My Christmas Eve 2020: a Tale of Healing in Isolation

photo of St. Peter Basilica dome, the tallest in the world
St. Peter Basilica dome, the tallest in the world
photo of Interior views of St. Peter Basilica nave
St. Peter Basilica dome and nave

My years in Rome bring memories of Christmas Eve in the Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome. The Renaissance church is, without doubt, one of the grandest places ever built for religious symbolism and liturgical functions. The sacred space of religion meets a profane sublime in the basilica architecture and art. The basilica is built on the apostle St. Peter’s burial site The sublime of the religious symbolism is emphasized by the scale of the building: the cruciform plan is 220 meters long, 150 meters wide and the dome (designed by Michelangelo) at its interior height of 136.6 meters tall is still the tallest in the world. The magnificence of the basilica was at its highest during midnight mass of the Christmas eve, which became almost a theatrical ritual and sensory feast beyond the religious significance. The architecture and art of the building were expanded by the incense scent and sound of the choir and the colors of the pope and cardinals vesture.

Azimuth path of sunset during the December solstice

Christmas Eve 2020 is completely different: this year life has been transformed by the COVID-19 pandemic. While I am indulging in memories of the many Christmas Eves spent attending the midnight mass at St. Peter’s, I am facing my present reality. Besides the common fears and anxiety caused by the pandemic, in 2020 I had to overcome major challenges, due not only to catastrophic events, but to human greed. Because of a corrupted divorce, in a broken legal system which allows fraud and abuse, six months ago I was forced to leave my home in New York City and to relocate in the Hudson Valley to save S.U.N.F.A.R.M.—an important art-nature-sustainability project to which I have devoted over fifteen years. Since May, I spent almost all my time between the effort to restore the damaged art-in-nature works and legal battles, dealing with collusion and fraud. I have no help from the local community and people I considered friends disappeared. The main emotional support comes from a friend in Connecticut and from overseas. Constantly I have to deal with the day-to-day challenges I encounter as a single woman relocating to an isolated place, amplified by the pandemic. The meaning of the project, and the beauty of the landscape surrounding my new home, somehow gives me purpose and strength to face the constant challenges. Yet the combination of social and geographical isolation feels often overwhelming especially during the extreme weather experienced in the past month.

The Pyramid Sundial at S.U.N.F.A.R.M. after the December 16 nor’easter

On December 16 a nor’easter snowstorm produced over 15 inches of snow. For the first time I am living in a not-urban environment and dealing with a major snowstorm on my own presented unexpected challenges. Being able to survive in such isolation made me realize that I am resilient: my frustration, fears and loneliness transformed into appreciation of solitude. A few days able I was able to celebrate the celebrate the December Solstice with AZIMUTH, the first event of “Paths to Healing”. AZIMUTH coincides with the first sunset at S.U.N.F.A.R.M. after the winter solstice 2020, occurring on Monday. December 21 5:02 UTC. The 2020 December solstice also concurs with the Great Conjunction: planets Jupiter and Saturn appear to an observer on Earth very close to each other, in a phenomenon occurring every 20 years

Uncannily my personal path coincides with the country and world’s journey to healing. I am referring, of course, to the pandemic and the 2020 elections results: hopefully the new year will bring some victory on the battle over ignorance as well as social, racial and environmental injustice. Life experience taught me that healing is not a linear process but filled with loops, twists and turns; it is often dominated by darkness with sprinkles of light, before it reaches the end of the tunnel. Tears, pain and fatigue are part of the process. Sometimes even hopelessness can guide in soul searching. But what really helped me has been the awareness / mindfulness of meditative practice on being now and here.

Tonight is Christmas Eve and I am again dealing with extreme weather: I keep receiving email from the NY alert system warning about south winds 15 to 30 mph with gusts up to 60 mph. I am scared but also confident that I will be able to overcome this other challenge. This extremely difficult year made me resilient, and I discovered an inner strength I did not think existed. I feel reborn in the constant exposure to obstacles. My reliance on others’ symbols and beauty—like the Christmas Eve at St. Peter Basilica—has been transformed into a inner search for meaning, found in harmony with nature, even in its most harsh manifestations. After all Christmas is an allegorical tale of birth of goodness to restore the humankind evil.

Why don’t we go to the most profound meaning of this holiday rescuing it from the consumerism to become agency of our personal rebirth?

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daniela bertol

I am a research artist, scholar, author, inventor, designer and…survivor of bullying and domestic abuse. Creativity and yoga are a survival means to challenges.