A calendar. Each year I receive a calendar from a friend in New York City. It is a collection of his photographs, sometimes with poetry appropriate to the month. This year, the cover has a photograph of two pigeons which “Found their moment for a kiss, no matter if was in a crumbling building,” with the heading “Be Present in the Moment.” Each month has a photograph with a heading appropriate: “Love One Another,” “Discover What’s Around You,” “Stick Together,” “Support Those Who Need Our Help,” “Keep Your Appointments, “Love New York City,” “Drink the Nectar,” “Claim Your Dignity,” “Join In,” “Choose Your Path,” “Exercise Your Imagination,” “experience the Turn of the Year.” Each of the headings and photos will help enable me to “Be Present in the Moment” during the coming year.
The Comfort of the Familiar. Unlike many of my friends, I do not usually draw myself to the familiar. I did not teach in one place, in one classroom, in one subject or grade level. I try new items at restaurants. I would welcome any change from traditional Easter, Christmas, or New Year dinners. I do not watch one movie several times. This year, however, I have enjoyed seeing the familiar Christmas decorations of the town in which I have lived for six Christmases. I like the simple wreaths with candles and red ribbons rimmed in gold. I like the added snowflakes in the downtown shopping area. I like the displays at the railroad tracks: a Santa driving a four-car train at the west end of town and a Santa with his reindeer rising up into the sky from the central part of town. I enjoy the repeated window dressings of the microscope company in town. I like the mechanical objects on display in the jewelry store windows. It’s good to see a familiar Christmas here again.
Listening. “An American Christmas: Carols, Hymns, and Spirituals, 1770-1870” The Boston Camerata, with The Schola Cantorum of Boston and the Brown University Chorus, Erato, 1993. In the program notes Joel Cohen writes, “‘Christmas Music,’ –this desperate thought tends to arrive in the minds of some North American residents shortly before December 24–‘is really pretty hard to take.’ This sentiment occurs after the yearly, omnipresent onslaught of ‘standard’ carols–their banality, the vacuity of their glitzy arrangements–has nearly succeeded in turning many otherwise kind and generous people into Scrooge forever. Where, we may ask, are the songs the mass media forgot to promote? Where are the true and good work of the American spirit? Why are they so hard to come by?” Cohen gives us 25 pieces, grouped in 6 thematic sections from various American sources, including The Sothern Harmony, The Sacred Harp, The Christian Harmony. There are treasures here. My favorites include “Pretty Home,” by a black Shaker, “Slow Traveller,” “I Wonder as I Wander” with guitar accompaniment, “Still Water.” Some of the selections from this album can be found of YouTube. These pieces are not for casual listening.
Quotations from Readings of the Week.
“Running is not the definition of human life. Neither is checking things off on a list.” (Miriam Pollard, “Home,” in Give Us This Day: Daily Prayer for Today’s Catholic, December, 2014.)
“A son should be able to say what his father was for him. What part of my personality do I owe him? How does this man still simmer in my life? If he does.” (Tim Parks, “Reverend,” short story in The New Yorker, December 8, 2014.)
“Life could improve beyond recognition in the space of a moment.” (Geoff Dyer, “Forbidden City,” short story in Harper’s, December, 2014.)
“There is no louder sound in the musical realm than a pipe organ at full throttle. . . . the organ has a diabolical appeal: one touch of a button can unleash mayhem. . . . a pipe organ can approximate the voice of God, but it also happily evokes a fairground calliope. It is one of humanity’s grander creations, and also one of its most durable technologies.”
Thank you for reading. I hope you are enjoying these days of preparation for Christmas.