DECEMBER MELODY

So, the shadows of November, cast by thinning winter clouds, have moved off, and, here on the west coast of Florida, December 1st is bringing bright sunlight and, finally, welcomed chilly temperatures.

In the north, I know you’ve already had snow; I’ve seen those November Facebook p0sts of people sweeping the powdery coating off their cars a couple of weeks back. I remember the ritual and — forgive me Florida for my lack of gratitude — I miss it at this state of my life, feeling so adrift. Things always look better to a restless soul in that proverbial rearview mirror. And burdensome weather-related, cold country tasks seem, in retrospect, more like the small price of salvation, whether human or divine.

We are at the start of the month that, in twenty-one days, will give us the shortest, darkest day of the year that we enlivened with the lights of Christmas….It is no accident that we mark the birth of a savior at the nadir of a celestial cycle that puts the sun farthest from the earth — far from spring, or those lazy, hazy days of summer.

This date, December 1st, would have been my sister Anne’s 82nd birthday. It did not seem too much to hope for — that this beautiful, guiding presence in our lives could have lived at least that long, or much longer. Our mother died at 82. And just having turned 74 and finding that a very jarring state of being, I’m forced to realize that the actuarial table begins to work against us, body and soul — that we make plans, dream dreams — but can’t totally outrun the averages — or God’s plan for us.

Rest in peace, Anne. I’m praying for you today. We used to have such long, wonderful, helpful, loving phone conversations. I need to recall those — recall everything about you. (One of these days, I’ll get around to posting pictures with this blog, but, in many ways, words are better. Pictures just let us form the words. They really aren’t always worth a thousand of those words.)

That old thing about time — how it rushes, marches on, passes quickly. All of us feel it at this point in the year. Yet it seems like everybody knows that song, “Unchained Melody” — especially since the Righteous Brothers covered it — and that line, “time goes by so slowly, and time can do so much.” Indeed it can. It can bear down on us, make us lose interest, lose our love, our memories, even turn love to hate as horrible as that seems. Yes, time can drag.

But now it’s time to keep in mind that that song was written for a long forgotten made-for-TV movie of the fifties — called “Unchained” — about men in a low-security, “experimental” prison who were even given instructions on how to get over the barbed wire fence if they really wanted to go. They were rightful prisoners of their consciences (speaking of The Righteous Brothers), basically choosing confinement on the honor system; choosing to stay confined, pay their debt to society, even if they “hunger for your touch a long, lonely time.” Go forth thereafter as solid citizens.

I imagine your hunger tempts you all the more if you know the object of your desire can be had by merely climbing a fence. But, of course, you’d sate your desire at the expense of a total loss of freedom. I’m sure that’s how the arrangement in the movie worked. It’s how supernatural life works, if you believe in heaven, hell and the freedom to choose one or the other — as many of us do, inexplicably, in life. We choose hell on earth. We only seem to be rational creatures sometimes.

Funny how I’m remembering that movie; it was decades ago that I saw it and I was a child who knew little about hungering for anyone’s touch — and assumed I’d have all the time in the world to live a life and do everything I wanted — unchained.

The movie concludes with the protagonist, finally frustrated with his circumstances, going to the fence to escape, lingering on the brink of his undeserved freedom, then climbing down again and walking back toward his prison for as long as it would take to remove the weight of his crime; his sins, if you will. Roll credits, as the music rises…”oh, my love, my darling…”

I may have been a child — but I realized at that and many future moments what it meant to be an adult: to be unhappy, but to know I had to stay with the unpleasant, imprisoning matter at hand. The only thing like that in my life then was school, and there’d already been days I wanted to quit that.

We’ll call this, then, the December Melody — hungering, for what? Love, loved ones, health, the end to the pandemic? For your touch? All at the ragged end of this wild year.

Oh, the freedom to touch; to have and to hold. The thing that, beginning back in the chill month of March, we began to lose, never imagining what this year would bring when the ball dropped in Time Square and the new year, with the symmetry of two wide eyes flashed open on the world — 2020.

Are ours would be opened, alright, and a vision of just how life could turn on us would be sharper ever after — 20/20.

It was also the beginning of a new and, so far, very fraught decade.

I’ve trusted my memory to recall that movie, by the way — and had not planned to use it as a last-month-of-the-difficult-year jumping off point for this rumination. But it fits. We always say, time flies. Time DOESN’T go by so slowly when we have our freedom. It goes too fast. I my case, because I waste so much of it.

So, I need to make time go slowly — struggle to make each moment count in this December; be aware of each second, each inner conflict, each sorrow, every grief, every joy if I can find it. Every failure to love. It is the Christmas season, yes, but it is also Advent — those four penitential weeks during which we light four candles, counting the days to the Coming of the Light, moving toward Bethlehem. Agaiin, we submit to the cycle of trepidation, anxiety and hope tas we traverse the hours — as if we are crossing a desert, like three, long-suffering magi on camels, or a million souls longingly walking down a long barely illumined city street.

That’s us, December pilgrims. Longing for the light, and a new beginning.

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