I remember Christmastime. I recall "Gloria in Excelsis Deo," singing that chorus from the top of my uniformed lungs. I went to Catholic school and had devout parents. When I wrote my first poem, it was about Midnight Mass. Imagine, all the hopes of the world, pinned to a child. Imagine the stillness and the wet breathing of beasts mingling with that of visiting kings. Imagine the mother's first sunrise and the softness of suckling. Imagine I did.
I'm not what one would call much of a religious person anymore. I study what I can and I'll attend any service. I love the earthy sounds of Hebrew and the lilting script of Arabic. I love the Menonites singing in the subway three weeks ago, the women wearing bonnets and the men looking humble. I am thrilled that the east village still houses the chanting Hare Krishnas. It is comforting to me every time I hear any type of ringing bell or call to prayer. Some sounds resonate more with my personal history of who I am and how I was brought up, but in all of these sounds there is a gentle pull of my spirit towards something.
I give people credit for faith and for keeping up the rules. I like their sense of identity. It's nice to see people acting as a group. I also give people credit for all of the small things they follow alone, the personal ways they express these principles through deed or action. I remember being in Bali and hearing a woman sing as I walked in a tucked away village. This hidden voice, she was somewhere in a house or in a garden, singing something traditional. I stood stock still for the moments I had, just me in the narrow lane. The words were in Sanskrit, their literal message as obscured as the singer. It didn't take a genius or a translator to recognize her subject was holy. The sun was angling high and she was in the shadows. Incense was rising from somewhere and a dog was barking in the near distance. She moved her tongue and shaped her lips to form this moment where I was accidental but she, was witness.
Glory to God in the highest, I remember singing in Latin. The joy of the words that were older than me or English. In fact, those old words constructed themselves and me as a mutual type of relationship. I kept the words alive and the words added to the experience of my life. It's like we needed each other to give each other form. So it goes with the magic of songs. I am playing two games with myself now that the holidays are here. They are my means for engagement and the fodder for my process.
I am looking at the clothes of people and reading all of their jackets, their hats and their bags. I am reading "Corporate Sports" on the back of an anorak. I string the words and make little poems of them. The second game I'm playing is rather complementary. I listen to the music wherever I go and no matter how hard I ache for its dismissal, I allow it to flow. I listen at the pharmacy or at the grocery. I am paying attention. It's important to hear the words, to imagine the world I live in now and to compare it to the world I lived in as a child. I'll have a good chance to do well at my games, I'm selling wares to tourists at the local Holiday Market. It's not much of a job but it's social and it pays. In between the rush, there is the lull. There are speakers somewhere and chances are soon I'll be able to pick out the patterns of who and which song will come next. One of the other workers will probably squeal about loving this song or having had enough of that one. It will be fun and new and it will allow me more time to listen to what I'm living while I sell eco-toys.
This time of year nostalgia creeps in. It carries us to places of childhood and wonder. As an adult there is a sense of sobriety to the holidays, especially now, especially with Christmas. The stage is set so we'll spend. The stage is set so we'll not notice that our traditions are mostly changed and that those we've retained are largely a matter of commerce. Commercializing Christmas was something everyone did together. It was nice that way, it was superficially inclusive and deeply affecting at times. It was no more silent night and much more let it snow. It was rocking around the tree and so on and so forth. What's awkward about this moment is what makes it full of potential. The weather by your house is probably no more stable than the weather here. You're probably no more sure about the cost of wrapping paper as you are about its manufacture. Maybe you're thinking of what you can afford and how can you make it seem like more.
I'm not supporting a return to some bygone era. I think it's clear that I'm not saying keep the Christ in Christmas either. That's not my concern. What I'm saying is that each of us needs to do a little personal reflection, to hear what we say to one another and to look at our clothes. We need to pay attention to the names on our coffee cups and to listen to our voices as we speak and repeat what comes over the airwaves and in the ether. Each word we say is part of a much bigger song. That song existed before Jesus, it existed before Buddha or Moses or Mohammed. It existed in languages lost and wafting. It's the song of recollection, of truly listening and hearing that can free us from nostalgia because this song is the song of all life continuing forward. I hope that any song we sang as children will come to us again. Maybe the time is now. We'll go back to openness and make our eyes wide with wonder. And if we practice enough, wonder might once again, become part of us.
I know my memories are only mine. Only I know the feeling of the dark blue tights and the wool sweaters as I gathered myself for school in the dark. Only I can hear my mother rushing to make lunch, still groggy from her job, handing me the music I'd need for choir. We placed it together inside the folder. Only I know how I felt then and even I know that I only remember parts. I only have me and no clear map on how to reach you. The only thing I know is that people really appreciate the effort more than the result. So, in times of doubt, I offer a song sung in actions and not just in words. Each song begins with the opening of the mouth. Process begins with urge.
Glory to life and to the world of Walt Whitman. Glory to hope and to children. Glory to signs and to branding. Glory to all that was and all that is beginning. Glory to tourists with plastic and families. Glory to amnesia and to memory. Glory to Corporate Sports and glory to beasts of burden . And at the end of the day and all through every night, all glory to the sounds of life.