Oscar Wilde once wrote, “Memory is the diary we all carry about with us.” Memories are what will afford us the ability to overcome this pandemic. Memories can nourish troubled souls and calm distracted minds. In the moment we may have been frustrated or annoyed but in hindsight the triviality of what once loomed large is clear and we cannot help but smile and laugh at ourselves. Sacrificing holiday gatherings this year for many more in the future is what is being requested by the CDC, healthcare workers, and a neighbor with a chronic health condition who could suffer if hospitals are at maximum capacity.
Picture frames break apart, newspaper articles tear, and photographs fade, but memories are ours to keep. COVID-19 has forced many to use memories of their loved ones sooner than they expected. Despite guidance from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), many Americans unwilling to relinquish familial traditions traveled for Thanksgiving and now U.S. hospitals are in the process of halting elective surgeries again as another surge appears imminent. As cases rise across the country virtual encounters, small gatherings, and limited travel are all highly recommended as we move into December. But, with the winter holiday season now upon us, will anything change?
In February before the pandemic, I visited a small shop in Seaside, Oregon. As I entered the Christmas room in the back of the shop, I saw a piano ornament on the store’s shelf—nearly identical to the one sitting in the box labeled ornaments in my parents’ pantry. Thousands of miles apart from my family, while holding this 4” ornament in my hand, I could not help but think back to those snowy, spirit-filled holidays spent with them.
One night, when I was a young boy, a frostbitten air swirled around me as I waited on our front steps for my father’s arrival. He had been tasked with returning home with a Christmas tree. As time passed I realized in his usual spirit he had chosen to drive all around town searching for the “best deal”—as opposed to going straight to the tree sellers less than a half mile away. When his car finally pulled up his headlights greeted me, shining directly in my face. Together, we dragged the tree out of his car and down the wood steps into our rugged basement. From the first glimpse I knew the tree needed to be trimmed but my father reassured me it would fit our short ceilings. In actuality, my sister and I believe the ritual of the tree scraping the ceiling is one he would surely miss too much. Thus, once we trimmed the tree, in one of his recent athletic achievements, my father got on the ground and adjusted the tree as I held it upright, my sister standing eight feet back working as a marshal to ensure our tree landed straight in the center. Mother added wood to the fire, my sister grabbed the box of ornaments, and I started the Christmas playlist. Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston, Michael Bublé—the gang had arrived for another year of tree lighting.
Health, humanity, and sacrifice are the most important gifts this year. These gifts cannot be found in Santa’s bag but are gifts we can give one another. This is an all-or-nothing moment in the history of American public health. Either we come together by staying apart and making fact-based decisions to tackle this pandemic or this pandemic will overwhelm us in ways we can envision and in ways we cannot. It is time to teach grandmother how to use Zoom or show her how the FaceTime icon on the iPad can bring her into the same room as her grandson 2,600 miles away. We must embrace change, caring and sacrifice this holiday season or suffering will most certainly embrace us.
Being with family is everything I desire right now, but one day in hindsight I will see that sacrifice was the right choice.