“So this is Christmas,” John Lennon sang. “And what have you done? Another year over, a new one just begun.”
What have you done? Good question, considering 2020 is crawling to its conclusion like a drunk looking for a place to sleep it off. I think Lennon was suggesting a moment of introspection rather than conducting an interrogation. In any event, thought-provoking.
It will be a Christmas to remember and to forget, for pretty much the same reasons. Instead of enjoying, as a more traditional song puts it, “the most wonderful time of the year,” we can hardly wait for it to be over — as if a day with the number 2021 attached to it will make a difference. The new year will have a lot to answer for: On its way out, 2020 left a trail of human damage.
We have a friend who operates a family-owned funeral home in a small Midwestern town where everybody knows everybody. She lives in one of those states whose political leadership has been criminally negligent in acknowledging the pandemic and responding appropriately, with disastrous results. So this is Christmas, and what has she done? Buried friends and neighbors at an unbearable rate that has left her too exhausted to cry.
Every day we read about the staggering toll that the pandemic is taking on the health care profession — deaths, burnout, despondency in the face of unimaginable demands for their time and care. So this is Christmas, and what have they done? Risked their lives, strained their personal relationships, and worked to numbness saving people who curse them with accusations of promoting a hoax. That they were collectively named Time Magazine’s Person of the Year hardly seems adequate recompense.
Around the country, state and county health care officers have been hounded by deniers, disdained by politicians who should be helping them, had their lives threatened and their pleas for coronavirus compliance ignored, or been driven to resign in frustration or desperation. So this is Christmas, and what have they done? Tried to warn us, tried to protect us, tried to educate us to the perils of COVID-19 and how best to avoid it.
In towns everywhere, low-paid retail store employees, waiters, waitresses and bartenders, and other “front-facing” service workers have been handed the role of enforcing mask requirements, and for their troubles have been verbally assaulted and sometimes attacked. So this is Christmas, and what have these essential workers at the bottom of the economic food chain done? Kept you fed and otherwise provisioned.
In nearly every state, the generally anonymous people who oversee the conduct of our elections with pride and professionalism have been harassed, bullied and accused of being part of some vast plot to “steal” a presidential election in which the undisputed winner prevailed by more than 7 million legally cast votes. So this is Christmas, and what have they done? Protected our democratic election system in defiance of the conspiracy theory lunatics.
All of these providers, and millions like them, were doing their jobs no matter what. Except that “no matter what” has rarely been so dangerous or underappreciated. I suspect that if there’s anything they would ask for this season, it would be respect, support and an occasional “thank you.” It’s the easiest, cheapest thing you can give to anyone.
So this is Christmas, and what can we do? A few small things as individuals. Collectively, we can take on 2021 with a strengthened resolve to change things for the better.