I'm at the tail end of the first family Christmas vacation we've taken in three years, and it's been great.
Mostly due to the COVID-19 pandemic and related circumstances, we have not spent Christmas with my extended family since 2019. Being able to do so this year has been a wonderful experience and a reminder to me of two things: the importance of being together with family, and the necessity of in-person human interaction.
I tend towards introversion. I don't mind being alone. I am a contemplative person and need solitude, quiet, and deep thinking to replenish myself. My initial reaction to social occasions is to avoid them. But most of the time when I push through that hesitation and go, I do enjoy them to some degree. I enjoy them even more if those social occasions are with family.
I am blessed to still have one living set of grandparents. I am their eldest grandchild, and my son is their eldest great-grandchild. This is our second opportunity this year to spend time with them, and these have been special visits. Video calls with them would not be the same – they are no substitute for sitting on a couch together talking, feeling that tangible connection that comes just from being around loved ones.
This has been a lovely time. While I am ready to return to our “regular” life, I also wish I had more time. I wish I didn't live so distant from my extended family that I only get to be with them a couple times a year. Still, it makes those times all the more meaningful.
One thing that smartphones excel at is video calls. Tonight – Christmas Eve – was a perfect example of this.
It's the first time we've traveled to be with extended family for Christmas since 2019 – before the COVID-19 pandemic. My family, along with my two brothers and their families, planned to have Christmas Eve dinner with my mother and step-father and a small gift exchange afterward.
For various reasons, one of my brothers had to cancel his family's travel plans. We were sad that they wouldn't be able to join us in-person and that we would have to go at least one more Christmas without them. But thanks to modern technology, we used my (“ancient”) iPhone 8 to do a FaceTime call with them during our gift exchange. I played cameraman as family members opened their gifts and then passed the phone around to each family member to have a quick chat.
It is true there is no substitute for in-person interaction. But when in-person interaction cannot happen, video calls can be the next best thing.
If and when I decide to stop carrying a smartphone on my person, there will be other ways of doing video calls. A laptop, a tablet, or even a smartphone as a secondary device dedicated for specific functions like that.
Because, as was demonstrated tonight, a video call was able to bridge hundreds of miles and connect our family in a way that I only dreamed of as a child watching Star Trek: The Next Generation. While I lament other technological “advances” that seem to have done more harm than good or have mixed results at best (social media), video calls are one achievement I can wholly and unapologetically support.
Another Thanksgiving in the books. Except for one thing, it was a pretty ordinary holiday.
I enjoyed sleeping in a whole 2 minutes (my body usually gets me up, alarm or not). We had the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade on while my wife bustled in the kitchen getting the food prepared (I made the stuffing and gravy – just add water).
By early afternoon everything was ready, we loaded it all up into the SUV and drove over to my in-law's home 15 minutes away. There we met my wife's family and her aunt and uncle and who were also visiting and enjoyed a lovely meal and good company for several hours. We came home happy and well-fed.
The out-of-the-ordinary thing happened this morning. I got a text message from a good friend I've known for over 20 years. His wife has been battling cancer for a little over a year. After a valiant fight, she entered hospice care a couple months ago. Today he informed me she had slipped into a coma from which she will not wake. They are preparing for her passing.
Despite the heaviness of heart for my friend and his family, today's festivities with my family were that much sweeter. I held my wife a little closer, sat next to my son a little longer, enjoyed my interactions with extended family, enjoyed delicious and plentiful food a little more than I otherwise might have done.
I have so much to be thankful for on this almost ordinary Thanksgiving.