December is supposed to be a happy time. Families reunite under generations-old traditions. Lovers exchange material tokens of their affection. Children bask under the freedom of winter break. Companies gather to drink excessive amounts of Bailey’s over Secret Santa gifts.
Famed tunes immortalize the ways in which we long after those loved ones we are separated from, but what’s not advertised in 1080p on flat screens amid buzzing consumerism are the tears we don’t bother wiping away because the person we love is no longer living. Sure, these moments might earn a brief, heartfelt clip in a Hallmark ad that makes you say awwwww but that is not grief. Grief does not make you go awwww; grief is ugly — as fierce as joy but excruciating and therefore, seemingly insurmountable.
We enter this holiday season a nation in mourning. Upwards of a quarter of a million people were taken from us too soon by a deadly virus. For over 300,000 families COVID-19 does not stir the image of an unsightly red object or even empty pantry shelves and overdrawn bank accounts — it’s the face of a loved one who fell ill too quickly, whose hand they didn’t get to hold to say goodbye.
At the time of this writing, there are over 100,000 people battling COVID in a hospital. This is not hospitalization as we know it. This is not “so-and-so’s in room 112, so we’re gonna surprise them and bring some poinsettias.” This is a medical prison for the sake of your life. This is “dad’s got COVID and we can’t see him. The nurse puts him on Facetime–when she’s got a free minute.” This is “it’s Christmas Eve and I just might have seen my sister for the last time because she’s being intubated as we speak.” This is the dreaded phone call right after you lit the menorah, the Kwanzaa you spend in a wheelchair after barely beating this disease.
As a descendant of the enslaved, I am a part of my country — albeit small — that has always been aggrieved. I come from a people fortified in trouble and sorrow. I understand the rhapsodic poetry of this human emotion and the toll that it takes. This is not the December we dreamt about 11 months ago, but it’s the one we’ve been handed.
We pass dollar bills beneath plexiglass shields and feel as though we are living our lives behind a window, personifying the proverbial “look but don’t touch,” anxious that everything we’ve rested our purpose on — work, love, adventure, money — will be gone before we had our chance to pursue them.
Why are we here if we can’t lay hands on that which we love?
In many cultures and religions, the act of laying hands on someone is regarded as a sacred act, one in which a person can bless or heal another. We swear by the impact of a “mother’s touch” and take our babies to be blessed by men or women wearing priestly robes. I often ruminate on the moments my great-grandmother would rub the back of my hand when I visited, wishing I could experience the calm of her touch now that I’m older, with serious stresses and burdens to bear.
We have collectively suffered more darkness this year than we can comprehend. What do we do at a time when we cannot touch? The inability to lay hands on each other causes us to feel helpless and ineffective. There is no room to offer a comforting pat on the back or to hope that our mere presence will inspire healing. During this time of physical separation, the seasonal adage to “Believe” that fills storefronts during this season must now take on a deeper meaning.
Believing is more than daring to imagine Santa climbing through chimneys and hearing mystical Christmas bells. Believing means interceding for those in our lives who we cannot touch, it means believing in the power of a voice to bring healing. It means believing in the prayers for protection that we offered up days, months or years ago. And it means knowing that you have the ability to speak life to those who are far away.
The holiday season is magical and secular and spiritual all at once. There’s a biblical story that describes — on three separate occasions — how the relatives and acquaintances of sick individuals, who were near death, went to Jesus and advocated for them on their behalf. Amidst distance and disease, they believed that “if you just say the word…” their loved one would be healed. It’s a very poignant reminder that God heals even when we are apart.
So whether it’s the little voice that whispers to your brother to put on his mask while shopping or the supernatural strength of a healthcare worker fighting for her patient’s life, we are surrounded by people and resources who can carry us through this season. With a single word cloaked in faith you can set in motion a ripple of actions that make us all less lonely and a little safer this season–perhaps a neighbor checking on an elderly relative, someone with a few extra dollars adopting a Santa letter or a non-profit handing out meals and free COVID testing.
If there is anything I know, we are a resilient people, more capable of loving and believing than we realize. Our faith on behalf of the people we love has immeasurable power — power to heal and comfort in ways even a touch cannot.
This December we may not see each other, we may not touch, but we have a voice — to pick up the phone, to greet a neighbor, to wail towards the sky or to speak a blessing. At a time where our hearts are heavy and our bodies physically distant, nothing is more valuable than the hope of those in our corner.
Be safe, be vocal, be loving, believe. Always, but especially this year. And now more than ever, may God bless America.