It is four days after Christmas and three days until the New Year, and I have done everything this month, and also I have done nothing at all. I did the Necessary Holiday Things; there was stuff in stockings, there were presents under the plastic tree, I was wildly grateful for my ridiculous gaggle of loud, obnoxious, sweary humans, and I also felt like a lump who accomplished Zero… a lump who maybe should have done more? Been more? Like there should have been more hot meals prepared with my hands and perhaps some mopping of the muddy floors? Like I should have made cheerful Christmas cookies for the neighbors and peppermint fudge. Or written a few letters by hand instead of shooting emails into the ether.
I don’t know quite how to describe this “Being a Human in 2020” phenomenon. It’s like a forced rest with no rest at all. Like sleeping without being refreshed. Like someone took an ice cream scoop to my brain, turning it into an homage to Swiss cheese and causing random system failures. The ice cream scoop is stress, I’m sure, but an exacerbated variety that causes me to Fight, Fly, and Freeze all at once, instead of choosing just one of the Lizard Brain responses. As a result, this year feels like I’m nervously standing still while running screaming into the dark. Like I’m Schrödinger’s Cat and 2020 is the Box; I’m alive and dead simultaneously.
Is it strange living through a global pandemic? For absolute sure. It’s surreal to pause so many parts of life and not know when to reboot while other parts proceed, full steam ahead. And it’s particularly odd knowing this year will be a formative memory for my children. This—this right here, right now—is their childhood. This is what they’ll tell their children and grandchildren. What feels like a holding pattern to me is the actual journey for them.
But at the same time, I feel like my weird, wild family had a jumpstart on Living in Ludicrous Times. We, after all, have been Very Bizarre for decades now, eschewing what’s Normal whenever Normal failed to deliver joy. I just didn’t expect that to give me a leg up, easing our transition into the After Times.
I keep wondering, especially during the holidays, what magical fairyland people lived in before 2020, because it seems that Chaos and Uncertainty are entirely new to some folks. On the one hand, I’m sympathetic. Chaos and Uncertainty are hard and heartbreaking because they inherently carry elements of loss; it’s not a simple thing to mourn How Things Were Supposed to Be. On the other hand, Chaos and Uncertainty can be gifts that rip through our carefully constructed boxes and, if we dare to look, show us a whole world beyond them. A world that’s more flexible. A world where we’re more compassionate to others and to ourselves.
In small ways, I’m starting to see some constraints crumble and freedom leak into the cracks. There was no real debate this year, for the first time I can remember, about when trees and lights can go up and when we’re allowed to sing about Rudolph and Silent Nights. Instead, everyone was all, “IT’S ALL EFFING CHAOS, PUT YOUR CHRISTMAS TREE UP IN SEPTEMBER, TAKE IT DOWN IN MAY, LISTEN TO CHRISTMAS MUSIC WHENEVER IT MAKES YOU HAPPY, EAT CANDY CANES ALL YEAR LONG.” Like this year we collectively decided light and joy are invited on all the days in all their forms, and it doesn’t make sense to ration or confine them.
I find myself nodding along and saying, “Yes, yes! Welcome to the Wilderness, friends. Our rules out here are Compassion, Love, and Joy. The end. Anything that helps further those aims is encouraged.”