Christmas in Quarantine: Some Reflections

On Monday morning I got the call that I had been exposed to someone who tested positive. Just before that, I had been running through a list of Christmas “to-do” things in my mind, a list which suddenly evaporated. The new list that began running through my mind was just one question, “Now what?” on repeat.

After a dozen-or-so phone calls to get the logistics settled, I gathered my things that I could gather in the moment and headed into the world of quarantine, a world which has become so familiar to so many during these months of 2020.

My brain obviously needed to do some readjusting—Christmas in quarantine was my new reality—so, developing some acceptance became important. I felt okay with it, but also wondered how I would feel once reality actually set in.

Texts and phone calls checking on me, seeing how I was managing that reality, began sounding on my phone. Still, I felt okay and tried to convey that as best I could.

You see, I am pretty bent toward solitude by nature; I thoroughly enjoy time spent alone in silence. But, I am also part of a community. Indeed, I have chosen to pitch my tent with others; it was not a decision forced upon me. I find greater joy living the truth of our human connectedness than I do living a solitary life, as challenging as it can be at times. So, there is the basic assumption that these are the people with whom I will celebrate life and all the moments that we collectively acknowledge give meaning to it. Certainly Christ’s being born anew in our world is one of those things. Certainly this year we seek glimpses of that birth more than ever.

On the second day being in quarantine I made a list of all the communal traditions that I would miss—not just physically miss being present for, but emotionally miss in my heart—the songs I wouldn’t hear, the rituals I wouldn’t experience. Reality was a bit more difficult to stomach.

But, so many have checked in via the world of virtual connection, a world that, too, has become oh-so-familiar during 2020. People have dropped off the things I have needed (or just wanted) and have done things for me at the monastery that had been on my “to-do” list before Monday morning. I feel far from isolated.

And, this extra quiet gives me more time to connect with those who have been truly isolated since March, or whenever the pandemic began affecting the normal routine of their lives. It gives me a different opportunity to connect with the families and communities worldwide who have suffered losses beyond belief, whose new reality may never fully set in.

I had sent a favorite Mary Oliver essay of mine to a friend along with her Christmas card. The piece is titled Winter Hours, and I try to read it each year as the season returns. After she finished reading it, she sent me a favorite paragraph, which just happens to be the one that I always highlight, too:

Sometimes I think, were I just a little rougher made, I would go altogether to the woods—to my work entirely, and solitude, a few friends, books, my dogs, all things peaceful, ready for meditation and industry—if for no other reason than to escape the heart-jamming damages and discouragements of the world’s mean spirits. But, no use. Even the most solitudinous of us is communal by habit, and indeed by commitment to the bravest of our dreams, which is to make a moral world. The whirlwind of human behavior is not to be set aside.

That paragraph is such truth for me. I often think about how I could live a peaceful and contented, productive life as a hermit. The pleasure I can find in my own company is a pleasure I have felt during most of the solitudinous stretches I have experienced in my life. And sometimes when I let my brain begin wandering in that direction, I get carried away with the possibility. But, more often and more strongly than that, the words and wisdom of Benedict begin echoing through me. He says, in other words: we are called to journey together; we are called to support one another; serving our sisters and brothers is real love; our prayers rise powerfully together; the work of conversion happens communally. In my five years in Erie, his wisdom has become my truth.

I know that wherever I am, wherever we find ourselves this year, that Christ is being born anew in our communal world. I know that I am connected to that world, and in a special way, with my sisters tonight as the traditions we celebrate together unfold in our monastery in adapted ways. Christ—whose name, for me, is synonymous with light, with love, with compassion—overcomes darkness. Let us celebrate our faith so deeply this year.

Let us walk in the holy presence. Merry Christmas.

enjoying an adapted Christmas tree, created from my surroundings

solitudinous spaces

what I’ll miss the most…singing Emanuel with my sisters at Vigil prayer