Christmas in the Time of the Pandemic will be remembered as the holiday season of empty chairs.
Empty chairs at dinners, with tabletop Zoom images sitting in for family and friends. Empty chairs with pictures instead of place settings, reminders of loved ones lost. Empty chairs at the tables of front-line workers too busy with the business of death to make it home to eat. Empty chairs in banquet halls and restaurants, silent witnesses to the absence of holiday laughter. Empty chairs in churches, theaters, concert halls and stadiums, waiting for traditional holiday crowds that will not come.
Too many empty chairs to count.
My brother Ron passed a year ago, with the holiday decorations already up. His chair sat painfully empty for all who knew and loved him, a reminder of his absence during the celebration he so enjoyed. The hurt is only slightly less a year on.
There will be an empty chair at Tracy’s mom’s house this year, a recliner perfectly positioned for watching sports. Her stepdad and my friend Bob died of natural causes. The virus didn’t get him but he lay isolated in hospital until the final hours when visitors were allowed only in pairs. There was no service at which to mourn.
Hang around long enough and you will have enough empty chairs to fill several large dinner parties. Family, friends, lovers; gone but for wisps of memory carried on the joy or melancholy of a holiday song, their presence perhaps infused in a favourite Christmas scent.
Living means empty chairs at Christmas. Survivors do not get a choice. Moms and dads, sisters and brothers, uncles and aunts, nieces and nephews, grandchildren and grandparents. Nobody is exempt with the pandemic’s global death toll surging towards two million.
It’s hard to grasp the profound sorrow of the human community as the viral plague rages. Enough empty chairs to fill all the world’s great stadiums tens times over. Each one emanating its own sorrowful ache.
Some readers may recall my Christmas Epiphany narrative, a remembrance of my unanticipated 11-day stay in hospital after which I morphed from grumpy newspaper editor into the redeemed George Bailey character from A Wonderful Life, Tracy’s favourite Christmas movie.
The gratitude I felt at having been released from hospital, thinner but well enough for a Christmas fattening, lifted me a foot off the ground for the entire holiday season.
I didn’t have as many empty chairs then.
Not many of us will be walking a foot above ground during Christmas in the Time of the Pandemic. The collective sadness of isolation permeates everything. Anxiety and fear of an uncertain future in divisive Trumpian times pollute the mind, if not the spirit.
In the Year of our Lord, 2020, let’s celebrate the ‘wonderful lives’ of the departed, a Christmas Epiphany with a gratitude once again at its heart. Every empty chair in my world represents life’s joy and sorrow, intertwined, inseparable, an emotional tapestry woven of the best and worst of times.
I’m appreciative of the lives that have intersected with mine, for all the human kindness shared and the good memories left behind. I regret not expressing gratitude to those who have passed, so, I will thank all you survivors now, and wish everyone with empty chairs a Grateful Christmas.