“. . . like a pronoun out of step with all the other floating signifiers . . .”

PLEASE, before you read this, I would appreciate your reading an important writing by my friend Samia Khoury in Jerusalem. Thank you.

They won't repeat it just for me.

They won’t repeat it just for me.

(Note: proofreading this I realized it makes no sense whatsoever. I will try to fix that and post it again—or something like it.)

The Twelve Days of Christmas are always nostalgic for me, not because I love Christmas or because I remember Christmases past, but because they somehow mark the progression of my life.

Such times mark the progression of everyone’s lives if they think about it. (Don’t get all stuffy with me and tell me “they” is wrong here—the old nonsense promulgated by high-brow prescriptivists—until you have studied epicene and generic uses of “they.” If it’s good enough for Shakespeare, it’s good enough for me: Arise; one knocks. / … / Hark, how they knock!  — Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet.)

The first Christmas I remember as a professional organist was Christmas 1967 at Christ Church (Episcopal) in Ontario, California. I’d never seen anything like it. Midnight Mass in the most vivid color with candles by the hundreds, flowers everywhere (poinsettias in abundance, but not the main offering). The infant Jesus finally in the crèche. And the music I was in charge of. I don’t remember exactly what the choir sang or I played, but I know it was glorious (that’s not my ego talking—it is possible for amateurs and non-world-class professionals to make glorious music).

I could write a progression of tales of Christmas past for the past 46 or so years, but I won’t. That’s because it’s the First Sunday in Christmas (there will be two this season), and I am going to play the organ at St. Luke’s Lutheran Church (ELCA) in Richardson, Texas.

This will be the first time in more than a year I have played for a service. That’s difficult for me to believe because my whole life has been centered in my understanding that I am an organist and that my failure to preside at the console and in the aisles and choir stalls of an Episcopal cathedral today is the result of their failure to recognize my talent. Of course, that’s not true. My failure is my failure (except “failure” is the wrong word—I’ll let you know when I find the right one). I have not worked hard enough to develop my considerable but also limited talents to achieve such a position.

This writing is neither sour grapes nor feeling sorry for myself. I have had and directed glorious musical experiences. But I know my limitations. They begin with the fact that there is absolutely nothing about me that is “driven.” I have no clue what it’s like to pursue a goal with energy and concentration, letting nothing get in my way. I have too many innate obstacles—beginning with limited intensity and strength (both physical and mental).

So back to this nostalgia for (or centered in) the Twelve Days of Christmas. These days always used to give me, when I was making music for churches, a sense that I might be able to do the Christmas Eve service over and get it perfect. After all, it is still Christmas and all of that music is still appropriate, so let’s try it again.

I’m grown up enough (and have been for many years) to know that’s not the way it works. They’re not going to back up and pretend Santa hasn’t come yet and repeat the process until I get it right. Like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day.

This is related. I'll tell you how later.

This is related. I’ll tell you how later.

It’s all a matter of belief. Do you believe time passes or not? Well, yes and no. I’ve written about my understanding of (or lack of) the passage of time (quite recently, as a matter of fact).

What might have been is obvious. I might have directed the music and/or played the organ at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. I might have directed the Boston Opera’s production of Hansel and Gretel. Or the choir of Grace Cathedral in San Francisco might have sung an anthem I wrote.

Of course. I can play Walter Mitty with the best of them (perhaps not as well as Ben Stiller).

But I prefer these days to think about what is. I’m not important to the world, but I am important to a few people. I will remember this Christmas, I think, several reasons. I can walk without a cane. My arm is not in a sling (although reaching for the stops on the left panel of the organ I’ll play today is a bit of a challenge still). So I’m grateful for progress for myself—for recovery and healing.

Some of the sources of the word “nostalgia” include “homecoming,” and “to return safely home” and “to recover,” and “to heal.” The modern sense of yearning for the past is a recent 20th-century usage. To “recover,” to “heal.” One of the people who was present at that Christmas Eve in California 46 years ago, when she died, left me in charge of her estate—to make grants for writers. I get to make a grant this week not to a writer but to someone who daily influences the lives of children with various limitations. She is a music therapist. Her guitar was stolen. I get to pay for a new one tomorrow.

Will I ever again in my life have the experience of participating in “recovery” or “healing” as I will during these Twelve Days? I hope so. But if I don’t, it is enough. It’s a “quick one before I go.”

“A Quick One Before I Go,” by David Lehman        

There comes a time in every man’s life
when he thinks: I have never had a single
original thought in my life
including this one & therefore I shall
eliminate all ideas from my poems
which shall consist of cats, rice, rain
baseball cards, fire escapes, hanging plants
red brick houses where I shall give up booze
and organized religion even if it means
despair is a logical possibility that can’t
be disproved I shall concentrate on the five
senses and what they half perceive and half
create, the green street signs with white
letters on them the body next to mine
asleep while I think these thoughts
that I want to eliminate like nostalgia
0 was there ever a man who felt as I do
like a pronoun out of step with all the other
floating signifiers no things but in words
an orange T-shirt a lime green awning

The organ I get to play today. St. Luke's Lutheran, Richardson, TX

The organ I get to play today. St. Luke’s Lutheran, Richardson, TX

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