By Susanne Severeid
I can see it: the green cartoon character in his stocking cap and fur-lined jacket, a scowl on his face. Except that if I could draw (which I can’t), I’d replace the Grinch’s face with the symbol we now accept as COVID: a globe-shaped sphere sprouting multiple red blooms.
It is just one week shy of Christmas, and as I walk down our Main Street the bars are closed, and restaurants are shuttered for dining. It’s eerie to see my favorite haunts (that now really do feel haunted) that would normally be chock-full with holiday patrons empty. The dining areas are darkened and still, their chairs stacked upside down on the tables. Often, I can see a single cook in back preparing to-go orders, with another single employee handling the phone, computer, and curbside pick-up. Even with the efforts of some retailers to create colorful window displays, there is very little sense of the fun of shopping that normally fills the air (and coffers) of this season. Many retail stores have cut back their hours, some even posting signs that no longer give set hours. For Rent signs are appearing. There will, no doubt, be more.
As surreal and sad as this all feels, it is also somewhat perversely, how it should, and must, be right now. We are, after all, in the midst of a worldwide pandemic (which part of that do anti-maskers not grasp?). We are not supposed to be bumping up against one another in shopping frenzies to find that perfect gift. But as I watch Amazon sales go through the roof and the personal fortune of its founder rise to even more obscene heights, I am immersed in a sense of loss for the local merchants and small business owners. They are the hardworking people who are the backbones of the towns they serve. They create—through risk and courage and vision–the genuine character of entire neighborhoods. I am missing my favorites spots to hang out or dine while dawdling over a cup of java or getting caught up with friends. I am missing the joys of this holiday season with travel or visits with loved ones, or laughing over a meal in a cozy restaurant decorated with holly, red bows, and candles. I am missing the cheery greetings of wait staff, and I wonder: who will be left standing when we come out on the other side of this? That is, when we have a vaccine, and when enough people have taken the vaccine.
“Are we going to make it?” asked a local merchant the other day when I was in her store. It took me by surprise. “What?” I said.
“Are we going to make it?” she repeated. We looked at each other, our masks covering the lower part of our faces; just eyes, hair, maybe a squint to indicate a smile under the mask. “I mean,” she continued, “are we going to make it through this.” We talked at a distance, about how tough it all is, overwhelming, really, with everything so changed and uncertain. “Yes,” I said. “We’ll make it. We will get through this.”
And we will. I am sure of that. But it won’t be the same. I think it will always be: Before COVID and After COVID. It will take some time to regain trust in the things we used to take for granted: handshakes, back slaps, hugs.
But let’s not let COVID steal our Christmas. It is important to do what we must do now for the safety of our communities. And we can shop local as much as possible by phone, curbside and online.
Christmas is, at its essence much more than the decorations and gifts, as fun as those things are. Let’s stay close to the truths of peace, caring, and love; of helping those who have less and who are struggling during these tough winter months.
I like this quote about Christmas from Eric Sevareid (WWII correspondent and CBS Evening News commentator), “There has to be at least one day a year to remind us that we are here for something besides ourselves.”
Susanne Severeid is an award-winning author, public speaker and performer with a background in international journalism. www.susannesevereid.com