It’s Christmas. I am trying to take stock. Find something to be grateful for.
There is always a long list, of course, but in yoga, it’s difficult to remember what you are grateful for about yourself.
I’ve concluded the key to getting through this pandemic is to stay confident in your own decisions – what you deem safe, what you feel comfortable with, and how you’d like to navigate this new world.
This is what I struggle with the most. Staying confident. I always err on the side of caution. But when is too cautious? What is too cautious? Am I overdoing it? Am I not doing it enough?
I am also used to making do, to getting by. I forget that when I am cold, I can turn the heat on. That when I am inconvenienced, I can often fix the problem I am having. Instead, I grit my teeth and carry on. But sometimes some luxury is nice, sometimes an indulgence is okay.
Am I making the right decision?
There is no answer to that question, only the one you make for yourself. I’d love someone to tell me; I’d love some universal rule book for this year, an encyclopedia on how to have a social life, how to go grocery shopping, how to have holiday cheer. But that doesn’t exist. We all have to make our own way. And remember that we are in this together. That compassion is more important than judgement, than right or wrong, than good or bad. We are all struggling in different ways. So this Christmas, I will try to feel close to you all, despite being mostly alone. I will try to connect, despite being apart. I will send only good holiday energy into this world. And wish you all brightness, warmth and love.
It’s Christmas Eve, and I can count the number of stores I have physically entered on one hand since March.
Working through feelings of isolation, the lack of any real Christmas plans, and not having seen many human faces in real life for awhile, I have taken on a new way to cope. I have become obsessed with Facebook Marketplace to decorate our new home. The perfect way to shop: outside, supporting the community, meeting your neighbors, picking up their trash. A win-win.
A couple weeks back, my husband and I walked in the rain for 28 minutes each way to pick up two small lidded trash cans for 4 euros total from a student-looking girl named Marlou. Our masks and clothing soaked, glasses full of water and steam when we arrived, I was so excited to see her. I wanted to be Marlou’s best friend. This happens often now, when I interact with strangers: the mailman, the lady with a dog, a neighbor who gives me a courteous wave. I am so desperate for human interaction that I thank them endlessly, wanting to profess my love and invite them into my life forever.
This past weekend, we picked up a new lamp from a man who was clearing out his garage. We stood outside, the lamp between us on a trash can, exchanging pleasantries while I tried to pay on my phone. Except mine were not pleasantries. They were calls for human connectedness, in celebration of being able to buy an appliance from another human being when all stores are closed and all human contact is discouraged.
I can not stop with these endeavors. Every day I look online for new things we could get.
“Do we need an ugly end table?” “No.” “But it’s free…”
Luckily, my husband is still a good sport about these adventures I secretly sign us up for. It doesn’t help that in The Netherlands, during this time of year, it is always raining and mostly cold when we walk towards our free bedroom mirror 30 minutes away.
When I was young, we used to vacation in Maine in February (cost savings!) and my mom loved taking my sister and me on walks along the coast. What grew into a yearly tradition also inspired my dad to give them a title: Blizzard Walks. When I first met my husband’s parents, during our first Christmas together in The Netherlands, his parents took us to the beach. It was a blizzard walk I’d never experienced. The sand whipped into my face so hard and so strong that it stung. Mark and I gripped onto one another over four layers of clothing, trying to stay upright as we walked towards the water. That’s when I realized we were a match. I had found another family who willingly went on these types of trips for fun. The whole time we were walking for those trash cans a couple weeks back, sopping wet in the pouring rain, my husband and I kept shaking our heads, “another blizzard walk.”
It feels actually appropriate that in the last two months, this has become our new hobby. This year, my grandma’s Christmas gifts didn’t make it here, mysteriously returned to sender. This year, I managed some cards, but no gifts for my family and friends. This year, I expect no gifts in return. It is empty under our tree; we have no Christmas plans. But, this year, strange unexpected connections were made. I took up new hobbies. I started this blog. And I remind myself still that there are more walks to be had, more plans to be made, another year to try it all again. And in the meantime, I have given myself many gifts, from people all over this fine land, after a good and hearty walk in the blizzard.
As my husband and I ready ourselves for the holiday, I always feel a bit homesick on the off-years we are here instead of in The States. My family is one of gaudy decorations and raw, unadulterated American consumerism; we gorge lasagna and laugh and savagely unwrap until we are swimming in piles of ripped paper and elaborate bows. Here, things are quieter, a fancy Christmas dinner, a walk, some cathartic sighs, a glass of wine before bed.
Christmas lights in the Netherlands also seem more subdued and classier than their American counterparts; outdoor lights are less frequent and tastefully executed in white.
When I was young my dad would execute the opposite of taste. Once when we went on a holiday with my mom, we came back to what my dad imagined an amazing surprise: he had painted part of the bathroom in glossy primary colors – blue, yellow and red. With mirrors already elaborately hung and the project not finished, it reminded me of a clown house under construction. My mother was not pleased.
But he approached Christmas lights with a similar design aesthetic and level of enthusiasm. He’d go outside every year with a huge tangled ball of lights, ready to make miracles happen. He’d be out there, banging and swearing and working hard, trying to make our small single level home sparkle in the sky. This would go on for about an hour, until we’d hear a loud “f**ck” yelled into the wind, and know that the project had likely come to a close. It makes me smile now, his earnest efforts for holiday joy. Among our nice neighborhood of white picket fences, we were the family with a half strung string of lights dangling from the roof, unattended and looking lost, until my dad managed to get back up there and take it down a few months later.
My husband and I went for a walk yesterday, in the Dutch equivalent of my American suburban town – an affluent green municipality a 40 minute (bike) ride outside the city. When I walk here, it always feels comfortable and familiar, with fancy big homes and beautiful Christmas trees inside warmly lit living rooms. Walking further outside our normal residential radius, we discovered a new neighborhood, one full of houses with deflated santas and spare lawnmower parts in the front yard. Their bushes weren’t trimmed and the grass wasn’t cut. To me, these houses looked friendly, welcoming, chock-full of as much clutter and crap that could fit onto one small lawn. I looked at my husband and smiled, “feels like home.”