December: Voices, Memories, and Giving

December: Voices, Memories, and Giving

“It’s coming on Christmas.”

The voice may be tenor or soprano. The music may be folk, modern or classical. Whatever your choice, it now begins—Christmas music reemerges as we celebrate the season in sound. We hum, sing along. My husband and I move from Diana Krall and Bill Evans, to the Robert Shaw Choral, Vince Guaraldi’s Charlie Brown Christmas, James Taylor’s Christmas songs. Everywhere, there’s wonderful variety, music becoming the focus of family get-togethers, school celebrations and church events. Music is tradition. Music is memory.

REPETITION AND REMEMBRANCE or “GET UP ON YOUR FEET”

What song do you look forward to singing? Do you play old records or click on Spotify? Some of you might be part of a church choir—but with Covid, you might be forced to abandon practices. But you can always sing to your Christmas tree,  remember the songs that make you joyful for your beliefs.

Music captivated my younger brother in his teens, became his lifelong career and passion, so at Christmas, his Christmas Dreams collection is a favorite. He and my son will grab guitars, play, sing, fill the house with sounds of the season—and they’re always open to requests–grandchildren, cousins, everyone dancing. Be joyful, move your body—that’s all that’s required. Got a new move? Share it, for the holidays are always about health and new life, about blotting out the darkness that pervaded much of the world, about lighting candles, fires, and gathering people together to share food, drink and love. ( But honor your host regarding what you can bring to a celebration and do make sure you are vaccinated.)

DECEMBER: A TIME FOR EVERYONE 

The very existence of the Christmas season will always be connected to new life, the birth of Jesus Christ. It is also about memories, the cranberry bread you make every year. The lights you hang on shrubbery, trees and doorways to light up your surrounding world. The warm room, maybe a fireplace burning and always a hug or words of caring for those who come through your door. Just think: even though Australia and countries on the other side of the equator are unpacking their summer clothes—it’s still “coming on Christmas.”

And yet there are shadows that even a brightly lit world cannot dispel. Maybe this is your first Christmas without a parent, a spouse, your closest friend. This is a Christmas where your time will be spent visiting your son in rehab or remembering to take medication for a recently developed condition. Some of you will travel to rejoice with family and friends, or to mourn with them.  But we humans keep going, healthy, struggling, joyful or sorrowful, we keep on…

MORE VOICES…

Chris Erskine, in his column a few years back, reminded his daughter: “Everybody is someone.” That statement is always true, but during this season when emotions are heightened, memories can hang over one’s day like a dark cloud–instead of mistletoe. It’s best to remember to care for or smile at those you meet. And you could ask yourself, do I really need “another ornament” for the overloaded tree? I know I don’t, remembering that my mailbox has been full of organizations asking for help. Write that check, mail it today. 

So whatever your December brings you, I hope you will experience contentedness, the desire to reach out to others. After all, the season is only beginning, plenty of time to be grateful, to make Santa Claus come alive and for a child. Thanks for reading.

Artwork: thanks to Nancy Haley nancyhaleyfineart.com

This is an older post that has been edited.

Reports from “the Front” & the House!

Reports from "the Front" & the House!

How are you all doing? For years I have loved doing my weekly blog post, but oddly, now I feel much closer to all of you. COVID19 has changed our lives, but also put us on common ground: we are all sheltering in place together, and therefore we have common fears and worries, common experiences that bind us. But I also want to salute all our health workers who every day are risking their own lives and futures to care for patients and thus help us. It is truly all about keeping the virus in check, about working together. It is all about HOW CAN I HELP? 

WE REPORT TOGETHERNESS ON ALL LEVELS 

Take the masterful literary agent from New York City. He writes a post every month on my favorite writers blog and I take his workshops and thus tangentially he knows me, knows my work. He wrote this to me: 

Hey Beth, facing similar issues here: Family members with compromised immune systems, kids schooling online, trying to work while at home. We have all been “kidnapped”…so, you see? Your anxiety is ours and belongs in your WIP. Honestly, I am finding that work–especially writing anything–is the most calming activity of all. 

I so agree with him and thus when our internet went down, my isolation increased. But I’m back and you’re here and all is good so far. And to continue on that note, today I’m sharing what OTHER WRITERS are feeling about quarantine.

1. From Chris Erskine, my favorite LA writer-dad, who lost his wife last year and writes about coping during Covid–he knows, it’s all on him.

My bored son and I pass long days practicing his driving…For a new driver, he’s doing very well, though I have to remind him that Audis and other luxe sedans ALWAYS have the right of way, at least here in California. And he doesn’t quite get stop signs. Once, he actually came to a full stop, and the driver behind him honked. “See,” I told him,”you’re just supposed to pause a little.”…My dog, White Fang, wonders why we are home all the time and not dropping more crumbs like we used to. She also thinks that we’re married. When I kneel down to futz with the dryer, White Fang will rest her chin on the back of my ankle. Sometimes I stall a little, so she can have her moment.

2. And this from a poem by Donna Ashworth:

History will remember when the world stopped, And the flights stayed on the ground, And the cars parked in the street, And the trains didn’t run. History will remember when the schools closed, And the children stayed indoors, And the medical staff walked towards the fire, AND THEY DIDN’T RUN. History will remember when the people sang on their balconies in isolation, But so very much together, In courage and in song. History will remember when the people fought For their old and their weak, Protected the vulnerable by doing nothing at all. History will remember when the virus left, and the houses opened, and the people came out, and hugged and kissed and started again– Kinder than before.

3. Finally, all of this boils down to doing what is asked of us. It’s not easy. I’ve been reading about women who are pregnant and about to deliver. So vivid in my mind was my joy, yet always the hesitation: how will it go; how will I do, but more importantly, how will my baby be? Now women are being told they might have to labor alone, without a spouse or partner of any kind. Maybe call the midwife. I would, depending on my pregnancy risks. 
Trips to the grocery store are about protecting me from the virus, but also my husband who waits in the car. The immune system thing.
When we walk, we keep that damn distance and always wave.
I thank the delivery men, the mail delivery persons, and especially Pam in the grocery store.
I called my eye doctor with a question. He was kind. Where was he, watching his children at home. 
Each of us has more responsibility RIGHT NOW–to family, to friends, to community and to ourselves. Stay safe. Follow the rules set in place. Prayer and mediation help, as do films. Today, make it a comedy. Laughter is good for your health and you might forget that symptom thing (I do it) swallowing to see if you have a sore throat, holding your breath to test your lungs, feeling your forehead. STOP IT!!  BE SAFE, Beth 
ART: From the Republic of Korea

December: Voices, Memories, and Giving

December: Voices, Memories, and Giving

“It’s coming on Christmas.”

The voice may be tenor or soprano. The music may be folk, modern or classical. Whatever your choice,  it now begins—Christmas music reemerges as we celebrate the season in sound. We hum, sing along. My husband and I move from Diana Krall and Bill Evans, to the Robert Shaw Choral, Vince Guaraldi’s Charlie Brown Christmas and Amahl and the Night Visitors. Everywhere, there’s wonderful variety, music becoming the focus of family parties, school celebrations and church events. Music is tradition. Music is memory.

REPETITION AND REMEMBRANCE or “GET ON YOUR FEET”

What song do you look forward to singing? Do you play old records or click on Spotify? Some of you might be part of a church choir—your practice sessions now increasing as the pace of the season heats up.

Music captured my younger brother in his teens, became his lifelong career and passion, so at Christmas, his Christmas Dreams collection is a favorite. He and my son will grab guitars, play, sing, fill the house with sounds of the season—and they’re always open to requests–grandchildren, cousins, everyone dancing. Be joyful, move your body—that’s all that’s required. Got a new move? Share it, for Christmas from the beginning was about new life, about blotting out the darkness that pervaded much of the world, about lighting candles, fires, and gathering people together to share food, drink and love.

DECEMBER: A TIME FOR EVERYONE 

The very existence of Christmas, of celebration will always be connected to new life, the birth of Jesus Christ. Echoing that, new life is the cranberry bread you make every year and share with teachers and neighbors. It’s the lights you hang on shrubbery, trees and doorways to light up your surrounding world. It’s a warm room, maybe a fireplace burning and always a hug for those who come through your door. Just think: even though Australia and countries on the other side of the equator are unpacking their summer clothes—it’s still “coming on Christmas.”

And yet, there are always shadows that even a brightly lit world cannot dispel. This is your first Christmas without a parent, a spouse, your closest friend. This is a Christmas where your time will be spent visiting your son in rehab or remembering to take medication for a recently developed condition. Some of you will travel to rejoice with family and friends, or to mourn with them. I often chuckle when remembering a phone conversation with my dear mother. She was getting ready for a trip, called to tell me she’d had a good day—she had all of her medications packed. Ah yes! Anybody able to relate?

MORE VOICES…

Chris Erskine, in his column this week, reminded his daughter: “Everybody’s someone.” That statement is always true, but during this season when emotions become heightened, memories can hang over a day like a dark cloud instead of mistletoe. So please remember that. Right at this moment, my husband is delivering poinsettias to folks who purchased them to help support his efforts with the homeless. You could ask yourself, do I really need “another ornament” for the overloaded tree? I know I don’t, remembering that my mailbox has been full of organizations asking for help. And there’s Lawrence O’Donnell’s Kids In Need of Desks, KIND, sponsored to help school children in Malawi have desks to write on at their schools.

Whatever your December brings to you, I hope you will experience joy, contentedness and a desire to reach out to others. After all, the season is only beginning and though I don’t know about you, I haven’t put up my tree yet!

Artwork: thanks to Nancy Haley nancyhaleyfineart.com

P.S. I want to thank you for reading and commenting. I now use MAIL CHIMP to get these posts to you. So, Gmail users, to make sure you are getting my posts in your PRIMARY MAIL and not PROMOTIONS, the next time you get my post, if it is in PROMOTIONS, just pull the notice into PRIMARY and all future posts should be delivered to PRIMARY. Problems, please let me know. Thanks, Beth954adf7c518817f43be47c2fd06b3875d25e72a32465e42fa9

954adf7c518817f43be47c2fd06b3875d25e72a32465e42fa9

 

Some People Have a Gift for Helping, Remembering

Some People Have a Gift for Helping, Remembering

Curtis Jenkins is a bus driver. And a very happy man. He looks upon his job as important, and that decision–to grab on to his bus-driver identity and make something of it– colors his entire world.

WHAT CURTIS HAS CHOSEN TO DO

  • During the school year, he gives a present to each kid, something that after he gets to know them, he knows they will need and love.
  • He believes sincerely that while these children are in his care, he is totally responsible for their lives and their hearts. Driving his bus is his calling.
  • He’s decided to spend part of his salary purchasing a gift for each child. He talks to them, finds out about the emptiness in their lives and does what he can to fill up that emptiness.
  • He gave one student a bike!
  • He also assigns each child a position on the bus, so that they form a family that helps one another. One boy proudly said he is the administration assistant. The kids on the bus form a social organization, each child knowing every other child and often their needs, strengths and weaknesses. They have learned to help and protect one another. There are no fights or quarrels.

THE REWARDS OF A POSITIVE ATTITUDE

Curtis took on this role and blazed an unusual path. I know there are others like him, men and women who care about children and who smile through the noise and craziness that often is the major experience of the bus ride.

In my years as a teacher, I was blessed to know men and women whose devotion to their students did not end when the bell rang at three o’clock. Though teachers need to provide a responsible barrier between themselves and their students, the ability to encourage, to listen, to applaud, and to discipline with well chosen words can be the difference between a student who learns and succeeds and one who falls behind, drops out, gets lost.

Curtis represents a special love and dedication. One of his riders, a young boy named Ethan, states that the bus ride is the best part of his day. “He’s the father I always wanted. I wish my Dad could have been like Curtis.”

This story appeared on ABC’s Sunday Morning, a great show if you have the time.

PS ARE WE LIVING IN A TIME WHEN WE ARE UNABLE TO REACH OUT, HELP OTHERS? 

One cure for opening our hearts to others is to open our memories at the same time. If yours are filled with protection, love and care–then you will want to go there, think about snow forts and tree forts; boat trips and walking the dog with a parent; family get-togethers with cousins or the close friend you wished was your sister, your brother. Bike rides, ball games, ice skating or river rafting. Wherever you were raised, whatever you did, pulling those memories closer can make a hectic day or a lonely day much sweeter.

I enjoy reading a column every Saturday in the LA TIMES that is written by Chris Erskine. 

He’s an amazing story teller who can pull me back in time with only a few words, put a smile on my face, encourage me to keep writing my own Memoir about growing up in Chicago. Chris tosses out memories in just a few words: Schwin bikes, Bactine, Mickey Mouse Club, reading Little Women, or anything by Hemingway. He once wrote that Los Angeles can feel like a college dorm: Where you from? What’s your major? (job) 

And then Chris comes back to Chicago, which is his HOMETOWN too. He writes: “Hometown: I just like the sound of it—sonorous and acoustic. A bow across life’s cello.”

Have a lovely week, Beth

PHOTO; Thanks to Neighborhoods.com

Finding Joy in the Season of Light and Dark…

Finding Joy in the Season of Light and Dark...

Sparkling new ideas this time of year are hard to find. But in the newspaper this morning, columnist Chris Erskine lighted up the page. Chris writes a column called MIDDLE AGES. He shares his life as a dad, husband, sports lover, gardener…you get the drift.

At the beginning of this year, his eldest son died in a car accident. I wept when I read his column about that loss. THE MAN CAN WRITE.

Then at Thanksgiving (we’re talking weeks ago) his wife died. Her cancer had reoccured and so here he was this morning, with another personal column published in the paper. HOW DO YOU DO THAT?

His headline: GRIEF AND JOY CAN SURGE ALONG THE SAME CHANNEL.

And yes, we can all identify with that. Everyone of us can pull from our calendar of the last 357 or so days of this year–events, hours, days, maybe weeks that were hard, challenging, frightening or that just plain sucked. It’s called LIFE.

But I mention Chris and his column because of his strength and outlook. He is left to raise his other son, the one he always refers to as the “little guy” who I believe is in the middle grades–and also to care for a 300 pound beagle, a house and a garden.

His incredible take on the light and dark of his situation flies off the page:

“..I keep thinking of something William Hurt once said. ‘If you cut off the capacity for grief in your life, you cut off the joy at the same time. They both come up through the same tunnel.'” Chris’s reaction to that: GRIEVE, DANCE.

Then he writes: “For the record I quit drinking on Tuesday, started again on Wednesday, quit on Thursday, and so on.” He thanks the folks who keep bringing bottles of “hooch” remarking that they must think he’s stuck in a snowdrift and can’t get out. YES. Momentarily he is.

And so is the “little guy” who gets sick a few days after his mother is buried, his first illness without her. They watch a Clint Eastwood film to get the little guy through and Chris decides that in some way he’s Eastwood and his son is the sidekick that always shows up in an Eastwood film to save the day. “That’s kind of how I see me and the little guy, I’ve got his back, he has mine. Together we’ll slay every evil. I mean, we’ve already seen a few.”

YES THEY HAVE. He mentions that he has opened so many sympathy cards that he has paper cuts up and down his hands. But in true Chris fashion, he writes: “I guess grief is lots of invisible little cuts.”

SO WHAT ARE WE THINKING HERE? 

When the holidays return every December, we pull things out of the darkness: boxes of ornaments dusty from an attic or basement; a list of people we want to call friends, but aren’t sure if the passage of time has changed that; and always memories–some that flash and shine and make us smile, others that might embarrass (when I cried my first Christmas married to my husband because there was no gift for me under the tree–Be forgiving, Beth, your father-in-law already has eleven children!” ) And of course others that might fill us with sorrow–my mother is gone now since 2013, and I’m living away from the familiarity of Chicago, from some family, many friends and the blaze of Christmas lights against trees and lawns covered with snow.  

But we breathe and say THANK YOU and make new memories in new places and look into photo albums or admire a music box or an ornament that brings back those other years.

Chris finally writes: “Nothing’s perfect. Not this house. Not this family. Not this Christmas. Not without her, certainly. And not without our wickedly funny late son. So I guess we’re pretty much all newborns this season, our tears dripping like tinsel.

But those cuts on my hands? The paper cuts remind me of some greater gifts–family and amazing friends. And the wails of newborns? OUR HEARTACHE, OUR CHRISTMAS HYMN.”

See?  I told you he could write! 

FINAL COMMENT? You might spend some time thinking about winter–how the days are shorter, darker. How we lean toward light either those on trees or burning in a fireplace, or those in the eyes of the ones we love. Because life is always light and darkness–but as humans, and especially now, during this season, WE ARE DRAWN TO THE LIGHT.

Merry Christmas, Happy New Year–and have a warm Winter Solstice.

Photo Credit: Pinterest