Written on the Body, #29: December 24, 2020: Light Returns

So it is Christmas Eve, just past Winter Solstice, Chanukah has come and gone (Dec. 10-17), and the new year is coming.

Beginning again — I started this on Christmas Eve, then got a case of fatigue — surprising, since we do so little these days. Maybe just computer fatigue. Roger and I had celebrated Chanukah earlier this month, using a menorah that we used in my family as I was growing up (see photo), and we had a lovely but quiet Christmas, with gifts to each other and cooking a nice dinner, and zoom calls to family — though there were little mishaps: we couldn’t connect to the zoom meeting with my son and his partner, as I had accidentally entered the meeting twice, so finally Joe set up a zoom meeting for us, and we had a good conversation. And we set a just-baked pumpkin pie on a stove burner to cool — not knowing the burner had been turned on — so the glass (supposedly Corning) exploded into shards. But I had left-over pumpkin and left-over dough, so I remade the pie in a smaller version. And I had the wrong street-name for a gift of flowers we were sending to Roger’s sister and my good friend Liz in Houston — so I had to email the florist the correct address this morning (fortunately, the flowers were scheduled for delivery later today); she just received them. If the past two years have taught me anything, it is a sense of perspective (something I’ve been learning, with a bit of difficulty, for years) — so we enjoyed our dinner, our gifts, our families, and the pleasure of being together and feeling relatively well.

We also, of course, have been caring about the wider community — in Canada, the U.S., the world — during the pandemic and the ongoing struggle for racial justice and justice in all areas of life: for women, the LGBTQ community, people in persecuted communities of all kinds. We think about the people who have died and been ill with covid-19, and their families and friends, and the people who have lost their jobs during this time, as well as the front-line health workers and other essential workers (hospital cleaners, people who work in grocery stores and pharmacies, in meat-packing plants and other factories, truck drivers, teachers in the classroom) often already on the margins of society. It is the middle-class and well-to-do people who get to work at home on their computers! So we gave money to Toronto’s Daily Bread Food Bank, as a way of providing tangible aid and support, to both people with food-insecurities and the agency workers, and to UNICEF, to help children in other parts of the world.

We are glad Roger’s physiotherapy clinic is also open during the current lockdown — thank you to the therapists who work there! It was closed for a few months during the spring, which exacerbated his arthritis pain. The other things we miss — coffee and dinners out, meeting a friend for tea, going to the theatre or a museum — are really just luxuries (back to that sense of perspective!). What is more subtle, but there, is the anxiety people feel about seeing each other, speaking to each other on the street and in stores 00 the fear of getting or giving the disease. But even in this regard, I have seen moments of caring and connection. We all miss the warmth and “physicality” of being in the actual presence of a friend or loved one; zoom is great up to a point, as are email, phone calls, and other social-media connections — but hugs are important, too. The vaccine is here — and coming to most of us sometime in the new year. It’s wonderful how quickly not one but two or more vaccines have been developed, and I am glad the intention is to get them to remote Northern and Indigenous communities as well as people in cities.

Things are going well with my treatment. The new drug (new for me, and newly developed) that I started in June is still working to reduce the cancer lesions, with no further spread. And, at least for the time being, I am off the secondary drug that gave me some side effects, so I am feeling well, just tired. (“I haven’t done anything and I’m still tired!” I said to Roger the other day. Part of this is probably aging, too (but not all). I have been writing, and have had some poems accepted for 2 print anthologies and an on-line journal in the new year: details to come when I know more.

I have been connecting more with cousins and other family members, and I want to say how grateful I am for my extended family, and for Roger’s extended family, who welcome me as part of their warm-hearted clan. And for my friends and writing colleagues for your support, and just being who you are. One friend from elementary school found me (somewhere online) and we’ve been exchanging memories and photographs. And I recently submitted some poems to a publisher in Parrsboro, Nova Scotia, which has led to a few lovely email conversations with the person who responded to me. Thanks to the people who have found new and creative ways to work online, including: Lit Live in Hamilton, Voices Israel, and other poetry and prose readings, concerts, theatre events. Wellspring and Jean Jackson for relaxation/guided imagery groups. My Hamilton yoga teachers Andrea Soos and Andrea Michaliuk. Special, personal thanks to the staff at Princess Margaret, who have not stopped being there to provide medical care (and everything that goes with it). I notice that even the clerks at the door, asking us the usual covid-19-symptom questions, take time to speak in a friendly way with people who need extra assistance. And of course, thanks to Roger, and to Joe and Christina and their family.

I think that the underlying meaning of Chanukah, underneath the historical events (by a “miracle,” a small flask of oil, only enough for 1 day, lasted 8 days as the temple in Jerusalem was being restored after its destruction) is the miracle of the return of light: the return of the sun’s light after Winter Solstice, and the return of hope and better times after a time of difficulty and trauma. And Christmas, too, celebrates miracles of light and rebirth. So I wish all of you — all of us — more light, more hope, more joy and easier lives in 2021. In the words of poet Jane Hirshfield: “So few grains of happiness/measured against all the dark/and still the scales balance.” (from “An Ode to Resilience”)

Chanukah candles, 8th night, 2020, and, below, a family picture from about 1957, in which I am lighting the same menorah. Pictured are my grandmother Rose (behind me), her sister my great-aunt Zelda, my great-grandmother Mary (their mother), in her mid-80’s, my grandfather Lou (Rose’s husband), and my father; my mother is taking the picture.

About Ellen

I am a member of The Writers Union of Canada, the League of Canadian Poets, and CANSCAIP. I have received grants from the Ontario Arts Council for both writing and teaching. I currently work with Learning Through the Arts and Living through the Arts, programmes run by the Royal Conservatory of Music that enable artists to work in schools and community organizations. I have also taught in many other school and community programs, and have been a judge for various writing contests for both young people and adults.
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