connection as antidote
or, "the santa claus parade"
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There was a Santa Claus parade here the other day. Nothing so unusual about that, they’re happening all over the place. But this one felt a little extra precious. I suppose the heavy mandates we are living under in this part of Canada have a lot to do with that. The flexing of muscle by the powers-that-be have so many people around us under a spell of fear and mistrust. We do not see people’s faces anymore. People get angry if you get too close. We cannot enter restaurants or indoor gatherings of any sort. Forget theatres or live music venues like the annual Christmas ballet, “The Nutcracker”, we have been attending since our children were small. Here, small children cannot participate in gymnastics or hockey or even art classes if their parents aren’t vaccinated. Black market sports leagues for six year olds - does that sound normal? Does that sound like a free and democratic country?
Living through this, I have come to witness the different ways people react to the onslaught of fear propaganda. Some self isolate, seeing others as threats to their wellbeing. Others have shut off the noise and are trying to figure out how to live in a way that is actually still living. You know, silly things like making an income or going to school. Everyone is in there somewhere, along the continuum. Some believe that the vaccine offers protection and therefore, there is no need to worry about whether others that don’t have it are near them. Others feel that everyone is a potential vector of death, vaccine or not.
All I know is that I miss faces. I miss closeness and open laughter and the feeling of the mundane and the normal. I miss traditions and, mostly, I miss the simple, sweet things that are easy to take for granted. All of those moments that can so easily slide right through our fingers because there’s another moment to get ready for, think about, plan or worry over. That’s the gift for me from this time - the consecration of the present.
Our little community parade was organised by a neighbour who happens to be the mama of six beautiful little girls. She wanted a parade for her children and the community so she made it happen. There were people lined up all along the road, everyone in big jackets and snow-pants, waiting for the procession to begin. We saw neighbours we hadn’t seen in awhile. Lingering hugs were given and received. Truly lingering hugs, like the type that speak a thousand words with such vulnerability and honesty it brings tears to the eyes, “We are connected.” Everyone looking at each other in the eye, speaking closely and with joy. Not a mask. Not one single mask. That may be normal where you live, but to have such a gathering of people and not see a single mask where we live was the most liberating of all moments we have had in the last two years. Without a single mask wearing person in the mix, there was no evidence of a narrative we wanted to be free of for a time. It was just a small community gathering. Covid? What’s Covid?
I shook hands with neighbours I hadn’t yet met, but knew through stories told of their heroics, follies, and antics. But you know what I noticed time and again? It was that moment after the handshake part was over and it happened a few times - they didn’t let go of my hand. Instead, with three different people, we stood, holding hands, looking in each other’s eyes, smiling and talking. Did we both forget to let go? Was it me hanging on to them? Might have been.
I got updates on kids gone away to school, others trying to get picked up by trade unions, surgeries gone awry, second jobs needing to be found to make ends meet. I got all of the updates on who got the 8 point bucks in the neighbourhood this hunting season and who came up empty. And then, the parade begin.
There, heading up the charge, was a local woman with a young girl riding their beautiful, towering horses, decorated in their finery as any Christmas horse must be. They were followed by tractors with children riding on their father’s laps, trucks pulling trailers that were decorated and full of straw bales as seats for children throwing candy and wishing everyone “Merry Christmas!” There was the town firetruck, polished and prancy. There were young children walking goats whose clear mission was to pick up the candy trail along the road. Dogs were dressed up like snowmen. There was a local septic truck, painted red and gold, polished with pride, children riding on it, waving and smiling in delight while they, too, threw candy canes at the cheering crowd. Everyone smiling and waving and they too, whether they knew it or not, witnessing the illumination of the ordinary.
Finally, there was Santa. We could hear him before we could see him. Santa was into it! There he came, the piece de resistance, riding in the decorated bucket of the arborist’s truck. But he wasn’t just “ho ho ho’ing” like any old Santa must. No, our Santa was telling us all how happy he was to see all the children, how happy he was to be there. It was real. I got it. I was happy too, Santa.
We followed the procession to the small, red brick church where hot cocoa and baking were shared while people talked. The little house beside the church had its balcony decorated with little trees and fairy lights and a chair for Santa to sit and listen as the young children asked for the fulfilment of their toy dreams. Frigid wind painted everyone’s cheeks scarlet red, but no matter. People! Smiles! Children running around and playing! Normal human life!
A few years ago, I would have had a fun day at an event like this. Another fun Santa Claus parade - hurray! But today, everything is all the more delicious and hopeful. That this group of disparate human beings all came together, I’m sure many of us with different ideas on the current state of affairs, was unifying in ways that seem rarer than ever. And that’s what I choose to put my focus on. More of that. More meals around our table. More walks in the woods with friends. More holding on to a hand for a second longer, after the handshake is done. My open palm, pressed and held against yours. Flesh against flesh, warmth mingled and amplified.
But to continue to build those relationships, and to have meaningful ones, beyond the superficial skim that passes for one these days, there is effort and work to be done. For all of it, I must contribute. I cannot wait for others to be brave. I cannot wait for others to step forward. That is the calling of our time. I step up. You step up. Protest if you want, but you cannot put energy into the destruction of one thing and hope someone else throws their energy into the creation of something else. You don’t like it? Me neither. So, what are you going to do about it. Apathy is more insidious than anger. Even if it’s not in your nature, it really doesn’t matter. Move outside of your nature to expand your life. If we can’t do it now, when our children are having a perverse world normalised by the media, when would you suppose we will do it?
A Santa Claus parade then, with goats and septic tank floats. And a spring picnic, maybe? Friends for lingering dinners. Communal harvest days. Book clubs by wood stoves reviving the words of teachers long gone. Teaching children in your neighbourhood a skill you have, maybe cooking or sewing or just an old card game your drunk old Uncle Lou taught you years ago. Who cares. Let them take their systems that only brought us division and indebtedness.
We are in a time of claiming what has been lost and rediscovering the beauty of interconnectedness. Nothing has changed, but the volume of our calling. We are here, at this time, for a reason. Don’t waste your power on battling small minds. Use it to create and contribute to the beauty of the world and live content in the unrewarding and unknowing of the amplification and reach of your contribution. Do it because it’s right and right matters. Faith in the power of goodness, that’s all we got.