Peace and a Hula Hoop

“The Chipmunk Song” is a tool of peace. Really.

No, I haven’t had too much eggnog. Perhaps I should explain.

For my wife Heather, the Christmas season doesn’t really start until she hears the Chipmunks Christmas album, including the squeaky-voiced perennial about how much Alvin wants a hula hoop. (Are you hearing it in your head now? I’m sorry.) It’s one of two albums that gets played when we decorate our tree each year, along with my own family’s tradition of “John Denver and the Muppets: A Christmas Together.”

But never mind our tree right now. The really important one in the story is G-ma’s.

“G-ma” was Heather’s Grandma Marilyn. Every year, Heather and her siblings and her mom (and often the rest of us spousal hangers-on) would make the short trek to help put up her tree. There’d be stories and ornaments and minor chaos and everything else you’d expect at such an occasion.

And, at Heather’s insistence, there would also be “The Chipmunk Song.” Because one does. And because G-ma’s laughter and smile at it never changed.

Time passed. And so did G-ma.

As I mentioned in an earlier column, we lost Marilyn in July. It left a hole. It always does when love and memories have grown strong. When the memories belong to a loving, strong-willed and lively soul, that hole gets even bigger.

Especially at the holidays.

There’s something about the season of togetherness that makes the empty chair stand out even more. And when December arrived, it felt off-balance without G-ma’s tree.

So Heather’s family put one up anyway.

A small tree. By the graveside. Decorated, of course. And there in the cold, Heather’s sister decided there was still just one thing missing.

At her suggestion, Heather pulled out her phone. And soon, the tinny strains of “The Chipmunk Song” were pealing out once more.  

All was right.

And that, at its heart, is the picture of peace.

We often misuse the word, shouting “give me some peace!” when a situation gets too loud or contentious. Peace becomes a simple end to conflict, by whatever means, a way of restoring quiet and keeping order.

But there’s an older meaning. One that’s still in the backdrop of a hundred Christmas carols. As a friend of mine likes to note, in old Greek the word means an interweaving, the connections between others that create harmony. When those connections are strong, when all is as it should be, peace reigns.

That’s a powerful gift. One we need badly.

We’re good at dividing, great at shouting, not always so good at listening. Peace demands that we listen, learn and try to understand. That we see those around us as our strength, not our burden. It calls on us to reach out, lift up, and make each other whole.

It’s not always a quiet process and rarely a simple one. But when we honor those connections, we make something beautiful. A beginning. A space. Something that binds us all, even if it’s in the tones of a novelty Christmas song.

The hula hoop is just a bonus.

May peace find you all. In all its meanings. Together, we just may be able to evoke, with a slight alteration, another, older song.

All is calm.

All is right.

Binding Chords

When it came time for the nation’s obituaries and tributes to sing out with David Crosby’s story, one note kept getting played again and again.

I don’t mean his role in co-founding two legendary bands. I’m not referring to his often stormy personal life and recovery, his engaging presence on social media, or even his Yosemite Sam mustache. All those got talked about, to be sure, and more besides … but one element kept rising to the top in story after story and quote after quote.  

 “Master of Harmony.”   

“… a harmony singer virtually without equal …”

“… his harmonic sensibilities were nothing short of genius.”

That’s a legacy I can appreciate.

If you’ve checked into this column before, you may have noticed that I tend to carry a torch for life’s supporting players. Like the stage manager who keeps a play moving behind the scenes. Or movie characters like Chewbacca who have to play their intentions with zero dialogue. Or the helpful neighbors who quietly make an entire community work without fanfare.

In each case, they’ve mastered the art of harmony. And these days, it can be a rare gift indeed.

In music, harmony’s a balancing act. You need to support the melody without overwhelming it, to hear and provide the notes that will lift someone else up … or, in some groups, that will lift everyone up together. That’s an art.

Now I don’t want to portray Crosby as some sort of selfless monk. That he decidedly was not. But he had the ability to hear how one plus one could equal so much more than two. And coming from his often chaotic life, that harmony may have been all the more remarkable.

But as I hinted above, the art of harmony doesn’t have to stop with music. You don’t need to be a rock star – or even a folk rock star – to make it work. Just someone who can listen for a need and fill it, without needing to seize the spotlight.

Yeah, “just” that.

The challenge is that we live in a world where everyone’s a lead, or wants to be. Step online and every breath of social media is about promoting your own wants and beliefs. Hit the highway, and you’ll find a dozen cars who need your piece of the lane right NOW. And while it’s certainly important to take care of yourself, it’s easy to get sucked into looking no farther than your own skin. If my life is OK and normal, then that’s what matters, right?

But taking that step back can make all the difference.  Three melodies all going their own way without heed for anyone else is a recipe for discord. But when the same three musicians tune to each other and listen, the results can be more powerful than any one of them could have been alone.

In life or music, harmony doesn’t just help the lead. It helps the entire group.

I hope we all get the opportunity to learn that. After all, if rock-star egos can manage it for however brief a period, surely the rest of us have got a chance at getting it right.

It’s worth trying.

I just hope the mustache is optional.