“I salute you! There is nothing I can give you which you have not;
but there is much, that while I cannot give, you can take.
No heaven can come to us unless our hearts find rest in it today.
No peace lies in the future which is not hidden in this present instant.
The gloom of the world is but a shadow, behind it, yet, within our reach, is joy.
And so, at this Christmas time, I greet you,
with the prayer that for you, now and forever, the day breaks and the shadows flee away.”
Fra Giovanni 1513
Sometimes I think it would be easier to write a column more contemporaneous with events rather than once a week, because it seems I always have something to say. But then a weekly essay is more reflective and less prone to knee-jerk reactions of the 24 hour “fake news” cycle. The mantra in academia is “publish or perish.” The media mantra is “If it bleeds it leads,” especially if it disparages President Trump.
Christmas was different this year with coronavirus pandemic and panic, separated families, lockdowns and election fraud. My excuse for being a bit tardy with a Christmas message is that it’s taken me longer to get in the Christmas Spirit despite Christmas decorations, music and movies. I’m not a master of exterior illumination like Clark Griswold of Christmas Vacation, but our outside lights, snowman and Christmas pig at the doorway brightened my spirits.
We did not put up a big tree this year because Christmas parties were cancelled by pandemic Grinches, and only Becky and I see our inside decorations. Actually, our small Charlie Brown tree serves us well because most of our Christmas gifts were to others and would not have fit under our tiny tree.
By the time you read this essay, I will have spread the Christmas Spirit with a special gift. I will be Santa Claus for the KCOs (Knoxville Cute Ones, aka grandchildren and cousins). By nature, I’m not a thespian like the lovely Becky. However, early in my medical career I learned to perform medical lectures by memorizing my presentations. This came in handy handling audience smart alecks. This year I purchased a Santa outfit and I hope the Big Guy’s Spirit will help me handle any three- to eight-year-old hecklers.
When I was eight years old a Christmas crisis arose. The urbane sophisticates of the grammar school lunchroom informed me that Santa Claus wasn’t real and parents brought Christmas morning gifts. I didn’t believe this 1959 fake news and went home to ask my mom. I don’t remember what she said, but she certainly did not validate the lunchroom rabble vying for a career in “journalism.”
A few days later, as my parents were hosting a Christmas Eve party, the doorbell rang. I was told to answer the door and when I did so, there stood the Big Guy holding sleigh bells, sporting a “beard as white as the snow” and a red suit I swear was “all tarnished with ashes and soot.” I don’t remember what was in his “bag full of toys,” but the magic of Christmas and Santa were again real, and stayed with me for several years. Christmas in the eyes of a child is magical. Please seek Christmas magic with my favorite seasonal movie One Magic Christmas with Mary Steenburgen.
The Christmas magic is different for adults. We often have to look harder to find it, sometimes in the eyes of cute ones. And, “We need a little Christmas” these days. Some years ago, I wrote an essay about finding the Christmas Spirit while shopping with Becky. My Gift of the Fer-Guy echoed the wondrous short story The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry. Women are better shoppers than men because “Women shop, men buy.” This and other Fergisms are in my book “Well…What Did the Doctor Say?” (Even if you are a bit late, it’s still a great Christmas gift online at Amazon and Barnes & Noble!)
You didn’t have to mask up this year, search catalogues or the Internet for the best Christmas gift of the otherwise terrible year 2020. Pfizer-BioNTech’s and Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccines, as a result of President Trump’s Operation Warp Speed, are here. Research and development of the vaccine occurred in record time and vaccination of the nation is now underway.
The vaccine will first be offered to frontline doctors and nurses in hospitals, residents and staff at nursing facilities, home health personal, teachers and first responders. Then, the vaccinations will be offered to seasoned citizens and especially those with serious medical conditions like cancer. Two doses of the vaccines are said to be 95% effective in generating protective antibodies and lasting immune system recognition. Finally, primary care doctors, outpatient specialists and their staffs, pharmacists and therapists, dentists and lab personnel will be offered vaccination before the rest of the population.
These vaccines are novel, utilizing mRNA protein of the Covid-19 virus attachment spikes. We’ve heard of a handful of reactions to the vaccines amidst hundreds of thousands already vaccinated. It is thought the reactions are due to PEG (polyethylene glycol). This chemical is often used to stabilize vaccines, and reactions are primarily an issue for people who had previous reactions to other vaccines. It is very common to hear reports of side effects after a drug is marketed and used in large numbers of people. Everything has a risk/benefit ratio. It is apparent to me that the benefits of vaccination far outweigh the risks.
In 1796 Edward Jenner developed the first “vaccine” using milder cowpox to prevent smallpox. So dreaded was the smallpox scourge that in the early 1700s, Cotton Mather began “inoculations” with material from smallpox sores to prevent more severe disease. John Adams’ wife, Abigail, was so desperate during a 1778 smallpox epidemic in Boston that she had her entire family “inoculated.” The side effects of this procedure were terrible and sometimes fatal. By comparison, the Covid vaccine side effects are miniscule.
The most succinct definition of Grace is a gift. But a gift must be accepted. It’s time for Americans to step up and receive President Trump’s Christmas gift of Covid-19 vaccination, and be thankful.