Picture it: heart on one side of the rope and brain on the other, in a constant tug of war.

Emotionally, it is inconceivable not to see my parents this month. Intellectually, it is inconceivable to even consider it.

My sentimental Christmas heart is swelling, especially with regards to my mother. Go. Bake cookies. Watch Hallmark movies. Rearrange her curio cabinet while she acts annoyed but really beams with pride. Have a gift wrapping session, me on the floor surrounded by tissue and boxes and she on the couch tossing me the appropriate tag for each. Hit a store or two for last-minute purchases.

My over-active pandemic brain attempts to rationalize, to find a way. Then there is a photo of an older couple, both hooked up to machines, on their way to dying together of COVID-19 while their daughter is tasked with hard decisions and heartbreak. A few hours pass. I’m back to rationalizing. Someone from the Thanksgiving gathering of people I went to high school with that made me cringe when I saw unmasked group photos on Facebook has tested positive. With dread, I wonder how many more.

I want to blink my eyes like I Dream of Jeannie and made it all go away. Heck, right about now I’d blink myself into her bottle with the posh pink pillowy décor, fill it with books and tea, and blink my way back out in a year or so.

In some ways I feel like I’m writing the same thing every week. Yet no. It’s different each time. It’s increasingly unbelievable and excruciatingly real. A country entrenched in a virus that’s not only taking our citizens at a scary rate, but altering the lives of countless others through ripple effects like lingering ailments, lost businesses, and loved ones gone without a proper sendoff.

All while we are leaderless. No one to pull all the best information together and gather us to say, here’s the story, for better or worse. Here’s what WE are going to do.

Instead, it’s “here’s what I’m going to do” and “here’s what I think is best” and “this is what I’ve decided.” I, I, I. We’re all researchers now. Us and the internet. The people working in hospitals beg us to wear masks, safe distance, and stay at home as much as possible. Medical experts ask us to hold on just a little longer for the vaccines. And depending on a whole array of factors, we either dutifully agree or scoff. We have rights, after all. We can choose. Yay, us.

Is it any wonder I get all squishy when I wax on about my Christmas tree? The people in the Hallmark movies would not be impressed by my skinny, pre-lit apartment tree. I didn’t chop it down and it doesn’t smell like pine. But it gives me all the feels and that’s what counts, right?

One of the magical things about the tree tradition is the unveiling of ornaments each year that tell a person’s or a family’s story. Unless you’re one of those people who trims a tree with a color theme each year or with an eye on strictly trend or décor (all fun options), it’s likely your ornaments bring memories alive.

I had forgotten that last year I bought a pink convertible ornament and I gasped when I unwrapped it. How carefree. Contrast it with this year’s Santa wearing a mask. Sigh.

I love that my sun ornament was purchased the year I published my memoir, Alive in the Sunshine, and that the soft angel wings bring to mind someone I loved and lost. There are typewriters and feathers that say, hi, I’m a writer. Telephones celebrating my love of communication and long conversations. There are birds and fish and a dragonfly. Also, plenty of nods to glamour and luxury and places I’ve traveled. One such ornament inspired a whole column a decade ago.

Thankfully, my ability to be enthralled with all of this is allowing me to feel grounded in at least some sense right now. This is a time of year, with my proximity to Manhattan, that I enjoy being out and about. With each work-related trip into the city, I typically manage a side “trip” to look at holiday windows or stroll a market. As an independent contractor, I would take advantage of off-peak hours at major attractions and then go home and work in the evening.

This year, I’m decking my halls with more thought and creating an atmosphere in my home that makes me feel delighted even on sad or conflicted days. My Christmas tree will be a backdrop on Zoom, so at least some people will see it. I’m reaching out to others, both to offer and request help where needed.

I’m doing my best to reconcile heart and brain. Enough with the tugging of rope.

Blink, blink.

Just sit down together and relax.