On Thursday, December 10, the Commander Supreme and I were in North Carolina. We had traveled to Summerfield where our oldest daughter and her family live.

Later that afternoon, we would all pile in one car and drive to Clemmons just outside of Winston-Salem. We were going to the Festival of Lights at Tanglewood Park.

This was to be a dangerous, pre-Christmas excursion. 

Anytime you put five adults in a vehicle with a five year old and a two year old to drive through a park to stare blankly into miles and miles of Christmas light displays—the risk factors are high. No underwriters from Lloyd’s of London would even consider issuing a policy.

We had been warned about the back up traffic on the highway. But luckily, we missed it.

Once we were in the park on the scenic loop, we had been warned about having a car or cars in front of us whose sense of urgency to keep the line moving is like that of an Eastern box turtle chomping on a summer tomato—none.

Also, we were alerted that our bladders needed to be strong as portable johns were few. Making a decision to relieve yourself by bolting from your car into the coal-black woods was high risk too.

 No telling what nocturnal creatures might be out there ready to greet you. 

If you sprinted from your car and happened to startle the skunk family as they were attempting to get their children down to sleep, bladder or no bladder that would not be a pleasant encounter. 

Plus, there is no way you would be allowed back in the car with your family after an aromatic meeting with the skunks. If lucky, your family might strap you to the roof of the car.

Overall, we had a good viewing experience. I can now say I have been there.  I am also happy not be responsible for paying the electrical bill at Tanglewood.

Prior to Christmas, we made two similar visits to the Dominion Energy GardenFest of Lights at the Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens in Henrico County, Virginia where we live.

 This was a walking tour of miles of lights and clever displays. Particularly impressive were how the lights reflected off water surfaces of a lake and streams in certain locations. 

On Monday, December 21, phase one of the Christmas invasion started. Our youngest daughter came in from Raleigh. 

The second expeditionary force arrived from Summerfield on Tuesday. This was our oldest daughter and her two children. Our son-in-law would drive in after work on Wednesday afternoon.

Don’t ask me how, but at 5:30 p.m. on Christmas Eve our family was seated at our dining room table. 

This now included our son, his wife, and their two daughters. There were eleven of us. Thanks to precautions related to COVID-19, my wife’s brother and his family were not present, nor was my 92 year old mother-in-law.

Thanks again to COVID-19, worshipping at our church on Christmas Eve was disrupted. 

So instead, at 8 that evening, we watched the virtual service created by our church staff for broadcast. While the service was very well done, I know we missed being in a packed sanctuary.

Michael H. Dickinson is an American fly bioengineer and neuroscientist at the California Institute of Technology. 

Dr. Dickinson has made discoveries like this:  “We discovered that fruit flies alter course in less than one one-hundredth of a second, 50 times faster than we blink our eyes, which is faster than we ever imagined.” (Brainy Quote) 

No wonder fruit flies are so hard to whack!

But, this is an undeniable fact for me—at some point between the first hours of Christmas Eve and the last hours of Christmas Day— Christmas becomes a blink. 

Despite all the anticipation, all the buildup, all the excitement, all the energy generated, all the preparation— Christmas moves fast. I always knew that Christmas moved fast, but now thanks to Dr. Dickinson, I understand that Christmas moves at the speed of a fruit fly.

And in all those one one-hundredths of a second, all of our human emotions are tangled at Christmas. 

Christmas makes us laugh, cry, ponder, love, hope. 

Christmas creates an undertow of its own tension. 

This tension can be a compilation of its weariness frazzling multiple nerves or one singular nerve plucked. The result can be a meltdown for children and adults.

Christmas has a kind heart. But, I sense that I let the commercial trappings of the season push me away from its original simple path.

In a blink, on Saturday and Sunday we packed cars for their returns to North Carolina. Truthfully, a tractor trailer or a military Chinook helicopter would have been more appropriate.

Anyone along the interstate who stared blankly into the passenger seat of our oldest daughter’s SUV would have seen a Paw Patrol Mighty Lookout Tower with a seatbelt holding it in place. That is a far cry from my days of Lincoln logs and Tinker toys. 

In a blink the world has changed. 

But, I guess the question to ask is has the world really changed since I was a kid?

For sure it has, but in all of those blinks, we still have so many problems facing us that need to be fixed— fixed for all of us. 

For me, our inability to fix our on-going  challenges are just as annoying as a pesky fruit fly. 

As we push into 2021, we must commit to making changes—changes that are grounded in understanding that we can’t continue to live in denial of things that have be broken for a long, long, long, long time. 

I’m sorry, but we can’t blink the restlessness of these challenges away. 

No matter how much we blink, these challenges are not going to vanish. Truth is we know this. But, the stubbornness in our blinks keeps us from making the right commitments to change.

While I yearn for a simpler Christmas, I also wish life was as simple as a container of Play-Doh. 

At the preschool where our grandson attends with his older sister, Hudson’s teacher gave him a container of Play-Doh as a Christmas gift.

The day after the Tanglewood visit, Hudson was finishing lunch on the back porch.  He asked for the container of Play-Doh to be opened. I obliged.

We sat at a small table, and we both worked with the Play-Doh. Eventually, we pounded it down to make a flat surface. That allowed us to take the utensil shaped like a reindeer and make reindeer shapes.

Of course, the beauty of the Play-Doh was if we didn’t like the outcome, we could start over. We could reshape, remold, and flatten the material over again.

I wonder what might happen to our challenges in our world if we treated them like Play-Doh? This isn’t working. Let’s start over. Let’s find a better solution—flatten, reshape, remold.

 Or, what might happen in times of an urgent need if we could be as nimble as a fruit fly? What might this mean for people in dire situations if we quickly adjust our thinking, altering our path for a better outcome?

As miserable as 2020 has been for us, we can’t ignore the lessons it offers to teach.

Without question, our willingness to learn from 2020 is critical to our futures.

In a blink, the Christmas of 2021 will be here.

 Will Christmas in 2021 be different from what we just experienced?

I pray it will be. 

But, I also pray that we can change, adapt, adjust and apply the lessons of 2020 to our immediate future and beyond.

This is one blink we can’t afford to miss.

Photo by Bill Pike

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