The word was flame on December 13, 2022
These words poured out of me, much too long for a Skype post. I felt on fire as the story flowed into me. A Gift of Christmas Song grew from this post:
Power failed Christmas Eve as the wind drove snow into wild drifts that soared in undulating curves along fences and plunging temperatures encased tree limbs and powerlines in a heavy sheath of ice. All the neighborhood Christmas lights blinked out, casting Santa and his reindeer into shadowy silhouettes, and leaving the baby Jesus in a dark manager with no electricity. Windows once bright went black, like the curtain dropped on the Christmas pageant. One solitary dog barked and crinkled brown oak leaves protested as the storm ripped them from their summer branches.
“Momma, how can Santa get here? What will the reindeer do? They can’t fly!” wailed 7-year-old Sandy. Her wiser 10-year-old brother Sam rolled his eyes but kept his mouth shut after a stern, pointed glance from his mother, Sarah Johnson. Her husband Jim thumped his way into the basement to rev up the generator he’d bought “just in case” despite Sarah’s protests. He adjusted the choke, flipped the ignition switch, gave a strong pull on the cord and after a few sputters, power flowed to the house and the lights popped on.
Sam wandered to the window, his coiled pre-adolescent tense with pent up energy. “Hey, the old lady’s probably doing something creepy in the dark.” Sarah sighed, “You mean Marie?” “Yeah, old lady Marie.” Sam tried to cackle like he thought an old witch might sound. Sarah shot him a reproachful look but decided to let his comments go this time; it was Christmas Eve, and she was tired. Sandy nudged her brother away and pressed her head against the window. “It looks lonely with no lights.” Sarah looked at Jim. “Maybe you should check on her?” She asked. Jim studied the snow piling up in the road and shrugged. “Her power will be back soon. She’s ok.” Sam scowled and rolled his eyes.
Sarah guided Sandy away from the window. Sandy was her sensitive child, so empathetic it wore Sarah out. She needed a diversion. Even though it was early in the evening, Sarah herded everyone towards the Christmas tree. “Let’s open our one present!” she encouraged, Laughing, the family gathered together to enjoy their Christmas traditions which included unwrapping their smallest gift on Christmas Eve.
Sandy grinned as she opened her gift, but Sam hadn’t lost his scowl, even though his smallest gift was exactly what he asked his parents to get him. Sarah quietly asked, “Sam, will you sing your solo for us?” Sam sung in the city boys choir and had an angelic soprano voice that Sarah knew would fade in a few years as puberty hit and his voice changed. Sam grumbled then nodded his agreement.
As he sang the first notes of “O Holy Night,” Sam’s body relaxed, his face released the scowl he’d adapted to look “bad”, and he let the music flow through him. He couldn’t explain this to anyone, how he felt that he didn’t sing the song, the song sang him. The one time he tried to tell his friend Kevin, the boy laughed at him and called him a weirdo. He’d stopped singing for a few weeks after that, but the desire to sing overpowered pre-teen humiliation.
As the Johnson’s opened presents underneath their artificial tree, ablaze with red, blue, green, and yellow LED Christmas lights, the powerful storm sped southeast to visit other fields and towns. In its wake, stillness settled over their town still without power. Stars appeared in the dark new moon sky. City snowplows began to crawl along the roads and a few people shuffled out to shovel their driveways. At the Johnson’s, Sarah gave in and allowed Sandy and Sam to bundle up and play in the snow while Jim shoveled.
Sam grew bored playing in the snow. He was above those things now he thought. He tugged on Sandy’s arm. “Let’s go spy on the old lady.” “I don’t want to.” Sandy pulled her arm free and walked back to the house. “Fine…baby.” Sam stomped away, a scowl returning to his face. Glancing over his shoulder, he pushed his way through the snowdrifts, cut behind a fence and snuck up to Marie Andraski’s dark window. In the summer, the window was above his head, but he tamped the snow into a ledge strong enough to hold his weight.
Marie moved to this town from Chicago a few years ago. No one knew her as Marie Anders, whose last concert with the Chicago Philharmonic won the Grammy for Best Classical Performance. Chicago newspapers wondered why Marie vanished from society and the music scene. Speculation ran from a nervous breakdown to an Italian lover who had whisked her off to Capri.
What the gossip rags did not know is that Marie’s longtime partner, Sophie, had died after a short fight with cancer. Marie and Sophie were private about their relationship, choosing the illusion of friendship over the media insanity coming out would entail.
Marie loved Chicago, but after Sophie died, the crowded city felt lonely, and she sought the solace of the Northwoods. People were nice to her but mostly left her alone.
More about Sam
Peer pressure, following your passion, allowing others in
Sing, Sing a Song
The Oral Tradition. Everyone can sing. It’s not a performance.
Morning Star Singers – comfort and hospice choir, oral tradition
Village Fire, Singing Alive, Song Circles
Peeple to follow and learn from
Lisa Littlebird – The Bird Sings
Grief follows its own path
Marie sought the solace of the woods, the river, the lakes to sooth her soul. I took a year long class on resilience at Mayo Clinic taught by Dr. Amit Sood. The program was rich with ways to improve attention, interpret through virtues like beauty and gratitude, all backed by neuroscience and deep spiritual traditions.
A few months into the course, life pushed the reset button, plunging me into an incredibly painful time. Everything changed – the relationship, the step-son, the house, the new job, the church community, And then my beloved Siberian Husky, Keesha, died right before the holidays. It was like living in a bad country song but I kept the truck, or Subaru Outback in this case.
I could not concentrate or meditate or do much of anything but I could follow one of Dr. Sood’s practices. Notice beauty in nature. Everyday I’d find at least one thing in nature – a leaf or snowflake or tree branch or flower – and simply notice the uniqueness and the beauty. Even if it was only 30 seconds, it counted. And it made a difference. I’d walk the lakes around Minneapolis or slowly hike the state parks and let the forest sooth my soul.
Perhaps that’s why I knew Marie would escape the crush of society and fame in a peaceful small town along the river, surrounded by forests and and seranaded by birds, squirrels, and the peeping frogs. There the song of the universe would hum a lullaby to her wounded heart until she was strong enough, healed enough to sing again.
Grief is a funny thing. It has its own timing that is different for each person and each event. My father died during the pandemic. Soon after my aunt and my cousin’s husband got Covid and died. That’s a big change in a short time. I know others who experienced loss like this or worse during the pandemic years.
I felt a bit like Marie as I isolated in my house.Though many people I knew ran Zoom calls so people could sing, I grew silent. Once again, I noticed beauty in my dog Teddy, in the squirrels running along the branches, in the majestic wings of the great blue heron. I noticed the slow turn of the seasons.
I listened to the song of the universe,I wrote and that led me here writing these words to you. May you find healing in the beauty of nature. May the song of the universe soothe your soul.