Everything about the last twelve-plus months has been different, but we have done our best to hold onto our traditions, especially around the holidays and like most, especially around Christmas. And this last Christmas, having a too-large-for-the-room, perfectly-shaped Christmas tree was one we were determined to keep. The pandemic (and a drought at the critical stage in the tree growing life cycle) meant there were very few trees available in the Bay area at the end of 2020. But with a bit of effort, we managed to find a 13-footer. True, it was marred with what looked like a squirrel’s nest carved out at the bottom, but height and availability won out over perfection. Once installed in our jumbo tree stand, we cut the netting and freed the tree’s branches. Alas, not only was the “stick nest” at the base still evident, there were similar bare patches and holes throughout.
We stood in silence until words tumbled out — playful, joking and sadly serious: “It’s the perfect COVID Christmas tree.” My son remarked optimistically, “Well, for the first time ever we will be able to see the ornaments hanging in the back from the front.” Then and there we adopted the approach of redeeming and reframing: finding something good from what was so apparently missing. My daughter suggested the nest-like patch be inhabited by a stuffed squirrel. We added birds’ nests and pinecones; there were even presents tucked into the bare spots. And so it went as we reframed this less-than-ideal Christmas tree.
Like most, we have done a lot of reframing over the last few months and, as we see some initial indicators that we are stepping out of a year filled with challenge, it is helpful to take stock of where we have been before leaving it all behind. The delicate promise of a happier and more stable future is visible in everything from the settling in of Spring to vaccines, and suggests we have reason to hope. Still, we have work to do and that entails what I like to call intentional “RE-” efforts.
A “RE-” focus includes those activities that allow us to name and embrace hard-earned gains from adversity. These tasks include things like REpair, REcovery and REstoration, to name a few. Claiming positive outcomes that result from adversity is critical to REnewal and other RE- tasks. They remind us that we are survivors and capable of wresting good from darkness. Such naming and claiming is also an essential coping and resilience skill.Several years ago mental health research was conducted in some Bay Area schools and communities by Dr. Anna Mueller from the University of Chicago. The critical adversity was teen suicide – the conclusion was that some of our youth were lacking in coping and resilience skills. In Anne Arundel County, this study launched us into successful programming of Youth Suicide Awareness and a slowing down of suicide attempts. The communities’ collaboration in tangible and healing ways sits as an example of resilience and, ultimately, restorative healing.
Inevitable oppression felt during the pandemic because of social isolation has taken a toll on us as individuals and as a society. Recently, across the nation, there has been an increase in the number of people reporting feelings of anxiety, depression and hopelessness. Coping and resilience skills have been wanting not just in our youth but in young and older adults as well. Sadly, the lack of such skills has been expressed in incidences of violence, prejudice and suicide. Now is time for our best coping and resilience skills. It is time for healing and wholeness, and it is time to come together to affect that.
These positive lessons about finding and making good out of adversity are being realized in the Bay area as we work together to support each other and our environment. Recently the Watershed Stewards Academy advocated such resilience by encouraging us to “reflect on the challenge and opportunities of 2020 to create a brighter future.” Woods Presbyterian Church in Severna Park and St. Philips Episcopal Church in Annapolis are partners in Anne Arundel County’s “Riverwise Congregations” and, together, have planted and restored their properties with native plants.
We should be mindful of such opportunities and possibilities as we witness the slow but certain return of plant life, green leaves, birds and other wildlife in the area. They are testimony to the instincts of survival and the implicit promise that life goes on. Their restoration also exemplifies the necessity of the interdependence of all living things. The residents of the Bay area rely on each other for survival such that interconnectedness and renewal fosters a collaborative coping and resilience skill!
Rev. Nancy Lincoln Reynolds is the associate pastor of Woods Memorial Presbyterian Church in Severna Park and can be contacted at NReynolds@WoodsChurch.org.
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