Waiting for hope: a Christmas reflection

I am sitting here in the semi darkness tapping these words into a laptop trying not to wake a house of children and family, a house in waiting. There is something tangible and at yet at the same time tender about the expectation of a Christmas morning. All those days of counting down and growing clamour, all those conversations about possibility caught up and held in the advent time between night and morning. Yet waiting does not come easy – we are so often impatient for the lights to go on and the wonder to start, the glasses to be filled and the food to be served. But waiting does not just enhance the experience it changes it. Taking a moment to recollect, to remember and renew for me at least is an essential pre-requisite for this unique day amongst days.

I sit and wait.

I sit and wait and remember all those years down to the days of my own childhood when in different places with different people I have waited for the dawn to sparkle into cold welcome for this day of birth and celebration. I have always loved Christmas perhaps because in my own childhood it was not always a time of ease or enjoyment as I witnessed my mother struggling to make this a day made different by its fullness and fun rather than one marked by the mundanity of ordinariness and emptiness. So, I know that for many this day will be one of feeling that they have not managed to give to those they love what their heart would have wanted and so along with the smiles and happiness there will be mingled disappointment and upset.

I sit and wait.

I sit and wait and like so many around the country will think of those who are not here this year to sit around a table of tale-telling, to share laughter and fullness. There is something painfully hard about being in the midst of celebration when your heart is fractured and grieving. And in the darkness as I wait I cannot forget all the folks in this last year who I have spoken to and who have been cut off from the love that made them who they were, not just those who have lost loved ones to Covid but all who mourn in these times of detached consolation and distanced comfort. For so many, today is a day of empty remembrance, of a voice not heard, a smile not seen, a touch not felt.

I sit and wait.

I sit and wait and recollect the week that has just passed. The conversations I have had with carers, managers and providers in care home and homecare which have been so emotional and upsetting. People are exhausted into emptiness – they have so little left to give because they have been on the frontline for so long in this Covid battle. The thought of getting up again, walking into a non-man’s land of uncertainty and infectivity, of meeting the onslaught of yet another wave, of not knowing what to expect but fearing the absence of so many colleagues, of yet more tiredness and fatigue, of yet more assault and loss, for so many all this seems just far too much. And I think of the tears shed this last week and the fear that I saw in eyes frozen and empty as they wait for the next few weeks to unfold.

I sit and wait

I sit and wait along with everyone I know who desperately wants the best gift of all, the gift of normality, the predictability of the past, the familiar and the safe to become our life companions once again.  There are so many just weary with headline and comment, with statistics and models, tired of scientists and strategists. We want the spark of optimism and possibility to replace the deadening weight of restriction and retreat.

I sit and wait

I sit and wait but know that authentic waiting can never be passive if it is to bring the dawn rather than deepen the darkness. And so I sit and wait and believe that there is a strength which comes from knowing that as the sun rises on this Christmas morning that it will do so again tomorrow and that the hurt of the moment will give way ultimately to the healing of hope.

I sit and wait

I sit and wait and know that what has brought me and so many to this day and what makes this day special is not the meaning of merchandise but the truth of loving, the comfort of community and the energy of togetherness.

I sit and wait

I sit and wait and hope – but not a hope in fantasy and fairy tale, in faux surprise and mock enjoyment, but a hope grounded in the assurance that what makes the difference every moment of every day is the giving of ourselves to others, the creating of community, the being in solidarity one with the other. I know that in the weeks and days ahead even to their own cost there will be women and men who will find an energy deep in their marrow to continue to give and spend on others the compassion which courses through their veins; that they will be there to hold a hand frozen by the fear of tomorrow because they have lost the touch of today’s memory; that they will be a presence of peace to those who walk into the final path of living with steps faltering and anxious; that they will not be silent in the midst of the noise of fear and anxiety, but will whisper against it by their love and care a word of assurance and hope.

I sit and wait.

I sit and wait and hope – with optimism that the emerging news about Omicron and its severity will indeed work out to be a positivity which will pull us onwards to a spring which witnesses growth and renewal, new beginning and restoration. But at the same time rooting that hope in a reality which appreciates the tremendous pressure care and health systems and workers are currently under and knowing that it is only by collective action and support for necessary cautious protective measures that hope will come to flourishment.

I sit and wait

I sit and wait but know too the truth that waiting must lead to action. Even as we sit still, we are continually in our mind and body preparing for the movement, the next breath, the new beginning. Hope does not just happen it has to be worked for and it must be welcomed in. So, I open the door to hope, so it can sit at my table in Christmas celebration, and fill those present with a belief that this indeed is a day unlike all others. The sounds and smells, the conversations and commitments, all point and call to the day after fear which is the dawning of hope. For me that is the real soul of Christmas that our world can be changed, can be renewed and can become one of possibility through the fragility of vulnerability.

The house is beginning to stir. There is now a different waiting, a waiting for hope and its smell and taste fills the air.

Merry Christmas to you all.

I leave you with the words of the poem ‘Smell’:

the smell of a baby

just newly born,

pure and innocent,

without love forlorn


the smell of a promise,

lived to the full,

flowing and vibrant,

the truth of the soul


the smell of a day,

crisp to the touch,

of a cold winter’s frost

blanketing life’s hurt


the smell of a moment,

when love takes your hand

and breathes a kiss

into the heart of your palm


the smell of a flower

opening to the day,

yearning for fullness

with clear open air


the smell of the forest,

trees folding in a wood,

groaning in innocence

of naked ancient truth


the smell of tomorrow

beyond broken hurt

expectant with vision

of a world restoring hope.


Donald Macaskill