Christmas is approaching, but many of my family’s traditional get-togethers have been canceled. One of them is our cousin’s Christmas party called Droby Fest. For those who are uninformed, a Droby is a Slovak sausage made from various ground meats, rice, and potatoes. It is usually baked wrapped with bacon, and it was one of the classic dishes that my grandmother served on Christmas Eve.
As far as I know, Droby sausage can’t be bought; you make it. I have some less-than-fond childhood memories of turning a hand-cranked meat grinder for hours. Besides my past grinding torture, I love Droby and look forward to eating it every Christmas.
My cousin, Ken, took over the manufacturing of Droby for the Cousin Christmas party, which is a pot luck affair of salads, main dishes, and desserts. Droby Fest is one of several other cousin-wide get-togethers that were canceled in 2020. Others included the Kousin Kampout and the KFR (Kuna Family Reunion).
My cousin Kathy suggested that in place of Droby Fest we do a recipe exchange and ZOOM call. Somehow that morphed into my niece, Jeannine compiling all of the recipes into an on-line cookbook, which then became a family history/cookbook/photo album. As far as I know, Jeannine and my cousins Kathy and Kris have formed a committee to accomplish this monumental task.
I contributed a couple of recipes, but Jeannine also needed old photos. Unfortunately, most of my old pictures were on old computers… and we all know what happens to old computers. However, I remembered another option. Around 20 years ago I wanted to digitize old family photos, burn them on a CD, and give copies of that CD to my siblings. At that time, I also labeled names on the photos as I knew that pictures without identification would be useless to future generations.
All that I needed to do was to select the photos and email them to my niece. However, there were two problems.The first was finding the CD ROM that I burned 20 years ago. The second was finding a way to play a CD ROM since none of my current computers have a CD drive.
After some searching, I found the photo CD, and luckily Julie has a plug-and-play CD drive that she uses to watch old TV shows. I connected the drive to my MacBook, inserted the CD ROM, and held my breath. It loaded! However, there were no thumbnail images, so I had to manually click on every single file to view it. Since the process was a bit of a pain, I thought I would get some extra mileage for my efforts and post some of the photos here. Grab a cup of tea and come down my memory lane. These are common photos of a typical family, wholly unremarkable… and because of this, I find them charming. (but I may be biased)
Thanksgiving was altered this year, of course. For over 25 years, we have hosted Julie’s family, who arrived from 4 states. Bedlam would rule from Wednesday through Saturday with every bed, couch, and floor occupied. It was the right kind of bedlam.
Being a physician, I have been able to keep up with COVID research, and months ago, I knew that the holidays would be a difficult time. I concluded that we could not responsibly host Thanksgiving this year. In October, I sent out a family-wide email to announce that fact. This action was sad for me and hard for Julie.
During the pandemic, I have lived a sheltered life. Not an isolated experience, but a sheltered one. I interact with Julie and my at-home daughter Kathryn, I see my friend Tom, plus a few other friends, and I phone and email a couple others. I don’t feel lonely. I have adjusted to my new life, and I accept it.
Three of my children have resided outside our home during recent months. Two were away at college, and my oldest daughter lives with her family in central Illinois. My own children became my stress. They would be spending the holiday with us, each of them a potential virus vector. I was worried about my health. I had a genuine fear that they could bring a coronavirus interloper back to Naperville. The thought that I was afraid of my own children gave me a sense of shame. I can’t ignore reality. It was what it was.
My kids have all been responsible. Both of my college kids have carefully adhered to their school’s COVID guidelines. My oldest daughter and her family have also been compliant. All of their actions have been consistent with safety. Intellectually, this was comforting, but thinking and feeling are sometimes unrelated in my brain. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, a day dedicated to giving thanks. I am most thankful for those who I love. How sad that COVID could turn them into objects of fear.
Last Saturday, I picked up my daughter from her university, an 11-hour round trip. Thankfully, the normalcy of seeing her calmed some of my fears. By the time we returned home, my son had arrived from his school; his presence also quieted me. My oldest daughter Anne came on Thanksgiving day. She made a point to tell me that she had just tested her family as a precaution for her trip.
My friend Tom is making his family’s Thanksgiving turkey, but his mother-in-law won’t be attending. My sister, Nancy didn’t host her usual dinner, but her daughter Shari dropped off complete meals for her and my brother-in-law, Mike. My sister Carol also stayed home alone, but several of her kids brought dinner and treats to her. The virus may have halted get-togethers, but it can’t stop love.
Each of my kids has their favorite Thanksgiving dish, so I couldn’t simplify our meal. However, one thing did change this Thanksgiving, my children. They have always been helpful kids, but this year they became helpful adults. Dinner prep became a family affair. Kathryn made the Jello “salad” and the mashed potatoes. Grace baked and helped with various tasks. William made the green bean casserole and the corn casserole. My wife, Julie, made the sweet potatoes, and I took care of the turkey, stuffing, and gravy.
By the time I heard my oldest daughter’s car pull up, I was genuinely excited to see her and her family. They seemed equally happy to be spending the day with us.
Thanksgiving was filled with laughter, conversation, and too much food. After we cleaned up the dinner dishes, we went on a walk. The weather was clear, and the temperature was crisp. I marveled at some of our neighbor’s Christmas decorations but didn’t feel the least guilty of my more simplistic plans.
Anne and her family left for home. The rest of us settled into another Thanksgiving tradition, the viewing of Jean Shepard’s “A Christmas Story.” I have seen this movie so many times that I can recite the actor’s lines with authority.
In many ways, Thanksgiving was business as usual. In many other ways, it was completely different. That is what this virus does; it modifies normal.
A month from now, it will be Christmas. Another family holiday altered by the coronavirus. This year our cousin celebration is canceled. Also, my nephew, Tommy, won’t host his Christmas Eve party.
We always travel to Julie’s family in Minnesota during Christmas week. However, the Minnesota Christmas party will likely be shelved. COVID cases will certainly increase between Thanksgiving and Christmas, making such a get-together foolhardy.
The year 2020 will be as notable as the year 1918. In many ways, we have advanced in 100 years. But in many more ways, we have not. Just like then, politics overruled logic. Just like then, we had to fear those who we most love. Just like then, our lives were placed on hold. However, just like then, we will eventually move forward. Life will go on, Thanksgiving dinners will be held, Christmases will be celebrated. Yet, I believe that parts of our lives will be permanently altered. Not all of those changes will be negative.
Many have rediscovered the simple pleasures of reading a book, playing a board game, and conversing. Personally, I have gotten into the rhythm of cooking dinner with my kids regularly. I am comfortable being with myself. I am grateful for routine pleasures.
I am focused on simplicity rather than excess. I relish a sudsy hot shower, a walk with my kids, a Netflix movie with Julie, a cup of coffee with my friend, Tom.
At the same time, I am saddened that Violet, the campervan, has been more idle this year, and my personal goal to photograph rural towns has been placed on hold. I accept these losses, but I do so with grudging awareness that my adventure years have a finite expiration date.
Life is what you make it. I refuse to put my life on hold, waiting for things to return to normal. Today I choose to make the most of what I have, and I will focus on that fact rather than on my losses. I accept myself, flaws, and all. As I love those around me, I will also love myself. I choose to be thankful.
A dear friend of mine was upset when Hillary Clinton lost the 2016 presidential election. My friend was convinced that Hillary was the best choice, and she was shocked that she wasn’t elected despite polling data that foretold that she was the clear leader. My friend believes to this day that the 2016 election was rigged. However, such a belief was never supported by the Clinton campaign or the Democratic Party.
Two weeks ago, Joe Biden won the 2020 presidential election and became the president-elect. Like Clinton, conspiracy theories have been flying about the illegitimacy of that election by the opposing party.
I was hanging out with my friend, Tom, at the townhome that he is renovating. As scheduled, a concrete truck pulled up, its cement barrel slowly spinning. We were getting ready to pour the basement floor that he had previously dug out. The cement truck’s driver was a friendly and chatty man. Within moments of his arrival, I knew that he was 62 years old, had two artificial knees, and was counting the days to his retirement. Without direction from me, he started to talk about the election. “I’m a Republican, and I like Republican policies. I don’t want to live in a socialist state. I think the election was rigged; ya know what I mean? How could Trump have so many votes in Pennsylvania and then have Biden take the lead overnight?”
Last weekend thousands of marchers descended on Washington to denounce the election results with the “Stop The Steal” March. This event was held with our current President’s support, who even made a guest appearance drive through, waving to the crowd. Recent tweets from Trump have stated, “I WON THE ELECTION,” and “I concede NOTHING!”
A few days ago, I scanned the AM radio dial and dipped into several conservative radio programs proclaiming the same thing, that the election had been stolen from the President. Their proclamations are contrary to overwhelming evidence that the election was fair. This rhetoric is not only being espoused by the President and these outlets but also by leaders in the Republican party.
High-level Republicans have either supported the idea of a “rigged” election or have refused to congratulate President-elect Biden on his victory. These same individuals have celebrated and acknowledged Republican victories from the same ballot. Backchannels reports that some Republican officials support Trump’s attempts to discredit the election simply because they want to appease him.
Dozens of lawsuits have been filed by the Trump administration, questioning the vote-counting validity in states where he lost. Most of these lawsuits have been summarily thrown out of court due to a complete lack of evidence. Despite this reality, Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, talks about having incriminating evidence that he will reveal “soon.” A tactic that he has used in the past to drum up outrage. He has yet to support his claims. As I write this, several large law firms have dropped out of their efforts to defend the President, most likely to save their reputations.
As a bystander, these events seem surreal. As a citizen, they are frightening. All sound and credible sources have concluded that Joe Biden will be the next President of the United States. This is going to happen, so why has there been so much bluster to the contrary?
I don’t claim to know the inner thoughts of Donald Trump or the inner workings of the Republican Party, but each is likely working towards their own self-serving goals. Contrary to their statements, their actions are not supporting democracy; their actions are hurting democracy. So what possibly could be some of the reasons for their actions?
A significant concern for the Republican Party is the upcoming runoff Senate elections in Georgia. These types of elections tend to have less voter draw than presidential elections. A lower Republican voter turnout could favor the Democratic candidates, as Democrats have been mobilizing voters in that state. By beating the “Stop The Steal” drum, Republicans keep their base active and engaged. This could be beneficial for them in these two critical elections.
As far as Republican politicians are concerned, there appears to be a genuine fear of Donald Trump, who continues to bully and cajole them. Mr. Trump has a base of 70 million voters, and that is nothing to ignore. However, these politicians seem to have forgotten that their loyalty is supposed to be to the American people, not Donald Trump. Their sycophant behaviors will likely come back and bite them in the future. Mr. Trump has no problem throwing people under the bus when it suits his needs.
As far as Mr. Trump’s motivation is concerned, there are several possible explanations. He may believe that he can’t lose at anything. He was raised as a privileged child who got his way. His upbringing emphasized destroying the competition as normal behavior. His father rewarded winners and despised losers.
When he has failed at businesses in the past, he has been able to find a savior to rescue him or a loophole to protect him. This would be the first time that such options are unavailable to him, as his legal challenges seem more theater than anything else. The idea of losing appears to be anathema to him, as indicated by his retorts of regularly calling his enemies “losers.” The term “loser” has more significance to him than it would have to the general public.
It is also possible that Mr. Tump’s actions center on his desire to gain attention and be in the spotlight. A lame-duck president gets less notice than someone who is “fighting for the American way.” His “love of the crowd” is well known. His need to be praised may be heightened since he knows that someone else is about to gain his former limelight.
Beyond personality issues, Mr. Trump may be creating this crisis to further his own financial and power interests. If he can continue to control his base, he becomes an influence peddler who can make or break other politicians. In this scenario, he would become his own “group” no different than other power groups, like evangelical Christians.
He may be gearing up for a career after politics. He loves being in the media, and he has had success as a reality TV host. Keeping his following engaged could offer him ratings boost if he decides to launch his own TV show or “news” network. He has embraced conspiracy theories and fringe groups, and he would have a following among fellow believers. He is already making dismissive comments about his former ally, Fox News. This could signal a move to his own network or a show on more radical networks, like Newsmax. A video outlet that makes Fox News look progressive.
Unlike other presidents, Mr. Trump has retained control of his businesses and has significantly profited by merging the presidency with those enterprises. He has generated many millions by charging the US government for services and has benefited from other governments who have stayed at his properties. Leaving the presidency would limit this income stream.
Mr. Trump will have to deal with legal issues when he is no longer President, and many of these issues are not all pardonable by a presidential mandate. As President he is protected from prosecution, and it is to his legal advantage to continue to hold this office.
There are reasons for both the Republican Party and the President to question the election as it serves both of their needs. However, it does so at a high cost to the American people. Mr. Trump gained celebrity status by his name-calling style of divisive behavior. His popularity has motivated Republicans to vote not only for him but also for his political allies. However, his divisive actions have harmed the overall fabric of our democracy. A country divided can not stand, and this reality is even more evident during a national emergency, such as the COVID pandemic. At a time when we need a national message, none is being heard. Instead of looking for solutions, we continue to look at who to blame. The Chinese, the WHO, the Democrats, 5G cell towers, and the list goes on.
The country must move towards national solutions now, and it is imperative to transition to a new president in January smoothly. Every day lost could mean lost lives.
In some ways, I can forgive Mr. Trump for his actions, as they are wholly consistent with how he has conducted himself for his 74 years. We all knew what we were getting with him; some chose to turn away from reality as they embraced his promise of a great America. However, I have fewer kind feelings towards all of the other politicians who have latched onto his coattails for their power-hungry purposes. By doing so, they have placed their own needs first, which has sometimes placed the people’s needs last.
This is not to say that all Republicans are evil or that all Democrats are right. However, it does indicate that we cannot move forward as a democracy as long as our officials behave like spoiled five-year-olds who have to get their way.
I hope Mr. Biden can reach across the aisle and start a healing process. However, I’m fearful that the Senate he knew is a memory rather than a current reality. With that said, all pendulums swing, and at some point, our officials will likely move from a position of opposition to one of cooperation. This has happened when past emergencies have threatened our nation. However, this does not seem to be the case with the COVID pandemic- a disaster that impacts the nation’s health, economy, and international standing. I believe that this is the case because the pandemic was politicized. I hope that this polarization will change once Mr. Trump is out of the office. There are some indications that this metamorphosis may be occurring, as some Republican governors are changing their position of “individuals right to choose” to a more rational stance that emphasizes public health.
Trump’s bi-line of “Make America Great Again” is an idea that resonates with many. However, you can’t strengthen a country by blaming other nations and organizations for our failings. A resilient government needs to be healthy on the inside, and the only way to do that is to be inclusive and cooperative with all individuals. Eliminating or hampering entire groups weakens our country, as does a culture of divisiveness. To make America great again, we need to be doing the exact opposite of what we are currently doing. We need to even the playing field for all; political parties need to work together; leadership needs to role model and demonstrate appropriate behavior. We need to rely on experts instead of opinions when making decisions that impact millions.
Our waring political parties were present before 2016, the Trump administration just capitalized on this disharmony. If we continue to be divided, there will be no winners; we will all lose. January will come, but it will be business as usual if we haven’t learned our lesson.
It’s 3 AM on election night, and I am awake. Julie rustles in bed, which signals that she is also up. I flip on our bedroom TV to check the election results with feelings of both anticipation and dread. Soon we are talking about the election, potential political outcomes, the state of the country, and the state of the world. Such discussions are best left for more awake times, and in a predictable way, our conversation turns from global events to the state of our relationship.
In previous posts, I have inferred that I never had a male role model growing up. The concept of what it is to be a man is something that I had to observe from third-party sources and personal experimentation. I determined my role as the ultimate defender of my family. I feel that it is my responsibility to make sure that they are loved and provided for. I take this commitment very seriously. I’m not sure where (or from whom) I got that idea, but it is firmly entrenched in my psyche.
As a child, I was not given a strong sense of self-worth at home. Conversely, I was given an inflated sense of self-worth in other settings. This was confusing to me. I was the kid that the nun said that God had plans for. I was the curve breaker on school exams, the unique thinker, the problem solver. These experiences have made me a leader rather than a follower—a decision-maker, rather than one who implements others’ proclamations. However, my early home life also had an impact on me. I can be overly sensitive. I have a soft underbelly. I need to be loved. I am happy with my personality and secure in my role. However, that doesn’t mean that I don’t have a few frayed edges.
Which brings me back to the election night and a complaint from Julie that I can be too self-assured, too confident, and (the zinger) arrogant. I have to admit that that last modifier shook me, as I don’t see myself as an arrogant person. I don’t see myself full of self-importance, and I don’t feel that I am superior to others. However, her critique suggested that others may see me in this way. That was disturbing to me.
Dear readers, I feel that there is a difference between decisiveness and arrogance. When I make a decision, I am confident in that decision. However, I am open to others’ opinions, and I am more than willing to change my position based on a compelling counterpoint. I consciously surround myself with smart people who also have strong opinions, and I believe that some of my best life decisions have been made by embracing their ideas. Unfortunately, this incorporation process happens internally in my head, and it is not necessarily telegraphed to the greater world.
In regards to Julie, I felt that I needed to make amends to her. I think she is an exceptionally bright person who has altered and guided my thinking in countless ways. I told her as much that night, but the episode made me think beyond our pillow talk. I wondered how many other people I valued saw me as arrogant and how that impression impacted how they interacted with me. I felt it was better for me to err on the side of asking for forgiveness rather than justifying my behavior.
It is now Sunday, at 6:30 AM, I get out of Violet the campervan and head up the long driveway to Ralph’s house. I have known Ralph for almost 30 years. I consider him a close and valued friend. I reach his front door, and it is already open. I hesitate, as I’m not sure what COVID protocol he is now following. I elect to open his storm door and shout, “Ralph, are you in there?” “Come on in,” was his reply.
Ralph and I have made deliberate efforts to get together since I retired. We go on long walks and eat breakfast together. I look forward to our meetings and leave them anticipating the next one.
We start our hike. We enter the Illinois Prairie Path, then walk through Lincoln Marsh, then through Wheaton’s stately homes. “Hey, Ralph, can I talk to you about something?” “Sure,” was his reply. I recite a truncated summary of my conversation with Julie. “Ralph, if in any way you have felt that I have acted arrogantly towards you, I want to make amends to you. I listen to you, and I value your sharp intellect and common sense. I am a confident person who believes in himself, but that doesn’t mean that I disregard your ideas.” I pause-pregnantly. “Mike, do you have terminal cancer or something?” Ralph asks seriously. “God, I hope not,” I reply.
Our conversation slides in a different direction, politics. We offer each other ideas on what has been driving this era of partisan sycophants. Ralph’s insights focus on the emotional side of partisanship. His approach is different than mine, and I enjoy thinking about this situation in a different way.
The first point that he makes concerns the concept of morals. A person’s beliefs form morals. Morals become established laws for an individual, and once baked in, they no longer require a high level of intellectual scrutiny. Instead, morals have a vital emotional component, and feelings determine right vs. wrong. To quote Ralph, “So some people have firm moral resolve that overrides all logic, and everything is based on moral judgment first, and that evidence is wrong. They believe that they are experts and therefore do not need other experts such as scientists because they are correct.”
This got me thinking of a couple of examples:
Example one It is wrong to take another person’s life. This is a moral belief that is almost universally accepted worldwide.
Example two The only way to salvation is through Jesus Christ. Sixty-five percent of Americans identify themselves as Christian. Therefore the maximum number of individuals in the US who would hold this belief is 65%. In Japan, the number of Christians is around 1%, so 99% of individuals would not believe this in that country. I cite this example to illustrate how one belief can be firmly accepted in one region and almost wholly rejected in another.
Example three Donald Trump is doing a great job. According to Gallup Daily Tracking from October 27, 2020, 46% of Americans approved of Donald Trump.
Donald Trump is doing a terrible job. According to the Rasmussen Report, November 4-8, 2020, 47% disapproved of Donald Trump.
Here we have an example where roughly half of the US population approves of, and half of the population disapproves of Donald Trump. Both opinions of the president are based on a firm belief either for or against him. By viewing these opposing beliefs as moral convictions, it becomes easier to see how polarization can occur. Each side defends their position while ignoring any evidence that is contrary to it.
Ralph also talked about the process of politicization. To quote Ralph again, “Others are highly politicalized, and they are very vocal and pushy about their beliefs. They expect others to see their side – they will only seek out their side because otherwise, they would have to compromise and be open to others – which means giving in – there is no compromise as compromise is defeat.” The significance here is once something is politicized, the option of compromise is eliminated. Politicalization turns political and non-political things into a contest that can only be resolved by destroying the opponent, who becomes the enemy.
I think of those individuals who get all of their news exclusively from conservative (Fox News) or progressive (CNN, MSNBC) outlets. They are comfortable with these skewed editorial opinions, as they are consistent with their politicized beliefs.
I started to talk about the election, then I did a little personal disclosure, and then I got political again. How is all of this connected? My intent in this post is to explore what makes us who we are and how what may seem like a positive trait (being confident) can be interpreted negatively (arrogant) by others. In my case, how do I stay true to myself while not offending others? I am not suddenly going to become passive, but I can make an effort to acknowledge others opinions clearly and directly. I also must make amends when my actions have hurt or disturbed someone, even if my actions were unintentional.
Things become more complicated when dealing with individuals who are driven by moral conviction and politicized ideation. These characteristics are based more on feelings, and therefore are less subject to a good counterpoint. When someone believes in something strongly, they will find individuals and situations that support their beliefs. Conversely, they will avoid or denigrate individuals who have opposing thoughts. This can make accepting new ideas difficult, as emotionally held beliefs are wired more deeply than those strictly intellectual.
As a country, we are roughly divided into polar opposite halves. How can we find any common ground? I believe that the best approach consists of an honest dialog between opposing sides. The goal of the dialogue is not to convert the other persons. Instead, it is to understand their point of view. I may like vanilla ice cream, but I can accept that your choice, chocolate, is good too- we can both be right.
Although we may have specific ideologies, many of our life goals are the same. As a society, we separate ourselves based on a few bullet points-such as our views on gay marriage or immigration policy, but we are more than bullet points. As a group, most of us want freedom, security, health, and the ability to pursue our dreams. We want a safe shelter and healthy food. We want our kids to have options. We want to determine our futures. We want an even playing field. We have much more in common than what we hold as differences.
A nation can’t move forward if rigid non-yielding ideologies fracture that country. However, with compromise and understanding, all things are possible. Remember that joining parts of a structure makes that structure stronger, not weaker.
*Ralph told me that he gleaned some of his thoughts from the podcast, “The Hidden Brain.” He recommends that podcast.
Many traditions start by accident, and their significance has more to do with surrounding events than the actual behavior. Somehow, these habits intertwine; random activities fuse into a cohesive bundle that becomes an entity onto itself. And so it was with our Halloween celebrations.
It is now time to take you back to the early 1990s when I was a divorced father of one who was on a 2-year hiatus from dating. A self-imposed break based on my experience that relationships were too much work and held the potential for too much pain. I had decided to establish a single life, and to do so with earnest enthusiasm. I bought a two-story Georgian, and with the help of my sister Carol, I decorated it. It was a real home, not a motorcycle poster bachelor pad. I felt happy and at peace during those years. I could do what I wanted when I wanted to do it. I didn’t have to worry about accidentally offending someone. No one was hurting me, and I was hurting no one.
As in most things, there was a flip side to my happiness coin. I recall one Friday night where I was dealing with the agony of stomach flu. “My God, I could die tonight, and no one would know or care until I didn’t show up for work.” It was a sobering thought, but not of sufficient gravity to change my lifestyle. That change would require a random meeting.
As with many of my well-formed plans, my dating hiatus was about to alter. I had met someone at a work meeting, and I was starting to date her. Her name was Julie, and she was leaving her job as clinical director of Mercy’s eating disorder program and transitioning into a Ph.D. candidate at UIC. We had met during her last week at Mercy, and we had quickly become inseparable.
The previous Christmas, my boss, Vince, had given me an enormous gift box from Niemen Marcus. He said the present was a thank you because I had made him so much money that year. The gold-wrapped cube was overflowing with every high-end delectable imaginable. Of note, it also contained a jeroboam of Dom Perignon.
I ate or gave away most of the treats, but I was at a loss about what to do with the Champagne. It sat in my refrigerator.
Then Halloween arrived. I had bought an enormous amount of candy in preparation. Mostly Hershey Bars, Kit Kats, and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. To be on the safe side, I also had an emergency bag of penny candy-jaw breakers, candy corn, and the like. I didn’t want to run out of treats and seem cheap to my neighbors, so I had enough candy for two Halloweens.
Julie had agreed to come over to help me answer the door, and in return, I had promised her dinner. I didn’t feel like cooking a meal, and she was agreeable to Chinese carry-out. In those days, we had a decent Chinese restaurant just around the corner. I dialed up “Chan’s Kitchen” and placed an order.
I have to confess that I have little sophistication when it comes to alcohol. However, I knew that Champagne didn’t age well, and my bottle had been sitting in the fridge for nearly a year. I asked Julie if she would like a glass, and she said, “Yes.” Beyond plastic water tumblers, my beverage glassware consisted of a few wine glasses. I put them into service and poured two generous glassfuls. I pushed one of them over to Julie, who was already heavily into the Mongolian Beef.
We toasted “To Us” and quickly downed our first glasses. Champagne is a tricky beverage for the naive and ill-informed. For me, it tasted like a sour grape-flavored soda rather than a high alcohol content beverage. Julie felt similarly. It was easy to drink… and we had so much left in the bottle. I poured another glass, then another.
The doorbell started to ring, and we elected that we would take turns answering the door. It seemed like the kids’ costumes were getting ever cuter with each sip of the Champagne. Soon we were both rushing to greet the costume wearers. I was now distributing handfuls of candy into each pillowcase and plastic pumpkin that was thrust before me. It wasn’t long before I was giving handfuls of candy to the supervising parents that accompanied their charges. Everything and everyone seemed happy and magical… that is until I started to feel dizzy. The dizziness progressed, and I began to feel sick. I had to keep both feet on the floor to prevent the room from spinning. Julie was feeling similarly. Luckily, by then, most of the trick-or-treat merriment had ended.
Despite our mutual sickness, we look back on that day with fondness, and we have used it as a framework on which to build our Halloween traditions. From that point forward, we would celebrate Halloween by passing out candy and eating Chinese food. However, we did exclude Champagne. The remembrance of my post-Dom headache insured that omission.
Our children came, and we had to adjust. I would walk with them, and Julie would pass out candy at home. We would still reflect on the amazing costumes we saw, and we always ate Chinese food for Halloween dinner. That is until this year.
I have written a lot about modifying celebrations during this COVID crisis, and I think I have been successful in doing so for many of these events. However, there was something different about this Halloween. I didn’t want to reformulate the holiday; I wanted to ignore it. I wanted it to be just another day.
Julie said that the City of Naperville had published guidelines for Halloween, and they had a PDF printable poster that could be hung on the door to tell trick-or-treaters that you were not participating this year. I asked Julie how she felt about canceling Halloween, and she was on board, so I printed up the sign and hung it on our front door. Scanning Facebook told me that others were taking a different approach and that they were readying to pass out candy. I started to feel guilty, but that guilt wasn’t enough for me to take down the sign.
At 3 PM, I was sitting in my study’s leather easy chair. Without invitation, Julie came in and sat in my desk chair. Shortly afterward, my daughter Kathryn joined us and perched herself on my old oak rolltop desk. Reflexively, we looked towards the room’s windows and onto the street beyond. The number of kids trick-or-treating was lower, but there was still a significant number of “hunter-gatherers.” Some were solo; some were in surprisingly large groups. Some had masks; others did not. I can’t say what my “roommates” were feeling. I’m unsure of what I was feeling. The best descriptor would be one of being disconnected with an overlay of sadness. I wanted the day to be over.
We had talked about ordering Chinese, but no one made an effort to pick up the phone. Julie and I decided to watch a movie on Netflix, and Kathryn retreated to a book. The day ended.
I’m a proactive person; I am a problem solver. I can be criticized for having too optimistic of an attitude. I can be accused of being too Pollyannaish. I was none of the above this Halloween.
For me, Halloween is the gateway celebration for the winter holidays. This year we will not host Julie’s family for Thanksgiving. We had been celebrating with them for over 27 years. With raging infectivity rates it is possible that we won’t be traveling to Minnesota to celebrate Christmas- a 28-year tradition. I believe that my Halloween apathy is a symptom of the more significant loss of these events and that these losses represent the more significant loss of this last year.
It is difficult for me to be happy when COVID infectivity rates are approaching 100,000 individuals a day, and when our death count is moving past 230,000 human lives. We are in a time when our leaders seem to have a greater ability to name-call than to lead. When it is necessary to hide political beliefs, less you offend someone by just uttering the name of a candidate. When selfishness supplants selflessness and the rule of power for the people has been replaced by a drive for power. Instead of moving towards equality, we seem to re-establish supremacy based on skin color and bank account balances. Instead of joining with other countries to work towards common goals, we choose to insult their leaders. Instead of using our scientific and technical knowledge to move away from planet-killing fossil fuels, we deregulate industries and escalate our eventual climate demise.
Is it any wonder that Halloween had little meaning for me this year? In so many ways, I feel that we have lost more than the year 2020; we have lost a generation of progress by embracing a Lord of the Flies mentality.
Golding published that novel in 1954 when I was one year old. How is it possible that we have moved backward? Why is it that self-serving values seem to trump a sense of community? How can we be so focused on short-term gain and so myopic when it comes to long-term solutions?
Halloween didn’t happen for me this year; Thanksgiving will be altered, Christmas may go missing. I’m willing to mourn these holidays if such grieving somehow fuels movement towards a juster society. My voice is small, but it can become loud if added to a chorus of others. Let us sing together for both ourselves and our children.