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Genesis of a Historical Novel

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Happy Christmas

Kimmie is still off on vacation, beavering away at various crafts, becoming stressed. The big thing is preparation for the wedding of Robin's school-friend Jen on 29 December. Kimmie agreed to make the wedding cake and also to make a dress for Robin, who is maid of honor. Both the cake (a three-layer job with roses and carnations of gum-paste) and the dress (a damask-patterned satin with scallops that had to be specially cut and matched along the bottom of the bodice, causing Kim, a very expert and experienced sewer, great anguish) are proving more difficult than she had had thought.

Still, Kimmie has solved many of the problems and now is able to relax more (and is also undergoing chiropractic and massage therapy a couple of times a week to unspasm her tense body). She has spent most of today happily wrapping presents (artistic gift-wrapping as well--even using some ideas from a special Japanese book on giftwrapping that I brought home as a present from my meditation retreat at Karme Choling in 1993) and preparing to bake the actual wedding cakes.

Kimmie plays Christmas music while she works. She is intensely, almost fanatically, theme-oriented. On 1 December the Christmas lights go up and she starts decorating. Everyday objects, such as her coffee mugs, are sidelined and special Christmas ones subbed in (I condescend to drink from a Christmas mug on the day itself, otherwise I stick with the usual crockery).

A couple of nights ago Robin stopped by to give Kimmie a new Christmas CD as a "thank you" for making her maid of honor dress: Sarah McLachlan singing various Christmas songs. Kimmie was delighted, and has put the CD into heavy rotation on her sewing-room ghetto blaster.

This morning I heard part of it while delivering coffee to Kim: Sarah singing John Lennon's "Happy Christmas (War Is Over)". I found it a beautiful and haunting rendition, better even than Lennon's own (I've always thought this one of the best modern Christmas songs). (And incidentally, I like to think that my preference for versions other than the original artist's is homage to his work as a songwriter.)

Something about the song went deep into me, so that I found myself humming it. The music kept going through my head, and from time to time I would vocalize it softly as I went about my tasks. Somehow, today, I felt the longing in the song--for world peace. The opening question of the lyric--

"And so this is Christmas, and what have you done?"

--I found especially haunting. What have you done? The question seems to cut many different ways, especially in the context of the song. It's both reflective and accusing, suggests sins of both omission and commission. The special magic of songwriting is that the music lends a particular spin and weight to the lyric; gives it a special, unique emotional meaning. Of course, the fact that Lennon himself was martyred nine years later close by that very hotel lends the song extra poignancy. (He may have been a self-righteous prig, but he did sincerely deplore the violence that took his own life.)

I felt so strongly about the song that I had to work it out for myself, right away. I opened the case of my acoustic guitar, which I keep parked behind the leather sofa, and, holding the tune in my mind, found the key: D. I hummed the song softly, finding chords, until in a few minutes I had the song roughed in well enough to be able to play it to myself. As I did, tears came to my eyes.

My thanks to John Lennon, then, as a songwriter. He wrote this one with Yoko Ono in a New York hotel room in October 1971. Now, 35 years later, it still stands as a hopeful encouragement for a world that in some ways has gotten worse, and I find it is my theme song for today and, I think, for this Christmas.

Happy Christmas.

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