Last year, for the first time in my life, I spent Christmas Day alone.
Through a series of circumstances that caused a tidal wave of stress, I came down with shingles just before Dec. 25. Along with antiviral and pain medications, I was given strict orders by the doctor to rest and decompress. Ha, this was like telling a person with obsessive-compulsive disorder to sit still.
I’d had surgery to remove something that turned out to be nothing. All of the pre-op tests, the surgery and then a couple of hiccups afterward fell in unison with Christmas shopping for groceries and gifts, plus some worries about my elderly mother’s health. My worry gene went into hyperdrive. Not only could I not wave a magic wand to make everything better in the world, much less for my family, but I was experiencing shooting pains across my back.
Shingles is a viral infection that causes a painful rash. It is caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox — and years after having the chickenpox, it can re-emerge, especially if the immune system is weakened by stress.
So, instead of Kris Kringle, I got Mr. Shingle. While 97.5 FM played “Feliz Navidad” and Nat Cole sang of roasting those chestnuts, I kept hearing “Hurts So Good” over and over in my head. But the beauty of Christmas Day somehow transcended the negativity, and rather than wallow in self-pity, I reflected on things I am grateful for, like my daughters Laurie and Christina, who made their mom’s antipasto, and my son Frank, who delivered my gifts to my grandchildren.
Surprise phone calls also lifted my spirits — two from beloved friends Stephanie and Colleen, who both live far away, and a third from Jennifer, my daughter’s friend, a lovely young woman, who heard of my itchy dilemma and called from Holbrook say hello.
Still, decompression was no easy task for a person who has a Walter Mitty imagination and can go from zero to panic in eight seconds. But I started with baby steps. Drawing on some mindfulness techniques, I started paying attention to my lunch, savoring Greek yogurt. I became one with my bagel. Don’t laugh, it’s quite satisfying.
I thought of the universality of joy at this time of year. In every Long Island store I visited in the days before Christmas, personnel and customers were cheerful and polite. As darkness descended on Christmas Eve, my neighbors’ colorful lights were so pretty to see.
My grandchildren’s Elf on the Shelf appeared daily in various places around the house. And Jewish friends had the Mensch on the Bench for eight days-plus. There’s Kwanzaa, too, and other celebrations that bring family and friends together to celebrate what is good in the world and the wonder of our human connection.
The day after Christmas, I started painting with watercolors to make bookmarks for my grandchildren. I love to read and hope fervently that they will, too.
After about three weeks, I was rested, recovered and back to being my usual sane but silly self. I don’t know why they call this malady shingles; the name reminds me of roofing tiles. But then, maybe it took a Jewish carpenter’s birth to remind me to build something new, like a new attitude for entering Christmas 2015 and the 366 days of 2016 with a smile. Bring on the jingles and joyful Kris Kringles; I got the shingles vaccine! Adios, Señor Shingles.
Reader Susan Scalone lives in Shoreham.