What You Make of It

December 21st, 2020

My wife, She Who Must Be Taunted, is not a sentimental woman. This is a fact that I, with a heart as soft as cotton, find almost completely mysterious, but contrasts are what make the world turn, so there. However, there are some things for which my wife is a bit of a sucker, and one of them is Christmas. Not in a “flood the house with tinsel” sort of way, but in that New England way that’s quiet as snow but just as imposing.

We don’t have a tree, usually. I’m a heathen, and SWMBT frequently can’t rouse herself to bother, although she tends to miss it when it’s not there. One year, we were cleaning up the yard and removed a small pine, about two feet tall, which had been growing next to the fence, and that was our tree, or actually half a tree, because it had branches only on one side. It’s that sad, haphazard, “Charlie Brown Christmas” sort of attitude that has dominated our household, in spite of the tiny whisper for celebration, over there in the corner.

So this year, on a whim, SWMBT went out and bought a tiny plastic tabletop tree at Target, and some tiny lights at Michael’s, and set up this little battery-powered tree in our living room. And, of course, she has no miniature tree ornaments, except one small one, so, in the spirit of the holiday and because I am the greatest husband in the world, I made her one, a little felt heart with one of our mutual terms of endearment inscribed on it. And yes, I got my husband points for the week and probably most of the winter (SWMBT is quite generous with the husband points), but that’s not really the point of the story.

This little felt heart means something. It was just bits of felt and glue, twenty-four hours ago, and now it means something. We humans can do that, amazingly enough. We can take these things which, by themselves, have little or no significance, and make something that can break, or heal, a heart, or even save a life: words on a page, lyrics in a song, paint on a canvas. Sometimes it’s made out of literally nothing except our brains, and yet it moves us.

This is the wonder of art. It astonishes me, quietly, every time I write a song, even though my songs are not frequently meant to move anyone to anything except giggling. When I play a song, here in my home, and the final note rings out, and I return to Earth from whatever planet I had been visiting, something vanishes. I made something, there, just for three and a half minutes, and now it’s gone. And I can get it back anytime I pick up my guitar.

A friend wrote me recently, wondering whether he’d fallen off my mailing list, because he hadn’t received a Low Notes in several months. Sadly, this is because I haven’t sent one. This horrible year has sapped my initiative. Yet in this horrible year – this year where everyone’s comfort level is a needle on a gauge that passes judgment on their neighbors, this year when our government has failed us in profound and inexcusable ways, this year where we’ve lost 100 times as many people as we did in 9/11, and where untold millions more have suffered losses, financial and personal, from which they may never recover – in this horrible year, there is still art. There are still these things that we create out of whole cloth. Every story, every book, every painting, every song is a miracle.

Blessings to you all. May the next year bring better things, and make us better people. Kiss your partner. Read a book. Play a song. And pray for our better natures.

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