This holiday season, I’ve been listening to Lavar Burton read Maxwell King’s biography of Fred Rogers, The Good Neighbor. In times of increased stressed, I find comfort in remembering the lives of humanitarians and in listening to soothing voices from my youth. This audio recording provides the opportunity for both. While listening, I’ve repeatedly remembered Mr. Rogers’ constant call for more quiet time. In fact, his biggest critics and his greatest fans cite this trait of his: He’s quiet. His show, Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, captivated my attention into my preteen years because of the way he gently encouraged contemplation, something deeply needed and also hard to come by when I was growing up.
As we approach Christmas, I am reflecting on the past year and how 2020 has, in many ways, forced us to pause, to become more contemplative. There’s nothing quite like a global pandemic to force humanity into a nature-made time out. Personally, I think Fred Rogers would approve. Perhaps this year for Christmas more of us will truly experience the tranquility of a silent night.
Silencing Our Thoughts
One reason we humans tend to avoid silence and contemplation is fear. Silence can be scary. It gives us time to think, and thoughts can be scary also. It stands to reason that during a year in which life as we have always known it is set on pause, we have experienced record-breaking levels of anxiety. However, if we can set aside our worries for a little while, perhaps we will receive the much-needed gift of rest.
As our nation has teetered on the edge of another shut-down and infection rates have risen alongside COVID-related death tolls, the usual holiday rush has been indefinitely postponed. Naturally, we mourn the opportunity to gather at holiday plays and winter concerts. We mourn the lack of in-person parties and have resorted to scaled-back or virtual family gatherings. But at the same time, we can enjoy the gift of quiet time. For once in December, we aren’t rushing from event to event with scarcely a chance to breathe. We aren’t eating our dinners in the car, rushing from rehearsal to performance and back home after bedtime.
We are actually spending evenings in our own living rooms, reveling in the holiday decorations most of us put up a week or two early this year. Shining through our collective grief comes the star of Hope, the kind of hope that comes when we finally relax and recognize that we have no obligation to remain constantly overworked and over-booked. The world will continue spinning whether or not we attend all the obligatory functions, perform perfectly at the neighborhood pageant, or get the ideal gifts for everyone on our list.
Redirecting Our Thoughts
In the stillness that is Holiday Season 2020, we can hear the sound of our own grief rising from the vast emptiness, which has taken over the space of our usual frenetic seasonal activities. Of course, it is important to acknowledge our losses. But it’s also important to redirect our thoughts, to notice the good that 2020 has brought our way. Gratitude for small things is essential, even in the wake of overwhelming grief. You’ve lost your job and a parent to COVID-19, but your cat is curled up in your lap, purring, because he wants to help you feel happy again. Count this blessing. You won’t be with relatives this Christmas because of the pandemic, but you had time this evening to bake your grandma’s cookie recipe, making the house smell like a home. Count this blessing. You cried yourself to sleep last night because you miss going in person to watch The Nutcracker, but this morning you woke rested after getting a full eight hours of sleep. Count this blessing. Blessings are all around us, as is grief. Although we must acknowledge the difficulties we face, recognizing the blessings is also important. It won’t change reality, but it can help shift our focus.
Change of any kind is stressful and uncomfortable. The changes that have come for all of us in 2020 are overwhelming. However, we as humans are resilient. Throughout the past year, we’ve reinvented ourselves, found ways to surmount countless unexpected hurdles, and made the most of each blessing that came as a result of our new circumstances. Doors have slammed shut. Windows too. Some others have flown open, and a few have opened after we’ve jimmied the locks. Still, we have persisted. We have overcome. And now, in the twilight of the year, we have the opportunity to be still, to reflect, and to take pride in our successes, even—perhaps especially—the small ones.
Peace be with each of you this December. May the New Year find you standing victorious.