Okay, so…how are we going to do this?
We’re darting our way through the months allocated toward autumn at a pace hastened by an early debut of snow. Old Man Winter went onstage without an opening act and he just started shredding. And pretty hard for an old guy.
Fall is the season of baggage. Whether it’s slung over your shoulder at the airport, or the kind that comes with the impending holiday season, autumn has its own set of expectations. For many, these expectations show up in the form of tradition. Expectations bring stress—and a dent in the bank account—to our already crowded lives. 2020 brings a whole new set of stressors to navigate, as we launch into our season of gathering.
Who makes the cut? Who’s going to be on the other side of Mt. Turkey when you’re sitting at the table on Thanksgiving? Said table will almost certainly seem sparser this year, mostly due to COVID-19, but I’m guessing the election will deliver a few empty chairs of its own. It’s that kind of year.
If we play by the CDC guidelines in place for indoor dining, our gatherings should be half the size they were last year. I’m not sure that’ll happen. My sister, the family glue, is already sweating over the abbreviated guest list, haunted by the thought of leaving someone out. But she’s a mom, and she’s doing what she has to. As cringy as it sounds, we may be doing some Zoom-eating this Thanksgiving.
I’m a solitary person, so I’ve been able to find a silver lining to this slowed-down version of life. When I lived in California, my family was across the country, so I spent Christmas by myself in my tiny Venice Beach apartment. I was alone but not lonely; I could totally appreciate the me time—and some of the loudest silence I’d ever heard. It was different but it was completely ok. I remember the library was closed, but I was on my bike for a lot of the day, and I grabbed a slice from the boardwalk, and I probably watched Seinfeld.
I’m not a religious person but holidays are reserved for family. I’m lucky enough to have always had a place to go for a warm meal with familiar faces. Spending a few holidays with a couple thousand miles between my family and myself ended up being its own adventure. It forced me to see life from a new angle; it had a voyeuristic quality to it. And when I came back, I was lucky enough to have tradition waiting for me—with a spot at the table.
I don’t have instructions to dole out or advice to hand down; I’m a listener on this one. Collectively, I believe we can quell the butterfly-effect that comes with a viral pandemic—we can gather thoughtfully. Again, cringy stuff, but at the end of the day it’s what we’re doing to protect the grandmothers of total strangers. I’m OK with that.
It’s been here for a while now, but it’s still new. Nine months into the pandemic and we’re still getting our footing. As we barrel toward a season of stress (even when there isn’t an active pandemic) I’m going to remember to take it easy on my fellow man. I’ll take things as they come and I’ll keep an open mind. If I have to improvise, I will. My expectations are managed; it’ll be ok.