2020 started us off as a people resisting our social instincts to shake hands with each other, to see, acknowledge, and love. Unfortunately, 2021 sealed the deal, and now we hesitate and flinch at the slightest physical touch. We panic that we’ll feel others’ glares if we don’t quite manage to stifle a random sneeze behind our masks. We even forget to smile at each other, as we feel there’s no point to the smile’s invisibility or maybe that it will even encourage the start of a conversation we just don’t have the time for. During this pandemic, we know it is important to stay safe and make sure we look out for the wellbeing of others, but I do worry – once the viral danger is over – will we have forgotten how to think of each other, how to slough off egocentric attitudes and to make each other feel at home?
As a military couple, we are, in many ways, forever without a home. We are nomads, travelers, transients, and, while we so thankfully have shelter, enough to eat, warmth, and general security, we live with uncertainty in a very real way, often without any sense of home outside of each other. We are, to some extent, “homeless” on repeat. This year, we have begun that cycle again, moving to yet another brick-and-mortar structure that probably won’t have a spirit of home in it for a couple of years – just enough time for us to be packing up and moving on again.
As we approach the holiday season, I think of last year in Alaska and remember listening to Bing Crosby’s “I’ll be Home for Christmas.” My husband was deployed on the other side of the world, and I was decorating a Christmas tree, breathing in its balmy fragrance, wondering why I had even gone to the effort to buy it. I was hanging a new ornament that reads: “2020: We survived deployment during a pandemic,” and I felt raw, angry, alone.
When Bing’s voice started singing the first lines to his beautifully melancholic song, those honeyed tones piled on my chest like a fifty-ton weight.
Suddenly, I was in the first scene of White Christmas, sitting with the service members far from any home, with the displaced, with the missing. I thought of my husband, without even the comfort of my feeble attempts to make our temporary home-for-now feel Christmassy, and, hands halfway up our wall with a glittery garland, I broke down. That idea of being “without” had struck a chord that clashed with “Deck the Halls.”
I couldn’t do anything to bring my husband home, but I could, at least, help those “without” around me. Going into the start of 2021, I focused not on trying to catch an elusive spirit of home in this wandering life we lead, but on having a spirit of generosity. If I couldn’t create even an illusion of home without my husband beside me, I wanted to shift my energies to helping those who had something missing in their lives, who just needed to be seen, acknowledged, and loved.
A strange thing happened when I started being generous with my resources and love. Thinking about others instead of what was in my own nucleus afforded me more vision, wholeness, purpose, and joy for everything else in my life.
In this time, in the very last month of 2021, I would encourage everyone to plan a new start and to not wait until New Year’s resolutions to do so. How can we do this?
• Reach out to each other in whatever way you feel comfortable.
• Seek to have deeper conversations that build intimacy and friendship.
• Be brave when you both ask and answer that autopilot question of, “How are you today?” Challenge yourself to answer with honesty, and care enough to spend a few minutes listening to an authentic answer.
• Give others a chance to support you by vocalizing what you need, what you are doing, and what is important to you.
• Make a bigger effort to help the less fortunate, those who are homeless and who don’t have the security of a warm bed when they’re tired or a meal when they’re hungry, and struggling individuals who are truly alone and who might be dreading this holiday season as an intensifier of their pain and crippling loneliness.
By seeking ways to support and help others and offering a chance for others to support us, we are building the spirit of generosity and receiving a reminder that, even when our bodies must remain apart, our spirits thrive on being “home” with each other.