Photo: Brian A. Taylor Photography. Used with permission.
The weather outside is frightful, so I’m glad to be here in my writing room. I’m also glad that we have central heating this winter. Happiness really is the small things, like not having to wear a hat in the house.
And this reminds me of another story … a story of what the holiday season is really all about. It’s a story of four girls backpacking through Europe. It’s one of my favorites, because I was one of those girls.
Now, I could tell you a lot of dramatic stories about that trip. I could tell you about the time we were (politely) thrown off a train in Pamplona, two weeks after the running of the bulls. I could tell you about how we slept in a public park, how two American soldiers stood guard over us.
But the story I want to tell is a quiet one.
We were riding an overnight train from Spain to Monaco, or Monaco to Italy. (We did this often, to save money.) We were tired – we were backpacking, so we were always tired – but it was one of those nights. A night in which the world is edged in magic, and you want to stay awake and see it all.
Years later, ear-to-ear.
Even so, we knew we needed rest. So my friend Sarah took out her Discman – this was in the days of Discmans! – and put on a Norah Jones CD.
She handed me an earbud, and we listened in one ear each. We had to position ourselves carefully so that the cord would reach across the bunk beds, but we managed it.
An odd configuration, true, but it was utterly peaceful, listening to those lullabies. It was one of those times when – all of the sudden and seemingly out of nowhere – you find yourself thinking, I will remember this for the rest of my life.
I can’t remember much of the magnificent interior of St. Peter’s Basilica, but I can clearly picture that Discman of Sarah’s. It was bright yellow and black, like a bumble bee. That’s memory for you. You can’t reason with it. It just goes ahead remembering what it loves.
Six years after that trip, I fell in love and got married. When I did, I asked my friend Allison to sing “Come Away with Me,” at the wedding. And when she did, I heard everything come together.
I heard that old Discman playing in the past, Allison’s lovely voice resonating in the present, and a promise illuminating the future: Come away with me and I’ll never stop loving you.
Honestly, I think what we want most this time of year is as simple as one friend handing another an earbud, as ancient as making a promise to love. We don’t really want more gifts and events and hassle and running around. We just want to share our best music with one another.
We just want to experience beauty together, to hear a sweet voice telling us that everything will be all right. We just want to fall asleep with the knowledge that – even if we’re apart for much of the year – for this one night, we’re traveling on together.
So that’s what I wish for you this holiday. Not glamor and glitz or everything on your list. Just shared music.
And when the music fades, I wish for you …
the silence at the heart of a holy night.
What are you enjoying about this season?
Share your story in the comments section below!
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