Carols and a Beatles Christmas

The BeatlesI 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news and relieved for Don and his family, but also surprised that my kvetching and preoccupation with life’s junk has been replaced by a desire to celebrate both the advent of new birth and the ending of a life well lived.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 aPrimum non nocerelbum 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 Lifetake 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…”

Merry Christmas!

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  1. JoAnne Kurman

    What a beautiful heart felt story. Thank you, Roger. Yes, all the running around, the stress of not getting it right. You reminded me to take a breath and allow life to unfold as it surely will, despite my efforts to control it. Merry Christmas, my dear friend. God bless you and keep you.

    1. yourrel4 (Post author)

      Jo Anne,
      Your comment is appreciated but your friendship more so. Please, keep on breathing and allow all of what comes your way to unfold in its time. I figure if you can do it there’s hope for me–Yikes. I look forward to further “shots” of you peering through the gates of Buckingham Palace. Merry Christmas!

  2. Roger

    A friend wrote: “Dark night of the soul conquered by faith, friendship, a new widow’s mourning coupled with [relief] and gratitude, love and the Beatles.”

  3. Colette

    Your writing about your journey through this advent season is like a symphony for our souls. We share your awakening with negative thoughts and complaints about what is wrong in our lives, both personally and more globally, until something more truly life altering comes along, such as the passing of a dear old friend, a loved one. You weave music and memories together with your words to create a reflective and refreshed perspective, finding the true meaning of the season, with peace, love, and joy in our hearts, with gratitude for this gift of our lives. Wishing you a musical and magical Christmas!
    Joyous Noel, mon ami.

    1. yourrel4 (Post author)

      Joyeux Noel, Colette, and for us non-French speaking Norwegians–God Jule!
      Joshua Dubois, Obama’s spiritual companion (he had an official title) during the early years of his presidency, recounts a poignant story. “Muhammad Ali, aboard a airplane that was about to take off, ignored the intercom. Ali did not fasten his seatbelt. A flight attendant came by and asked him to buckle up, to which Ali replied, ‘Superman don’t need no seatbelt!’ The attendant shot back, ‘Mr. Ali, Superman don’t need no airplane, either.” Ali laughed and buckled up. How often, too frequently I think, do we fail to buckle up, listen to the music we don’t want to hear or consciously/unconsciously pass on, and thereby miss out on a “flight” we can’t imagine.
      Merry Christmas Colette, and merci,

  4. Giny Chandler

    The reality of loss trumps everything and reminds me that my lot is so much better than most. In the aftermath of the catastrophic wildfires in CA, those in Mendocino,Sonoma and Napa Counties where several friends lost houses, and Santa Barbara where family was threatened, I feel both incredibly lucky and chastened by the little indignities of my life compared to these losses. As I sang Christmas carols with my group of Cecelia Sisters Monday night, I was reminded of what really matters: community and compassion. We make our own grumpy at Christmas and risk losing the spirit of joy in the process.

    1. yourrel4 (Post author)

      Well said and thank you for reading and commenting. Also community, compassion, and joy offer a remedy for “grumpy.”


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