“Don’t waste a crisis.”
— Myron F. Weiner, 1976
Every December, I pull together stories of the past year for a family newsletter that I send out as a Christmas card. It’s a fun tradition to trace the growth of 12 months and tell the tale to our far-flung loved ones.
A couple years ago that job became a little easier when I started keeping a family journal of sorts, which I call our “Book of Days.” I note little stories, quotes, quips and anecdotes — the type of ephemera that will float away like dandelion seeds in the wind unless I reach out my hand to grasp and hold them.
Looking through this grab-bag of moments has helped me as I write our annual family holiday epistle. It’s also made me think about this wild year we’ve had — how it changed our family and what among those changes we’d like to hold onto when things — we hope! — stagger back toward normal this year.
I was struck that in my entries beginning in the lockdown in March, I stopped tracking entries by date of the month, and instead just labeled them “Tuesday, 10:22 a.m.” or “Friday, 3:15 p.m..” There were multiple entries per day. We lost so much, but we gained something invaluable: simple, uncomplicated, endless time together as a family.
We played card games at the kitchen table and badminton in the backyard. With no in-person schooling, we assigned out kids readings, “home” work, foreign language lessons via an online app and classical poetry to memorize.
As we entered our 20th year as a family with no television, we had to entertain ourselves. We told corny jokes (“What do you do with a sick chemist? You try to Curium, then you Barium.” It’s a joke my 15-year-old son tells periodically.)
We took walks. We baked bread after scoring some sourdough starter from an acquaintance in Winlock. We planned out an epic garden. We finished our basement.
Our family has been immensely fortunate. My wife and I were able to work from home or safely in our offices. I know that this pandemic has been devastating for so many families and businesses. We’ve focused on trying to patronize local businesses, supporting them as they sell curbside or mail us items.
In 2021, which of these habits can we maintain? As our life slowly opens back up, can we carve out simple family time together? Let’s remember this era when we were together around the table for dinner and Scrabble. Let’s save up puns and one-up each other on the groaners. Let’s walk in the sun and maybe even the rain.
Let’s buy gift cards from local restaurants and patiently hold onto them until things open back up.
In this time when we can’t safely gather, let’s rediscover the telephone and call up people when we think of them. Let’s maintain and even expand connections that have lapsed into the pale shadows of occasional texts or Facebook likes.
And when we can safely get together with friends, family and neighbors, let’s do it! After this year of isolation, I hope we never again take for granted the blessings of companionship.
I’d challenge you to look back on this unprecedented time, not as a year to rush into the rear view mirror, but as a stained glass window that can illuminate a better, more beautiful future.
Here’s hoping this column finds you with Christmas spirit in full bloom. As your thoughts turn to resolutions for 2021, I’d love to hear them.
What are you vowing and hoping for yourself and our community?
This is a year that many of us would like to forget, but we can make the future a brighter one by learning lessons; taking what worked from this year and forming it a cornerstone for what’s ahead.
Brian Mittge wishes you all a happy second day of Christmas! Drop him a line with cheer, resolutions or admonitions at firstname.lastname@example.org.