Thursday, December 26, 2013

Blue Christmas

It’s just me, the two Sergei’s, and a couple of musicians out here in the shack this morning. I’m writing while Sergei Prokofiev and Sergei Rachmaninoff’s notes are filling my shack through the magic of digital recording. The musicians are Yo Yo Ma on cello and Emanuel Ax on piano. It’s amazing how much music you can get out of just a cello and piano. They’re playing Prokofiev’s Sonata for Cello and Piano in C Major Opus 119, and Rachmaninoff’s Sonata for Cello and Piano in G Minor Opus 19. The CD cover has the rapturous faces of Yo Yo (did his Mom and Dad have a sense of humor or what?) and Emanuel playing merrily away. My question, which should get top billing, the composer or the musicians?

Musicians tend to hog the credit. Lots of people can play the cello and piano, and those guys do a fine job, but who can write the kind of inspired music that emerges from their instruments, into to some gizmo or other, and later out the shack speakers into my ears this morning? It’s beautiful stuff. My vote is for the composers. These guys, Prokofiev born in the Ukraine in 1891 and Rachmaninoff in Russia in 1873, wrote music their whole lives, beginning when they were pre-schoolers. I imagine the notes in these sonatas taking shape in their heads, them hearing and seeing with no noise the sound of them, playing the notes perhaps, stringing them together, feeling the notes of one instrument complement the other, then writing it all down. I love the flow of these pieces, the beauty, the tenderness, the energy. I’d call them geniuses. They had a gift they shared with us, the Sergei’s. If they weren’t dead I’d thank them. Maybe I just did.

It started out overcast but the sun has broken through on this morning after Christmas Day. I don’t know what’s up with the squirrels in this neighborhood but five of them are chasing each other all over the place. From time to time they scamper on a dead run past the big window in the shack. Just a while ago they ran across my roof, jumped on a tree, and disappeared into the ravine. That must be where the expression “squirrelly” originated. Animals lead such simple lives, each day the same as their last. At times I envy them.

I’m quietly enjoying a new cast iron teapot, a Christmas present from my wife, and some high mountain green tea, yet another gift from Julie, my daughter’s friend in Taiwan. The best part of Christmas is the people we connect with. It’s them that make Christmas I think.

So what happens if Christmas Day comes and goes and the tension and anxiety you‘ve been feeling does not? What if you do everything; put up the tree, bake the cookies, buy the presents, cook the meal, attend the church service, greet the guests-and no Christmas miracle happens? What do you do then?

Sadly or not, I think we fake it, trying not to ruin everyone else’s Christmas. We certainly don’t talk about it. It’s kept inside. Blue Christmas is real for many people. And really, how can we expect one day, however well orchestrated, to cure our sorrows? How can we pin all our hopes, desperate as they might be, on the back of one little infant child, no matter how holy? Is it fair? Is it realistic?

If Christmas didn’t happen for you, if you found yourself silently in despair, you’re not alone. We’re deep in winter. The ground is frozen and the nights are long and dark. It’s okay if you weren’t touched by joy. We have each other and we have the rest of our lives. Most importantly we have today and the days ahead. Take it slow. Do what you can to make each day better. Don’t allow small defeats to weigh you down. Find peace in small things. And above all don’t be hard on yourself, or you’ll miss comfort and joy when it does happen in your life. It’s like not hearing the music when it plays.

Today’s Christmas has evolved into a single day but in the church it’s a season. In the liturgical calendar Christmas has twelve days, ending on January 5th. Even if you’re not religious you should take this concept and run with it. Today is only the second day of Christmas. You have time. Wait for it and be patient so you feel it whenever it arrives. Listen closely.

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