Tag Archive: nostalgia


The pollen of elms troubles my eyes

Tears,
How mine eyes
Tear and weep.

Is it the pollen of elms?
New Haven’s eponymous trees?
The elms are back from weakness, disease.
I return from there, too.

We gather,
Sit beneath the great
Barrel vaults. The
Florid rood floats, almost,
Overhead.
Faces in faux-ancient
Glass gaze down.
“Do we remember you?”
Their stares draw my
Gaze to them, to the
Western light, the
Vesper glow.

What tears! Is it the
Pollen of elms, or the
Bright sun, which
Makes me weep?
Such distorted vision—
Prismatic view!

Whom do I see?
Friends long since departed,
To both other places and planes.
The bat boy flitters nude across the parlor,
The chunky one flounces before the tube,
Taunting the weird, bearded one.
Beets pour forth,
An endless sea of beets.
And the fragrant, baked egg yolks.
The lazy man naps in the dining room niche.
Jolly rings.
The first real love approaches—
What fear!
Funky, chunky,
crazy, annoying,
Krauts, Canucks,
Tiger Lily,
Beer me!
Leona Helmsley lives again.
Miner, Murray,
Lara, Lackstrom.
Faces pass in eye mist:
Newberry, Dwight, Marquand—
Pipes by the thousands.
Velut maris stella!

Two Dots… then a dash?
No, stay!
I cannot.
I must go
To grow.

I have gone.
Are you still there?
Yes. No.

When I close my weeping eyes,
I see you.

I open my eyes,
And you are there
In the tears.
“There we sat down,
Yea, we wept.
How shall we sing the LORD’s song in a strange land?”

I am back!
You are here…
You are gone.
Your face, your smile,
Your voice.
We meet, embrace,
Reminisce.

Friendly faces
Peer from the windows I pass.
Again, I return,
Must go.
All my godsons,
How they’ve grown!
And my Mentor
Prepares for a final
Dismissal.

I can’t see.
My nose drips.
Images and memories
The allergens,
But not the irritant:
It is the absence,
The distance.

I hear “Singet”
And remember when
I last sang
Truly well.
Under the elms.

I am here again—
Hello!
Must I say good-bye?

A score of years
Since I arrived,
Yet even after so many away,
It is still a reuniting
To return.

Could I have left
My heart in New Haven?
Hardly, you say,
Skeptical.
And yet,
Why this weeping
When I return?

Is it only the
Myopia of age and
Nostalgia that makes me see only
Your warm smile?
Has the cheek sunken?
The hair thinned?
The waist grown?

Or are you still the
Rough Beauty
I came to love?

Wipe the tears,
And let me see
You, in the
Vesper Light
Filtered through the saints,
And the elms.

Advertisements

Christmas—Held Over!

Seasons Greetings from Edgewater, 24 January

Seasons Greetings from Edgewater, 24 January

This has been an odd Christmastide for me. Odd even that I am still thinking of it in the present tense. I was late to decorate for Christmas, and even later to feel like I had slipped into the “Christmas Groove”. I followed the set-up of the holiday train diorama in the lobby of our Thanksgiving hotel with frequent check-ins, yet baked not a single Christmas cookie.

Christmas at home, once I finally got there late Christmas night, was as festive and enjoyable as ever. I fell into the Groove immediately. It snowed, I skied. We cooked, I ate. Family gathered, I mingled. Gifts appeared, I unwrapped. Corks popped, I drank. Lights twinkled, I gazed.

Snow drifted, I stayed an extra day. Readily.

When my partner and I went our separate ways at the end of Christmas time in snowy, bucolic Hamilton, neither of us wanted to see the celebrations end. When I reached Chicago on the 4th of January, I still had two days left to celebrate. I squeezed in Christmas shows and movies, CDs and stories.

Epiphany (January 6) came, and I hadn’t had my Christmas fill, so I left the decorations up. The Christmas tree hadn’t lost any needles, so I gave it another week. I continued shopping the post-holiday sales for Christmas decorations with particular verve. My Lego® Holiday Bakery is still on the sideboard.

We have a family fondness for Sesame Street, and we usually watch the 1978 special “Christmas Eve on Sesame Street” when we’re together. This year, the show’s signature song, “Keep Christmas with you” has become like a battle cry for some of us. It says,

“Keep Christmas with you All through the year, When Christmas is over, You can keep it near. Think of this Christmas day When Christmas is far away.

“Keep Christmas with you All through the year, When Christmas is over, Save some Christmas cheer. These precious moments, Hold them very dear And keep Christmas with you All through the year.

“Christmas means the spirit of giving Peace and joy to you, The goodness of loving, The gladness of living; These are Christmas too.”

It’s the 24th of January, and I’m watching “The Bishop’s Wife”! What is happening to me this year? As Christmas comes round every year, I think I enjoy our homecoming, my family home, and my hometown more and more. It is tinged with nostalgia, but also revived and refreshed with new tastes and experiences.

I wrote the following article for the weekly newsletter of the church where I work as Director of Music. (If you’re in Chicago, I hope you’ll come visit us <www.sp-r.org>.) As a church worker, I have a multi-layered—some may say ‘complex’—relationship with Christmas. Perhaps reading this now will help *you* “keep Christmas with you” for at least a little longer this year.

“Christmas is the Church’s ‘Try to Remember’ Holiday”

Merry Christmas. Except for the two years when I had flu (maybe even then), I’ve been blessed with Merry Christmases. Fun, food, family, friends, snow for skiing and sledding, games, movies, singing, wonderful worship… I love Christmastide! More than any other holiday I celebrate, Christmas is a smörgåsbord of experiences, origins and meanings. Complex, like me.

While at Choir Camp last summer, an hour from New Haven, where I spent nine of the most wonderful, friend-filled years of my life, I sat in on a colleague’s boy-choir rehearsal. They rehearsed “Try to Remember” from The Fantasticks for a concert. Listening to my godson, his younger brother, and their fellow choir members sing this simple tune, I began to cry. I felt deeply how much things have changed in my life.

The irony wasn’t lost on me, however, that the singers were all preteens, some as young as eight. What could they possibly be nostalgic for? Christmas, maybe.

Christmas nostalgia is often born at a tender age, when one discovers that all is not as it had seemed earlier. Through the years, the revelations keep coming, as one’s view of life and loved ones becomes more nuanced. Relatives die, friends and family move away, new ones arrive. Sibling rivalry, aging parents, challenging children, irksome in-laws. Who wouldn’t be nostalgic for earlier, simpler Christmases? “Try to remember…”

When I began my work as a church musician during graduate school, I had to miss Christmas Eve and Christmas Day family gatherings to play for services. Those first few years, I decided to divorce my new Christmas routine from my memories and old expectations. It was time to “remember the reason for the season”, and respect Christmas as the religious holiday it was meant to be.

The Vulcan treatment worked for a while, and helped to ease the grief that came when one of my grandparents died shortly before Christmas each of the first two years. As the years passed, though, nostalgia trampled my holiday compartmentalization. Ah, Ye Happy Olde Tymes!

Church plays a complex role in the Christmas drama. The trappings of Christmas liturgies are intimacy, warmth, beauty, and—yes—nostalgia, but the message of Christmas is forward-looking. Who else gets myrrh (for embalming) as a baby gift? The crèche is only a brief stopping place for Jesus. Before the nursery is painted, the Holy Family is off to Egypt, fleeing for their lives.

My mother cries when she sings Christmas carols, perhaps because they evoke some latent nostalgia. We want children to be adorable in pageants so we can wax wistful about how precious and fleeting these moments are. Church traditions—the same six hymns year after year; “Silent Night” on our knees, the lights dimmed—connect us to our tribe and our memories.

There is no harm, and much joy, in these moments. We should celebrate them. The Church’s Christmas commemoration, however, is not simply for cooing over cute children or luxuriating in intimacy and beauty. It is, instead, to show the great power of humility and the bottomless well of God’s love for humanity. Through the incarnation, God helps us frail humans to see and understand Godself more fully, and to chart our path to care for the world, and gain our salvation, by following Jesus’ example. Christmas is only the prologue, the flash that fixes our gaze. God knew we humans are suckers for a cute baby, having evolved that way so we wouldn’t get distracted and walk off and leave little Norbert to be eaten by pterodactyls.

But followers of the story, like singers of the hymn “Once in royal David’s city”, may get distracted before they get to the point. We are entranced by the nostalgia and homeyness of the manger, but in the second half (as we sing it from The Hymnal 1982), the message comes forth:

“For he is our lifelong pattern; daily, when on earth he grew, he was tempted, scorned, rejected, tears and smiles like us he knew. Thus he feels for all our sadness, and he shares in all our gladness.

“And our eyes at last shall see him, through his own redeeming love, for that child so dear and gentle is our Lord in heav’n above, and he leads his children on to the place where he is gone.

“Not in that poor lowly stable, with the oxen standing round, we shall see him; but in heaven, set at God’s right hand on high; where his saints his throne surround: Christ, revealed to faithful eye, set at God’s right hand on high.”

As you gather your beloved around your own hearth and memories, as you tell the story and sing the old Christmas hymns, listen for the message that goes beyond the wonder of God’s arrival in infant form, and be transformed, so you will be ready to transform the world. Merry Christmas. May it be ever so!