Covid: This Christmas, we must face up to tough choices and our own human frailty – Ewan Aitken

The weekend before lockdown I was in Orkney conducting my mother-in-law's funeral.

By Ewan Aitken
Thursday, 26th November 2020, 4:45 pm
This Christmas is going to be one of tough choices for all of us, almost life and death ones, says Ewan Aitken (Picture: Lisa Ferguson)
This Christmas is going to be one of tough choices for all of us, almost life and death ones, says Ewan Aitken (Picture: Lisa Ferguson)

It was a sad day but a celebration of a life well-lived. The several hundred mourners were able to mark her passing well. It was the last time I was in a group of any size over six.

It has been tough for my father-in-law to grieve the loss of his beloved wife without family close by. The weekly Zoom calls help and he is extraordinarily stoic; upheld by his faith, friends, a strong community network and the love they shared for nearly 60 years.

But it’s tough. He will be with friends at Christmas, his first without his wife, but none of his children or grandchildren can be there. They too will find it hard. Yet given how far we are from the end of this pandemic, choosing not to go to Orkney is the right thing to do.

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Many people have not had the chance to mark the death of loved ones in the way my family were able to due to the restrictions brought in to safeguard us against Covid. Many, especially those in poverty, have made other painful sacrifices or found themselves out of work. Businesses have gone to the wall and organisations have folded. It’s a year we all want to forget.

But forget is the last thing we should do. What this year has done, is made us do what we try hard to avoid: face our vulnerability and fragility. The conspiracy theorists, those who want to reject the science, or frame their anti-mask/anti-restrictions stance as being about freedom or human rights, want to perpetuate the myth of human invincibility.

They need Covid to be the action of an enemy force so they can blame and fight something they need to defeat. It allows them to avoid the truth Covid has highlighted: to be human is to be fragile and vulnerable. To be fully alive, we need to first accept the inevitability of death. It’s only then we can embrace being truly alive.

The coming vaccinations are wonderful news. Their arrival will save lives but they should be seen as us managing our vulnerability, not a sign we’ve won a war. Otherwise, those saved lives may not be as well-lived as they might. This has been an incredibly tough year. The worst thing we could do is forget it. Remembering its lessons will mean future Christmastimes, and all our other times of celebration, religious and otherwise, will be more special.

There is no doubt this Christmas is going to be one of tough choices for all of us, almost life and death ones. There won’t be right or wrong answers; just the best we can come up with for ourselves and those we love.

In Cyrenians, making tough choices is at the heart our work. We build trusted relationships with folk in tough realities so those we support feel able to make choices for themselves. Being able to make simple choices can be life-changing; beginning the journey of overcoming often huge vulnerability on their own terms and no-one else’s. It’s not just my family I will be thinking of this Christmas, but those of my friends, colleagues, and those who have chosen to trust us at Cyrenians during their most vulnerable moments.

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