was dismayed because she continues to mourn the death of her (scumbag) ex-husband after several years. According to her, he was “the love of my life,” even though he abandoned her and their three adopted children in favor of running off with a married woman and mother of six children. How sad to hear my friend, year after year, bemoan her lost love. So, this time, I took a leap and wrote her a rather stern email….in which I suggested to her that it is time to let go, to give herself permission to enjoy the remaining years we are lucky enough to have. 

She has reasonably good health, few financial worries, many talents. Why allow them to be eclipsed by clinging to the memory of a husband who did her dirt? Yes, he tried to make amends as time passed, and provided well for her, with new cars every few years….but that was guilt speaking, rather than love. Everyone has to choose his or her own path in life….that is true, but sometimes it makes sense to try to stop the slide before it is too late. Life, no matter what it does to us, and what unhappiness or disappointments it brings, cannot be dismissed or disrespected. It is too precious to squander.

Hoda Kolb and Jenna Bush host a wonderfully uplifting and happy morning show on TV. Both my husband and I love to watch these delightful women. We tune in as often as possible. Not only are these ladies in sync with each other, but their show is HAPPY. No politics, no sniping, no nasty comments about other people….just positivity supreme.  

One day recently Hoda mentioned the difference between Happiness and Joy. She quoted a writer named Margaret Minnicks, and I paraphrase, “Happiness comes from the outside…from things that happen to us in that moment. Joy comes from inside us……when we appreciate everything that we have.” Isn’t that wonderful?? So simple, yet so true.

For so very many of us this year, we will not be with any or even a few family members on Christmas. It is the way it is….we will miss each other, but as I have said often before, we can connect via marvelous modern technology. 

SO, to each of you, may you have a very Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays. No matter how you look at your life, with its challenges and disappointments, please try with all your might to “Make a Joyful Noise unto the Lord, all ye lands..” There are blessings mixed with sorrows for everyone. Choose to embrace the bright side.

Find the treasures tucked into Santa’s bag…..and by all means, cherish those you love and who love you back…

Or as theologian Henri Nouwen said: “Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep choosing it every day.”

Joy Nevin is the author of Joy of Retirement – Live, Love, and Learn. Click to buy on Amazon.

Top photo: Bigstock

About Joy Nevin (68 Articles)
Joy Nevin was born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio. She graduated from Hathaway Brown School in Shaker Heights, attended Connecticut College for Women for two years until she married John Nevin in 1957. Four children later, with twelve corporate moves in 20 years, the family learned flexibility. In 1990, with a nearly empty nest, Joy and John moved to Richmond, Virginia where they put down roots. Now in her eighties, Joy is the author of “Get Moving: A Joyful Search to Meet and Embrace Life Transitions” (2002) and “Joy of Retirement: Live, Love and Learn” (2015). Since 2016 she has written numerous articles for Woman Around Town on downsizing, moving to a retirement facility and her current series, Octo Observations. She is also a proud Grammy of nine, great grandmother of two…..AND forever grateful to Charlene Giannetti for supporting her passion for writing!