Woog's World: Atypical December brings gift of reflection and gratitude

If this was a normal December, I’d be out to dinner for holiday meals. Those are always wonderful, relaxing times. This really is a special time of year.

If this was a normal December, I’d look forward to traditional parties. Many faces are familiar; there are always people I haven’t seen in years too. My favorite is at a historic home near downtown. It’s always decorated beautifully, the food is fantastic and there’s a fine mix of ages. The younger ones are Staples music alumni and they share their voices with us.

If this was a normal December, I’d spend this weekend at Staples’ Candlelight Concert. From the welcoming “Sing We Noel” processional to the joyous “Hallelujah Chorus,” this 80-year tradition is both timeless and timely.

But this is not a normal December.

It has not been a normal fall, summer or spring. The last nine months have been the worst most of us have lived through. The news was unceasingly, relentlessly bad. We are tense, uncertain and scared. And we hear over and over: The next few months will be even worse.

How do we celebrate the holidays amid a pandemic? Very carefully. Moderately. But also very, very gratefully.

No place has been spared from the coronavirus. But – despite being the site of one of the first “super-spreader” events in the country, and although COVID cases statewide are rising rapidly – Westport has made out, comparatively, pretty well.

Our one nursing home was not seriously affected. The Senior Center shut down, but continued to deliver programs online (and send food to those who need it).

Westporters have lost jobs. But our numbers are nowhere near what they are nationally. Many men and women shifted almost seamlessly to working at home. They found (often to their surprise) that they like it. They gained two or three hours each day; they see their kids more, and feel more connected to their town.

Juggling work and children has not been easy. Plenty of Westporters are very fortunate to have the luxury of hiring help. The Westport Weston Family YMCA runs a highly regarded childcare program.

The Westport Public Schools have navigated the challenges of hybrid and remote learning well. There were stops and starts, of course, but staff and students seem to have adapted well. And a lot of youngsters are able to log on with their own devices, in homes with excellent WiFi, and without the distractions that make this a scary year for too many boys and girls across the nation.

When school is over, there is room to play. Most homes here have ample yards; there are basketball hoops, soccer goals and trampolines galore.

Westporters have access to the Compo Beach playground – all of four beaches, in fact. A gorgeous state park sits smack in the middle of our shoreline.

Since early spring families have rediscovered the joys of bike riding, walking, and exploring parks and preserves they never knew were almost in their backyards.

Since the pandemic struck, we have welcomed dozens of new young families. Nearly all, it seems, come from Manhattan and Brooklyn. They were attracted by open space, the schools and the amenities. They have found, in addition, a welcoming community. That’s one more thing to be grateful for.

I don’t want to overdo this, make it seem as if everyone and everything is hunky-dory, or imply that the kind of spirit that exists here is not found in other places.

Neighbors helping neighbors is a hallmark of American life. Westport has always reached out to those in need. But some of what we’ve seen since March – food drives, errand running, resource sharing, rock decorating – has surprised even longtime residents. COVID has drawn neighbors and neighborhoods closer, tightened the bonds that we’ve sometimes been too busy to tend to.

One more thing: Besides healthcare workers, not a lot of frontline workers live in Westport. Police and firefighters mostly reside elsewhere. Nearly all the men and women who staff CVS, Walgreens, Stop & Shop and Fresh Market don’t live here either. They drive, are driven or take buses to and from work, just as they always have.

But since those dark days of early spring, they’re less invisible to us. Our eyes have been opened to their struggles and the sacrifices they make to put food on their tables, as they ensure we have not only our own food, but everything else we’ve become accustomed to. We’re more apt now to be less abrupt, more courteous. Sometimes we even convey gratitude.

I miss my holiday dinners and parties. I would give anything to have my old life back. But I’m grateful for the chance to be grateful for what I still have. In fact, that might be this year’s best gift of all.

Dan Woog is a Westport writer, and his “Woog's World” appears each Friday. He can be reached at dwoog@optonline.net. His personal blog is danwoog06880.com.