Charlie Harper: Entering A Holiday Season Without Plans

Charlie Harper

Monday, November 30th, 2020

I wrote a piece on my blog for Good Friday that began “If you want to make God Laugh, tell him your plans.”  That was what seems like years ago, when we were still trying to come to grips with all of the changes a pandemic was forcing upon us.  

All of our routines were disrupted. We weren’t allowed to attend church, much less do every day things like eat in restaurants, go to work, or send the kids to school.  There so many more questions than there were answers.  All of our short term plans were, in effect, cancelled.

It’s been a long and frustrating seven months since then.  We’ve reopened much of Georgia, while other states that never fully reopened are preparing to lock down even further.  In some states, Thanksgiving gatherings have been demanded as a sacrifice to the pandemic.

In between, we’ve had an election that, like this pandemic, seems like it will never end.  For everyone that has been complaining about hearing Christmas music too early, I’ll take pre-mature Jingle Bells over another hyperbolic attack ad any day of the year.

A few days after the election I decided I had had enough and saw an opening to take a break.  I figured I could socially distance at the beach as well as in my own home, and decided it was time to head south for an unplanned road trip.  With hotel occupancies at historic lows, finding a room wasn’t going to be a problem.  I was just going to drive south until I got where I was going.  I would know where that was when I got there.

That was as far as I got with those “plans”.  I was literally pulling out of the rental car lot when my phone rang.  It was my niece, and she was being sent home from college due to a Covid outbreak.  

She lives with her mom and my mom, and risking an exposure to her grandmother while she quarantined was significantly less than ideal.  She asked if she could come stay with me instead.  

It didn’t need to be a question.  This is what family does.  Plans change when life happens.  

In an instant, my trip to the beach became a quick run for groceries.  The unlimited mileage rental car was returned.  Instead, I had two weeks to host my niece while she was held under mostly-friendly house arrest.

She was not happy initially about her forced change in plans.  It’s her freshman year, and she’s taken well to both school and her new friends in her cadet corps.  

She had already lost a senior prom and an in-person graduation to Covid.  Now, her already truncated freshman year was further falling victim to the pandemic.

By that evening, however, I could hear laughter coming from her room, as she and the others used Facetime and group chats to stay connected and share their experiences.  I think it soon became clear that none of them were missing out on anything because they were all sharing the same set of circumstances, just in different places.  

They are also an age cohort that doesn’t view social interaction via technology as a substitute for in person socialization.  For them, it’s an integral part of everyday interaction.  

Thus, they adapted to their circumstances.  Classes were taken virtually.  Socialization was through a variety of cell phone apps.  Life rolled on, until it was time to return to campus.

It would be easy to view the last couple of weeks for the trip and experiences along the way that were missed.  Instead, I got to spend two weeks with my niece.  I got to observe that she’s comfortable and happy in her new environment, even when she’s away from it. I’m grateful for the time we had together. 

This Thanksgiving a lot of us will have to celebrate differently.  There will be empty chairs at many of our tables for the first time.  Some of us will have to change plans over the holidays at the last minute.

Many of us won’t know the exact plans or destinations as we begin this journey through the holiday season.  My prayer for each of you is that you enjoy it as an unplanned trip.  You’ll know, like I did, when you get there.