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.

Invitation to the Dance

Written Dec. 14, 2019

Missy seemed to be made out of rubber. Up and down, up and down she bounced in her seat, too excited to stay still as the ballerinas danced her favorite – “The Nutcracker.”

“Da’y, look!” she told me as the music swelled. Her head swiveled, now watching the action, now smiling at me, now looking around at the audience to make sure they were appreciating it before returning to the dancers again.

For those who know Missy, this isn’t unusual. On her own, she can watch the world go by silently for hours on end. But in an audience, in front of a show she likes, the Quietest Extrovert In the Universe finds her power. She becomes restless, eager, involved, full of energy. It’s not the usual “seat etiquette,” though we’ve mostly had understanding neighbors over the years.

But today, there was no worry. Today, every neighbor was in the same position.

Some called out in appreciation – or just called out. One or two stood up briefly to dance themselves, carried away by the music. It wasn’t rock-concert wild, but it wasn’t concert-hall silent either. And it was wonderful.

It tends to be, at the “Gentle Nutcracker.”

If you’re not familiar with the annual show, the Gentle Nutcracker is designed to be “sensory friendly”  for those whose disabilities might otherwise get overwhelmed by the lights, sounds, and intensity of a full production. The house lights remain on at a low level.  The show is shortened. A number of seats remain unsold so that there’s room to move around if needed, and there’s a quiet room for moments when even the reduced stimulus becomes too much for someone.

Most of all, more than anything perhaps, there’s understanding.  From the performers. From the staff. From the other audience members. For anyone who’s ever had to worry about being “that family” at a show, that’s huge.

In fact, it’s one of the best examples of holiday peace that I can think of.

“Peace” may sound like a strange word to describe a concert where there may be involuntary words or movements at any moment. And it is a strange word if by peace, you mean everyone knowing their place and staying quietly in it, like figures in a Christmas pageant.

But there’s more to peace than that.

An author friend of mine, Stant Litore, likes to point out how the meaning of the word changes as it goes from language to language. In Latin, peace implies simply the absence of violence or disturbance. In Greek, it implies a weaving together of a community, individual strands forming a greater tapestry . In Hebrew, it implies a restoration, with everything made whole and brought back to where it was meant to be.

Moments like this create a peace in that larger sense. There may be a little bit of ruckus. It may not be silent rows in perfect order. But it’s a community reaching out to each other, seeing the needs that are there, and helping everyone to be a part. Helping a family to live as any family would, even if they don’t do as every family does. Sharing gifts so that all can be part of the whole.

That is peace.

There’s a song that captures it well. “Let There Be Peace on Earth” gets a lot of circulation this time of year. The opening lines conjure not meditative silence, but a reaching out: “Let me walk with my brother, in perfect harmony.”

That’s a gift. One of the greatest there is.

May peace be with you all this season. Whatever that may look like. For us, we’ll be limbering up a little.

The ballet may be over. But our dance has a lot of music left.  And Missy’s just bouncing to get the next round underway.