Every year around this time, without thinking, I wish everyone I encounter a “happy holidays.” Not because I know them, but because it is the right thing to do. My greetings were a mix of giving homage to the season and not wanting to offend anyone. That is the rote practice I followed in years past. Now, I notice so much more. This year is different.
Over the last several years during the holidays, our family celebrated with extended family members and friends, and friends of friends. We would invite peripheral acquaintances who would have been alone or separated from their family to celebrate with us. There was always lots of food. Truthfully, we enjoyed any reason to eat, laugh and catch up. The celebration of the holiday was more perfunctory. Thanksgiving was more about tradition than celebrating the Pilgrims.
This year is different. With the pain and displacement of so many, I thought about the meaning of the holidays. I imagined what a community went through to designate a day to remember. To have one pain, one voice, one sense of hope and to eventually overcome together to create something to symbolize a sacred day. A holiday, or to be more precise, a memorial of importance we celebrate, even today. A history book cannot recreate the feeling of uncertainty and fear of the initial believers of “The Way,” Islam, Judaism or Hinduism. Likewise, only by reference, can I imagine a soldier’s pride of a war won, or the day of a country’s liberation like Gwangbokjeol or Independence Day. I may not know the customs and traditions of each memorial, but I can appreciate the journey and sacrifices of each. Pain is pain.
Today, our world is traumatized and we are experiencing one pain. The last pandemic (The Spanish Flu) was more than 100 years ago with more than 50 million deaths. COVID-19 has infected nearly 14 million people and taken the life of more than 271K people in the U.S. over the last 9 months. For perspective, the US lost more lives to COVID-19 than the U.S. military personnel lost in the combined wars of the Korean (44K), Vietnam (90K) and Desert Storm (2K), totaling 136K lives lost.
Today, our common foe is the Virus, and the Vaccine is the cure — one voice and one hope. The world is awaiting to be free from fear and isolation. For more than 9 months, people of the world have died alone, grieved alone, convalesced alone, spent the holidays alone and are growing alone. Pain is pain.
For many, 2020 will forever change the way tomorrow is viewed. But for this moment, “WE” are overcoming and “WE” survived. In the days to come, the sun will rise in the east just like the day before, the pain will lose its bite and, eventually, it will be as though nothing ever happened.
I don’t know if a collective memorial will occur for the deaths and shared trauma from COVID-19, however, I now know what “memorialize” means. It means to remember, be thankful, be appreciative and be present.
Be happy and…
Merry Christmas to my Christian friends.
Salaam alaikum to my Muslim friends.
Shubh Diwali my friends in the East.
Hanukkah sameach to my Jewish friends.
Have a great New Year to my Atheist friends.
Looking forward to meeting soon to my new friends.
In memory of Vera B. Thompson, Irene Love and Kerry “Ryan” Stith. and to more than 1.49 million lives lost directly or indirectly from this worldwide tragedy.