Muddling Through

Dearest Rachel –

I have to confess that, as I was putting together yesterday’s letter, I was finding it paradoxically more difficult to write and complain about the songs the more I tried to do so. I was getting somewhat self-conscious about the self-pitying tone of my essay the further along I got. Between trying to make an effort to seriously skewer a song that, under any other circumstances, I would actually enjoy, and discovering the fact that Steve Lawrence has been a widower himself for what will be nine Christmases come next week, I came to the conclusion that I was being churlish with my complaints. And yet, I still would insist that none of this nullifies the fact that this Christmas without you is going to be very painful, and some of the music just is going to make it worse if I listen to it too much – even though, in order to complete this series of letters, I’m going to have to seek out such music for the next week or so – a decidedly unpleasant task, considering how surprisingly easy it’s actually been to avoid Christmas music up until now.

But that’s the kind of year it’s been; while so much what I’ve been through has been, by definition, beyond my control, there are some things I’ve put myself through almost deliberately for the point of having material to write to you about. They say you have to suffer for your art; and while I wouldn’t necessarily call this ‘art,’ I’m not about to contest the part about ‘suffering.’

Today’s song, in fact, is worthy of mention if only for the fact that when it was first written, it had to be re-written because the original draft was too depressing. Imagine how much worse it would’ve been had it kept the original lyrics of “Have yourself a merry little Christmas / it may be our last / Next year we may all be living in the past.”

Then again, had it kept that line, it might not have become the classic that it is, and therefore, not worthy of consideration in this or any other letter.

You had a thing for Judy Garland back in the day; I think it was primarily from her role in the Wizard of Oz, but your folks also had that concert album of hers from Carnegie Hall. If fact, you sent “Just You, Just Me” as part of one of those mix tapes we sent back and forth to each other when we were engaged, so your appreciation for her extended far beyond the Emerald City.

The original line also hearkens back to a (relatively) recent episode of Doctor Who; sure, it was a Doctor or two ago now, but considering you’ve watched the show since childhood, that still counts as ‘recent’ for you. Titled ‘Last Christmas’ – apparently as an homage to a song by Wham! from the 80s (funny, I don’t recall that one) – I recall you suddenly realizing that the title in this case didn’t refer to the Christmas from the previous year, but rather, the potentially last – as in final – Christmas. As with so many of the modern episodes, it got you to weeping (and worrying about the headache you would have after your crying jag), even as you explained that it was more due to dealing with the ongoing ordeal with your parents as they began to fail; the sight of the Doctor’s erstwhile companion Clara as an old woman – if but briefly – caused you to think of your own mother’s situation, and how each Christmas could indeed be the last one with her.

And to think, it never crossed our minds that last Christmas would be our last Christmas…

In any event, even Judy couldn’t sing the lines as originally written. She actually told the songwriter, “I’ll make Margaret [O’Brian, her co-star playing her little sister] cry, and I’ll look like a monster!” Ultimately the songwriter gave in, and it’s probably for the best. Although, to be sure, those original lines fit our current situation all too well. Still, it’s not something that people generally want to think about, especially at such a festive time as Christmas. There are quite enough reasons to be depressed in midwinter – we don’t need to add more deliberately.

Speaking of adding or changing things, though… you might recall that at least one line isn’t the one we’re familiar with anymore. It was Frank Sinatra who recorded the definitive version of this song using the line ‘hang a shining star upon the highest bough,’ rather than the more appropriate (for the movie plot, and I’d say for our own circumstances) ‘until then, we’ll have to muddle through somehow.’ This year has been one of having to do a lot of muddling through, and I expect it will be the same for at least another couple of years yet to come. I’m not looking forward to it, but things are what they are, and it’s the only way I can get through it.

This is a song that we sing as part of the closing of every Christmas Eve service at our church these days. Sometimes, we in the production team get called forward to join the praise team on this on stage – along with our families, as I’m sure you remember. I’m hoping that won’t be the case this year – and not just because I’m running the slides with the words on them. I really don’t feel like being up there with one hand empty.

You were, after all, that most faithful friend who is dear to me, but no longer near to me anymore.

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I am Rachel's husband. Was. I'm still trying to deal with it. I probably always will be.

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