ME… preparing for Christmas!

Ah yes, Christmas in COVID times… a new life experience for all of us who live in the Christian world.

I’m gonna put down my TV remote now and share my guilt trip with you today.

If you can’t feel guilty at Christmas, check your pulse. A Charlie Brown Christmas will just have to wait (but I can listen to the music while writing).

This morning, I was having my twice weekly online 6:30 am tutoring session with my Syrian refugee friend (let’s call him Amir).

We sip coffee and latte together, and chat amiably (in English only – beyond hello, goodbye and thank you, my Arabic sucks big time… yup, more guilt) about our daily lives and the world, before diving into the day’s lesson.

Growing up, Amir barely glimpsed the inside of a classroom in Syria, and after 5 years in Canada, he still struggles hugely with the writing and reading parts of this silly English language we take for granted.

His literacy difficulties (Larry, have you thought that maybe it’s your teaching that is the problem?) hold him back in a major way from obtaining meaningful employment in this country.

The family of 5 (now 7) escaped the brutal Syrian/Russian troop incursions into their small agrarian town near the Jordan border, and arrived in this country having never uttered as much as HELLO in English, and never having felt the bitter chill of snow blowing past their faces. Difficult life? You bet.

Anyway, today – with his burgeoning bundle of English vocabulary – Amir told me the story of his friendly next door neighbour, a 50’ish year-old fellow with 2 young sons – one in Grade 7 and the other in Grade 2.

Amir’s 5 year-old son and the neighbour’s younger son play together often, racing their miniature RC cars in the driveways of the townhouse complex where they live. VROOM VROOM…

The man’s wife is in prison (reason unknown).

Just these tiny pieces of information tell you that the neighbour and his family, like Amir’s, must be in a difficult situation. Then…

Yesterday afternoon… a host of screaming emergency vehicles, blue and red lights flashing – police, fire department, ambulance… CORONER… descended on the neighbour’s house next door… a dozen responders in full uniform…

… an hour and a half later, the neighbour, the father, was declared dead, likely of a heart attack.

As the lifeless father was rolled out of the house in a shiny black, zippered bag, a family member arrived to whisk the 2 boys off to a new “home” in the local area. Merry Christmas little ones.

Even though I don’t truly count myself as a “Christian” today, I’ve lived my entire life in the cozy saturation of Christianity and the Christmas family; beautiful religious ceremony, music, and scents have filled me with nostalgia and warmth and an inclusive sense of belonging… a belonging to something weighty, magical and mysterious. It’s as much a part of me as my heart and lungs.

But with each passing year, and especially so at this time of year, I feel the burden of the discomfort of others (cue melancholy Sarah McLachlan song). This isn’t a bad thing, I don’t think.

It’s good because it tells me that I am experiencing a greater awareness of the whole.

No matter how young or old we are, the ability to unearth and display compassion for others is crucial, and whether it’s tied to a religion or deity doesn’t really matter. Empathy for others isn’t connected to Christianity or Islam or Judaism etc.

Those sounds of discomfort I’m hearing are emanating especially loud this year amongst many individuals and families who despair at the thought of little or no physical connection to family as they awake Christmas morning. It’s not part of our fabled Christmas scene.

Worse still is that Christmas will be even more challenging this year for so many who struggle on a daily basis in ordinary times. These aren’t ordinary times, you know it.

One example in my world: I can only faintly imagine the crushing hurt and thoughts of isolation surging up this year in many of the folks I’ve encountered over the years at the local soup kitchen… or those who can’t visit loved ones in hospitals and care institutions.

And it reminds me to my core of how fortunate I’ve been to have so many opportunities and so many creature comforts… you know… Peace on Earth and Comfort and Joy.

My challenges are infinitely smaller than a family of Syrian refugees living on this alien Canadian “planet”, or a pair of 2 young brothers who’ve lost their main parent and home, and will struggle through a Christmas season like no other.

You will likely find this hard to believe as you read along, but a few hours back I sat down to write this as a light, fluffy piece; a ditty of sorts about my guilty pleasure of watching The Great British Baking Show and this silly passion I hold for sweet food porn interlaced with lovely English, Irish, and Scottish lilts…

… but as so often happens, a tiny voice builds up to a crescendo inside me and crowds my space and finds a different message to write about (you know that speaking about these voices publicly could land you in a totally different space Larry?)

If you’re floundering with Christmas blues this year (and I hope you’re not, but if you or someone you know is struggling – Canada’s Crisis Hotline – 1-833-456-4566), my wish is that you can search your universe and find the positives, your Silver Linings Playbook to get you through …

Here’s my offering, a tiny token to help you along your peaceful trail… another country-style Christmas tune (written by my old bestie John Denver) I played and produced in my little home studio this week. HO HO HO…