For nearly ten years our Army son was not home during the holidays. Sometimes it was because it was his turn to take over guard duty at the base so colleagues who had children could share the holiday with their little ones. At other times it was because he was deployed. Korea wasn’t a dangerous deployment. He scoffed at even calling it a deployment. But nonetheless he was thousands of miles and many time zones away. While we were eating turkey, he was dining on bibimbap.
His deployment to Iraq with the 101st Airborne was on a base. He rarely went outside the wire. His deployments with the 75th Ranger Regiment, which are still classified, were decidedly more dangerous. He was a Captain leading special operations on nightly missions.
He was always gone at the holidays and when he did call it might be any time of the night or day. If we could see him, he was always in what appeared to be a tiny plywood closet. There was a bare bulb hanging down casting a surreal glow on his face. He looked dog tired. We spoke in generalities because we couldn’t ask anything about his actions or whereabouts.
This holiday, he was finally home and bringing the wonderful new woman in his life to meet the family. I intended it to be perfect. It was going to make up, in one fell swoop, for all the lost Thanksgivings and Christmases. Nothing was going to get in the way.
Menus were planned. Gifts bought and wrapped. House decorated. Freezer and refrigerator stocked. The holiday train, barreling ahead on a track of missed holidays past, was hurtling toward a wonderland of connection and togetherness.
Then we hit the tunnel of Covid. First our younger son, then my husband, then me. Grateful for vaccines that kept us from experiencing the tragedy and hospitalization of so many, we nonetheless were felled, one by one, and the bright glow of everything planned took on a much different hue.
I staggered along, determined, despite the scourge, to continue with the holiday traditions; making big spreads, frosting cookies and playing holiday tunes as tissue boxes emptied, family members isolated and took to their beds. The house became a series of closed doors.
All the determination and intention in the world was not going to change it. I knew this intellectually but I couldn’t accept it. I realized, finally, that intentions can be like a snow globe, hermetically encasing an immovable diorama. Then someone, or something, comes along and shakes it up.
Life is not a snow globe. It is a living, breathing entity. Intentions ground us, give us a framework. Then life blows through and creates constant change. The fancy holiday dinner was replaced, in the end, by take-out breakfast burritos eaten on a chilly back porch so we could be outside. We were masked. But I could see the eyes of my loved ones. That was pretty perfect.
Kate Fuglei is an actress and singer who divides her time between Studio City and Brooklyn. She has appeared in over forty episodes of television, including most recently in one of the first episodes of STAR TREK/PICARD. She is a published author with two novels based on the lives of the physicist Enrico Fermi and the educator Maria Montessori. The greatest blessing in her life is her marriage to writer Ken LaZebnik and her two sons, Jack LaZebnik and Ben LaZebnik. They inspire her every single day.
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