Sunday, December 20, 2020

Of Christmas Cards, Holiday Lights,
and Hopes for a Better Year


December has always been an introspective month for me, a time to reflect on where the past year has brought me, and where I'd like to go from here.

Yesterday was a typical example. I started the day off, thinking of Christmas cards. Not many have arrived at our home so far, but then I haven't sent out my traditional batch for the year, either. Perhaps we can chalk it up to that lame excuse of the "pandemic" and how it has hobbled Life As We Know It, in even as small a token as a holiday greeting card—until I think of how many people are no longer on my card list because they are no longer here to check their mailbox.

We went out last night—before our ten o'clock curfew, of course—to view the holiday lights around town. Like everyone else, we needed to see something to bring some cheer to life. In our city, there are usually certain streets which go all out, and we just needed that kind of sight to perk us up. But I was curious to see how many others had decided to add to a public celebration instead of retreating into the year's ongoing morass.

I've entertained a personal theory over the years that people indulge in personal shows of holiday exuberance when the economy has treated them well—and refrain from the usual external show of Christmas lights when times are bad. I didn't think my theory would hold, this season. There are far more reasons besides money for what we saw on our drive. This reason to keep separated—to "social" distance—is not going to overcome our need to connect. That is the real social.

With schools now out for winter break, instructional duties may be over for the year, but teachers still need to grade those final exams. This is the time, too, when some professors ask for student feedback. One plaintive request this week asked for more face time with other people—with other students or even the instructor. Anyone.

Our collective story has become one of pleading for ways to "see" each other—to connect with each other. We miss our friends. Maybe we even miss strangers. Anybody to talk to. I often wonder whether that was the driving force urging all the people who faithfully attended our genealogical society meetings this fall—all of which were presented virtually through a video conferencing service. Amazing how quickly staunch technophobes can adapt to new media when they have enough motivation.

To make plans in this age of uncertainly—how to do it? When, a year ago, I laid out my research plans for 2020, travel to major repositories such as the Family History Library in Salt Lake City was no obstacle—until March hit. Granted, major concessions have been made this year by key online services—I think of the opportunities opened up for researching articles through JSTOR, for instance—but uncertainty hobbles the surety of plans.

On the other hand, if we don't make plans, how much can we accomplish without direction? Perhaps the best approach is to plan with the proviso of being prepared to pivot—to be able to change direction at a moment's notice, to shadow the evolving signals of our situation.

Perhaps, just perhaps, those plans need to be a bit more reflective of the times in which we live—to break with the breakneck speed of accomplishment, the need to progress, to include time to reflect, to connect, to learn from the stories of our past. Perhaps with all the adversity encountered by our intrepid ancestors, they can offer some lessons we can glean from their experience.



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