It’s the darkest time of year. The time where it feels like you are on the outside looking in at everyone you know behind a glass. They are all happy and celebrating. Seemingly from behind that glass, they don’t have a care in the world. You feel like all the cares have somehow managed to accumulate in your head instead.
During the holidays emotions become stronger, every word takes on a slightly different meaning, time stands still and somehow also moves faster, depending on the day. It’s a week that seems like a year but a day that seems like a minute. People either come out of the woodworks to show you they care or they stay farther away than they have the rest of the year.
In a pathetic attempt to protect myself from the reality of the season, I find myself scrolling more than I have any other month of the year. Even though what I see makes me more emotional, more irritated, I delude myself into thinking that the distraction is a positive one. I follow along in strangers’ lives because I don’t want to be present in my own. Being a part of their holiday whether it be more extravagant and pretty than mine or whether it be tinged with some dramatic tragedy that I have not yet had to face, I want to be absorbed in it. After I put down the phone, I feel guilty for not being fully present in the holiday unfolding right in front of my eyes. But if I was I think my head would explode because your own holiday has all your own baggage within it. All the memories, all the people, all the thoughts and feelings, all the fights, all the love, all the misplaced love, all the misunderstood love, all the other misunderstandings, all your past. It’s all there in the dining room, in the kitchen, in your childhood bedroom.
I’d so much rather follow along in the Christmas of someone else. They’re lives seem easier for me to comprehend than my own. I can read their resolutions and their gratitude lists rather than attempting my own. I know this is not the way it should be. There are times I see something that triggers me into a panic. Then I vow never to look again. Within minutes I have to see what has gone on. The upsetting post is forgotten as I watch someone make their favorite recipe or take their child to see Santa.
During this time I long to not be alone. The screen shows me all I could ever want. People who could be my friends, people who could be my enemies if they came out from behind the screen. They create another world for me to be in when my own is too much.
I don’t know if I’m the only one, but I think A LOT about the last two years. The pandemic and everything that came with it changed my life forever. For many reasons.
Many nights I lie in bed and flash through defining moments of the pandemic. I think about my responses and my feelings at the time. I doubt myself; wonder if I was thinking the right things. I always come back to one specific moment. It is one of the biggest regrets I have.
I was sitting in the lobby of the oncology ward at the hospital. It was the height of pandemic panic and the chairs were strictly distanced and parted by red tape and angry red stickers on the floor. A young woman came and sat at the other end of the room. She got out her phone and called someone. And then she started crying and said “it’s cancer mom, it’s cancer.” Then her crying got my intense. I could hear her sobs and her words but she was many red stickers and tape away from me. I was locked in my seat, but I was feeling all her emotion. (I wasn’t just sitting on the oncology ward for no reason after all). I could feel my own eyes well up with tears as I was witness to this incredibly traumatic moment in this woman’s life.
Once she had hung up, she sat numbly for a little while, tears still coming down her face. Then she put her phone away, put on her backpack and walked away. After she was gone I went to the restroom and cried my eyes out. For her. And also for another reason. I was so incredibly angry at myself. That whole time I had sat frozen and terrified of the meaning behind those red stickers. Had it not been pandemic times, I want to tell myself I wouldn’t have hesitated to run over and give her a hug and ask her if she needed anything at all. I would have told her it was going to be okay even if it didn’t feel like it in that moment. But I didn’t do that. The rules were so strict at this point. We were all so scared of catching COVID. Especially on an oncology ward. I was afraid that I would then make her sick or her me. That maybe me violating social distancing would make her even more upset.
But two years later I still regret everything about that moment. I should’ve gone for it. I should have let her see I was crying with her. That she was not alone. Because in that moment she must have felt so so alone. I should’ve stepped over that tape and on all those stickers and moved the chair and been with her. Human to human. Allow her to cry on my shoulder instead of into nothing. Reassure her. Hold her and her terrible news to make it a little less heavy. But at that time, I didn’t. One might say that the fog of the pandemic was hanging over me so intensely that it actually prevented me from seeing what the right thing to do was. I regretted it immediately as she walked away and I still do.
I know how I would do it now, COVID or not. I vow to remember that young woman so that I can do the right thing next time. Isolation in times of crisis is one of the most painful things that someone can experience. Be with each other. Hold each other. Love each other. Family, friends, strangers. Everyone.