Every year, as a Christmas gift for my parents and my sister, I make a calendar. It's a winsome way to plop a year's worth of family photos in their laps, neatly laid out month by month, with context. As I worked on gathering photos this week, it was clear, of course, how quickly 2020 turned on us. I had already decided I'd be including screenshots from Marco Polo, and pictures of my parents, on our socially-distanced visits, through their sliding screen door. The calendar always doubles as a memory book; I knew that. But I wasn't quite prepared for how the sifting of photos would make me feel, how it would affect me as I considered all that we've lost.
January's photos included our New Year's celebration, a snapshot with my parents in their apartment at their retirement community, Ramona's first time to see a Broadway touring company perform Les Miserables. (She was also looking forward to Dear Evan Hansen in March, Anastasia in June...both were canceled, of course.) In February, apparently, I took very few pictures. Were we too busy? Were we already beginning to worry? It's hard to remember.
March's photos included teddy bears in the dining room window.
(Remember, "We're going on a bear hunt"? That's when it felt like we were all in this together, before some people decided masks were political or controlling, rather than a simple and sound way to be kind and protect one another. Sigh. Anyway....)
By April, pictures included things like this:
I somehow wasn't prepared for the tears that flowed as I worked on this annual, usually-fun calendar gift. So I let myself have a cry, and then I got back to work, looking for all the things we can be grateful for. I know how "Pollyanna"-ish such things sound, but W.S. Merwin puts it in perspective for us. It's not blind or naive to acknowledge our human nature and know that we can, we must, say thanks, even in the face of — perhaps especially in the face of — mysteries and sadness that we don't understand. Not only can we and must we ... we can't seem to help it.
And for the record, Pollyanna gets a bit of a bad rap. Her "Glad Game" was a survival mechanism, a coping technique, and the thing that transformed her own life and the lives of others. I think W.S. Merwin would tell her thanks.
by W. S. Merwin
with the night falling we are saying thank you
we are stopping on the bridges to bow from the railings
we are running out of the glass rooms
with our mouths full of food to look at the sky
and say thank you
we are standing by the water thanking it
standing by the windows looking out
in our directions
back from a series of hospitals back from a mugging
after funerals we are saying thank you
after the news of the dead
whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you
(Read the rest here, at Poets.org.)