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For most of us, 2020 has been a strange, dark year.

Everyone has been affected by COVID-19. More than 329,0000 Americans have lost their lives so far. Most everyone knows someone who has contracted the virus.

Livelihoods have been threatened and lost because of the economic effects of the shutdowns.

Isolation has taken a toll on all of us as social groups and activities came to an abrupt halt last spring.

The elderly and the infirm are isolated from families and some of our loved ones even died alone.

Most everyone is done with this infamous year of 2020 and are hoping and praying for a better year ahead.

Throughout 2020 the term “20/20 vision” has been in the back of my mind. I been praying for clearer vision from God. Even though it seems like 2020 was a year of a lot of darkness- many of us are ending this year focusing on the light.

I think it a beautiful gift of God that the convergence of Jupiter and Saturn had people all over the world looking up at the sky to catch a glimpse of what some would call “The Christmas Star.” An astronomical event that last appeared in the sky over 800 years ago is causing us to lift our downtrodden heads to the heavens in search of light.

The Psalmist exclaimed:
“Lift up your heads, O gates!
and be lifted up, O ancient doors!
that the King of glory may come in.” Psalm 24:7

The people of earth are looking towards heaven to see this coming light. After the year we’ve all had, I believe this is a call from God to turn away from this present darkness and focus on the light.

2020 has indeed given me clarity and simplicity of purpose which could be described as 20/20 vision. I am focusing on the things that matter the most: family, faith and health are foremost in my mind.

My greatest concern in this pandemic year has been keeping my daughter safe from contracting COVID and keeping myself safe too so I can take care of her.

In the spring, I felt like I was holding my breath, hoping that Jo’s medical issues would be stable. I wanted to avoid brain scans and hospitalizations which are the unfortunate consequences of living with a rare disease.

When summer rolled around, I felt a little more courageous — even brave enough to venture into NYC for a follow-up.

The refrigerated trucks which held the bodies of thousands victims at the epicenter of the pandemic were no longer seen. But grief hung in the warm summer air over Manhattan.

Chairs and tables occupied large portions of the city streets. This made it easier for pedestrians to come out of shelter to work and to soak up the warm summer sun.

Out of the darkness, there came a reprieve of light. A renewed appreciation of summer sun and early fall eased some of the grief many of us felt in the darkness of late winter and early spring when COVID peaked and loved ones fell ill and died.

As the days shortened, Jo’s health challenges grew, with some seizures and brain hemorrhages that needed closer monitoring. Then, as we entered the home stretch of 2020 and the peak of the holiday season, Jo’s shunt malfunctioned, requiring brain surgery and a five-day hospital stay last week.

As I write this column, we’ve spent our final days of the Advent season in Manhattan; it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas — in our view from our hospital window.

Two brain surgeries in five days wasn’t the way I was hoping to begin our Christmas celebrations. But here we are — like so many families throughout our beautiful country and the world, adjusting our holiday traditions to celebrate in a world afflicted and yet still holding onto HOPE.

But as we settled Jo into her hospital room to recover from the surgery, my body began to slow down and I remembered this is the season of light and hope.

The first glimmers of light began with the calming presence of a kind and attentive nurse as we spoke in hushed tones beside my sleeping daughter.

“My name is Joseph,” the kind young nurse whispered as he offered me assistance.

I smiled thinking of the holy family at the center of the Christmas story, as I drifted off for brief moments of sleep.

As the light dawned in Manhattan on Christmas Eve, the shifts changed and a new nurse was assigned to Jo. Her name was Gabby- short for Gabriella. Her smooth blonde hair reflected the light and glistened slightly with an angelic glow. Our hospital Christmas was underway with signs from the nativity of Jesus all around.

On Christmas Eve my husband and I wrapped gifts while miles apart. He carefully opened Amazon boxes and described them to me over the phone before he started to wrap.

It was not unlike years before when we’d spent Christmas in the hospital — only now we didn’t have to worry about keeping our other three children’s Christmas hope alive while tending to Johanna.

I planned to order take-out from a favorite Italian restaurant until I read the notice online: “permanently closed”- a familiar sign posted on too many businesses highlighting the economic effects of this dark year.

So instead, Jo and I shared her dinner tray as we watched a Christmas classics marathon on the hospital room giant screen TV. I made virgin mimosas with cans of seltzer and tiny cartons of orange juice I saved from lunch and dinner trays. It was the marzipan cheesecake for dessert that transformed this dinner tray into a holiday treat.

We ended our Christmas Eve marathon with “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” — the Rankin Bass production I have watched every Christmas season since I was 4 years old.

The night nurse came into the room at the start of her shift. She wished us “Merry Christmas” as she checked Jo’s vitals and tucked her into bed.

Her name was Mary and so our hospital Christmas pageant was almost complete.

As I finish this column, the wind and rain is pelting on the hospital windows. I’m grateful for the gray clouds outside which balance the glitter and shine from the photographs of Christmas trees popping up on Facebook. I think the glitter and gray go well together for Christmas 2020.

A dose of reality offers a promise of hope as tiny cracks of light break through dark clouds on the horizon. The Gospel of John poetically describes Christ’s coming:

“In Him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” John 1:4-5

The light shines in the darkness. The darkness is still dark, but the light shines anyway and won’t be overcome.

This Christmas morning. I’m waiting for Jesus to arrive in Jo’s hospital room, for surely He will come. Whether or not the day nurse is named “Jesu”- Jesus will be present in the attentive care he or she provides for Jo. Jesus will come into our humble hospital manger through the hands of the priest who will offer us Holy Communion- connecting us to God and Christmas Mass being celebrated all over the world.

For most everyone, this Christmas is different and maybe somewhat lonely. But Christmas comes — whether in a hospital room, a city street or at home.

However you spend these holidays, remember to look for the light. The light shines on in the darkness of 2020 to give us clearer vision of the Hope who is to come.

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Eileen Benthal
Eileen is a writer, speaker and wellness coach with a bachelor’s degree in theology from Franciscan University. She and her husband Steve live in Jamesport and have four young adult children. Email Eileen