Reflecting on Autumn

On the Fall Equinox, I shared some of the things I was most looking forward to this season: hot chocolate, bonfires, holidays, NaNo, crisp skies, candles, chili, peace on Earth and goodwill toward one another.

Well, things haven’t really gone that way. This autumn was dominated by:
-the election of Trump;
-the bombardment of Aleppo;
-the stand against the North Dakota Pipeline;
-a bout of mild depression;
-a lack of enthusiasm about my NaNo project, catching up with friends, cleaning, cooking, or almost anything (see “depression”);
-a vicious cold that sequestered me in bed for 3 straight days and a string of migraines; 
-over 70 days without rain, necessitating a burn ban (no bonfires) and shriveling leaves, making them drop sooner;
-wildfires that destroyed thousands of acres and hundreds of homes, killed countless animals and half a dozen people, and clogged the sky with smoke;
-very warm weather marked by cold fronts that dropped the temperature by 20-40 degrees in a single day;
-porch renovations I’m excited about but that make the backyard look and smell like a construction site;
-the dog’s thievery and shedding, which have made me unwilling to crochet.

As a result, I haven’t spent my time in the ways I expected. I can’t fully explained why the election bottomed out my personal motivation or if that mild bout of depression was a coincidence. But my autumn has largely consisted of reading, donating money, writing letters to my congressmen, calling those congressmen, signing petitions, debriefing with friends, and creating talking points in case an argument breaks out at a family gathering. I’ve been inside more than normal, from smoke to construction to illness. I’ve had almost no motivation to publish, even as a long-term goal. I’ve struggled to pray. I traveled every weekend of November and most of them in December, only attending church twice.

For comfort, I started listening to Christmas music two days before the election and started watching Christmas movies one day before (which was also my birthday). I mostly listened to unusual holiday songs so that, when I grew tired of them, I could move to the more traditional songs and carols. With 4 days left, I’m still happily singing along in the car.

I didn’t finish decorating until the 15th because of low energy, but I did almost all my Christmas shopping online for the same reason, so I was done earlier than ever, with ten days left until Christmas. (Though so far I’ve only wrapped the dog’s present.) 

I’ve seen my family much more often than usual, which is a definite bonus. My parents bought me a new laptop I’ve yet to transfer my files to and assembled new bookshelves for me, opening a host of new organization possibilities. I took a fantastic vacation in October with my best friend and read some excellent books.

I am still deeply afraid of what will happen next month, next year, and the years to come. I know that, being pretty neurotypical and very privileged, I have hardly suffered. But on this, the shortest day of 2016, I am hoping this is the turning point for more light and better health. This is my wish and prayer for the world, as well as for myself.

My Favorite Mostly-Christmas Songs

I’ve been listening to Christmas and holiday music since November 7 (two guesses why). I started slowly but now I’m listening to little else, so I thought I’d list a few favorites and why I like them. In no particular order:

O Come, O Come Emmanuel—Points to Enya for bringing tears to my eyes every time I hear her version. Double points for an artist/singer/musician friend whose version also brings me to tears. This song is largely responsible for my love of the word “Immanual” (my favorite spelling).

Chiron Beta Prime — This song is special to me because the person who recommended it to me was a bit tortured. He was also a devoted follower of Christ, so when he recommended his favorite Christmas song, I was expecting something just a step sideways from traditional, but something with overt Christian themes, perhaps a re-imagined hymn, perhaps a bit of a downer. Instead, I found an upbeat song shielding a dangerous situation, a sci-fi story full of clever puns and tongue-and-cheek humor. Sometimes we use humor to reach out for help, to subvert expectations, to slip a message to a trusted friend. With everything I know about my friend, this makes a lot of sense, and when I hear the song, I remember him. This year, though, it’s a little hard for me to listen to.

Breath of Heaven — I relate to this song year-round and go to it often when I am struggling spiritually. I pray its words. I close my eyes and let my spirit stretch out toward God, reaching, singing, praying, seeking. I listen to it again and again. Furthermore, I relate to stories, and the honesty with which this one imagines Mary’s feelings and fears and uncertainties impresses upon me that Christ’s birth occurred amongst real people, with lives as complex and emotions as strong as yours or mine.

I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day — I knew the song before I found the poem that forms the lyrics in my mother’s poetry anthology. I love the structure, the progression of a person’s feelings, and as I age I increasingly relate to a narrator who wants, more than anything, for the promise of “Peace on Earth” to finally come true. The carol ends with hope without diminishing the despair possible when the world’s human inhabitants persist in abusing, torturing, neglecting, frightening, killing, and ignoring one another.

Silent Night — I learned to sign the first verse of this carol when I was no more than twelve, after taking an ASL class with my parents at my church. My signing is stilted and incredibly limited, but like studying any language, what you learn expands your understanding of the world. Furthermore, I love to encounter this song in the privacy of my home or the darkness of a theater or worship event when I can express my worship through the physical movements of signing, essentially singing the song in two languages at once. And I sometimes find my mouth closed up, as I sing through my body alone.

Oh Little Town of Bethlehem — Simple, classic, slow, beautiful. Reminiscent of a still, dark night pregnant with promise. The song reminds me of Christmas Eve when I was a child, of the giddy excitement of traveling through the darkness to my grandparents’ house, laying sideways in the seat and staring up at the stars, wondering which one led the wise men to Jesus and hoping for a shooting star to wish on or the glimpse of a dark shadow with a pinprick of red light.

We Three Kings — I’m going to be ornery for a moment and point out that the wise men probably didn’t arrive until Jesus was two, just before the family fled to Egypt to avoid Herod’s murder of all the boys in Bethlehem near Jesus’ age range. Also, there were three gifts and at least two but probably many more wise men. Which contributes to my personal tradition of the nativity set’s wise men traveling through the room during Advent, shelf to shelf and across the mantle, arriving at the rest of the nativity set a few days after Christmas. *clears throat* Now, then, this song resonates with me as a journey story. We are searching in our lives and what we’re searching for often changes. But for Christ-followers, the overall journey of our lives is toward Christ, toward God, toward perfection and light and hope and beauty. We endure varied and strange landscapes, asking questions, holding on to the purpose and worthiness of the journey even when we have no idea how much longer we’ll have to be traveling.

White Winter Hymnal — I find patterns and repetition comforting. If you’ve heard this song, you already know why I like it. If I measure my breath carefully as I sing along with Kirstie of Pentatonix, I can almost just manage to hold out until she takes a breath before the last of nine repetitions of the first line. But I also love that the song is vague and a little weird. It refers to a single moment, the description is open to interpretation, and so the song feels more like a poem than a carol, reminding me to notice. Whether or not I understand what I’m seeing, I should notice as I move through my fellow humans: the color of a scarf, the way a child is bundled against the cold, the feeling in my stomach as my foot slips on ice. (According to my roommate, the song refers to goats in scarves, which is also kind of wonderful.)

Honorable mentions:
Mary, Did You Know? — performed by Pentatonix
Snow in California — Ariana Grande
Feels Like Christmas — Straight No Chaser
Winter Song — Sara Bareilles, Ingrid Michaelson
Ding Dong Merrily On High — performed by the Lowcountry Children’s Chorus (which I was a member of as a child)
Christmas Canon — Trans-Siberian Orchestra