I awoke from a good night’s sleep, barely had my head off the pillow when King Solomon’s words came to mind: “Meaningless! Meaningless! Says the Teacher. Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless. What do people gain from all their labors at which they toil under the sun?”
And that was just the beginning; a screed of negativity, judgment and criticism followed Solomon’s words in my mind: You’re not good enough! Can’t you do anything right! Why is he so oblivious? What gives her the right to treat me, or anyone like that? POTUS, politicians, harassment allegations, racism, rampant bad behavior, why? Really, you’ve got to be kidding, he said that! She did that, how could she? You can’t be serious. You’re joking, right? Can’t we do better? Can I do better? I’m concerned, no, I’m worried. Actually, I need to get back in therapy; despair, my unwanted guest, is taking up residence!
It’s almost daybreak when I pour a second cup of coffee and head upstairs to my home- office.
Damn them, I think, the lurking shadows, castaway junk, all that “stuff” I work hard to eliminate from my life that still seeps and creeps into it, finding a place for its voice to get a hearing, a toehold en route to becoming a fixture, and during Advent no less. Whatever happened to Christmas?
I’ll not have this chatter, I think. “Stop, vamoose!” I declare in my loud ‘‘outdoor” voice, and with a smirk say, “God, where are you?”
And then the phone rings. I pick it up and my friend’s wife, Desley, says, “I’m calling with the sad news that Don has passed away into his glory.” In addition to the sadness, she feels relief that her husband’s suffering is over. I’m not surprised at either. He looked frail when my friends and I saw him Memorial Day Weekend, and both of them appeared exhausted.
We share a few memories, including his love of The Beatles, I offer condolences, and though she hasn’t firmed up a date for the memorial service, she’ll let me know when it’s set, sometime in January, she thinks. Her voice is calm, suggesting gratitude, as she describes the final bedside moments of his life, filled with the voices of his beloved family members as they touched and held him, and spoke of their love and affection, while in the background the quiet sounds of The Beatles accompanied his parting.
I too am saddened by the news and relieved for Don and his family, but also surprised that my kvetching and preoccupation with life’s junk has been replaced by a desire to celebrate both the advent of new birth and the ending of a life well lived. The decision to enjoy and immerse myself in music, the gift my parents gave me when I was a child, is easy to make. Don’s life will be celebrated, as I celebrate the birth of the Christ child, by playing The Beatles alongside Nate Cole, The Mormon Tabernacle Choir, Diana Krall, The Three Tenors, Mahalia Jackson, and Ray Charles, among others. I start humming “Joy to the World” mixed in “With A Little Help From My Friends”—music has chosen me, and our “dance” begins—a caroling Beatles’ Christmas.
“In My Life,” from the album Rubber Soul, reminds me of the beautifully drawn words, primum non nocere (first, do no harm), that Don designed, mounted and framed, and I hung in my office the first day I opened the practice. A triptych of medieval figures scurrying around in their villages, another of Don’s marvelous drawings, hangs in front of me on the far wall. Don knew that Ringo Starr’s birth name was Richard Starkey before any of us knew who Ringo was—he was that kind of aficionado of their music and the Liverpool sound. In 1968, Don’s and my first opportunity to vote in a presidential election, we took great pleasure in voting for the write-in candidate on the Freedom and Peace Party, Dick Gregory. Don was bright and witty, kind and gentle, and I am grateful for the musical sounds that stir my fond memories of him.
These memories, during this Advent season, are companion recollections to my own joy-filled childhood memories of Christmas when the sounds of Mario Lanza, the New York Philharmonic, Jussi Bjorling, and the London Symphony Orchestra, among others, filled our home with celebratory music as our family welcomed the celebration of the birth of Jesus. They are sweeping away the sense of meaninglessness and nay-saying that almost hijacked my soul—a gift that keeps on giving.
John Lennon’s lyrics from “In My Life” take on new meaning for me this season: “Though I know I’ll never lose affection for people and things that went before, I know I’ll often stop and think about them…”