A beautiful, crisp morning in England, not a cloud in the sky. My partner and sons in the house, presents opened; I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. Lucky us. A broken and divided country, yes, with a dark, almost certainly isolated future ahead of us as we pull up the drawbridge to the continent of Europe. But today is about celebrating what we have and also being with the ones we love.
Can miles truly separate family and friends? If you really and truly want to be with someone, aren’t you there already? The author Richard Bach certainly thought so. But then, his big success in writing was about a talking seagull. Skype, the humble telephone and countless other methods of communication are available but there is nothing like being there with your loved ones. Ain’t nothing like the real thing.
I want, need, to be with family these days because, as I head into the final straight of life, I know that things don’t last forever and no one gets out of here alive. With so many relatives long gone, I appreciate far more what I have and what I have lost. Who knows, for example, if this is the last Christmas for some of us, or the last Christmas to be spent with those we love? In a world where things happen by accident and not design, those precious moments matter more than ever.
I still get the same thrill when my children, who are no longer children to anyone except their mother and me, open their Christmas stockings and presents as I did when they really were children. They’ve both moved away now, not to the other side of the world, but to places where we see less of them than we’d like to.
My stepmother, my dad’s true love and genuine soulmate, and my two brothers do live on the other side of the world and meetings are rare and fleeting. Skype does a job but it’s temporary, it’s a fleeting moment. You can look but you can’t touch. And all the while, time marches on relentlessly. A Christmas without family and friends is a wasted Christmas, a lost opportunity, something that may not come around again.
I know I am one of the lucky ones. Many are not so lucky. Loneliness and isolation in our country is at near epidemic levels, I am not working far from home, like our brave armed service personnel, there are no artificial barriers to keep us apart from our much loved family and friends.
Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year if you are with the ones you love. If you aren’t, it can be the worst, and it is these people who are also in my thoughts today.
Happy Christmas, people. Wherever you are. And raise a glass to absent friends.