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Christmas Carols and Poop

December 17, 2012

This is probably the only time you will see these words brought together with a conjunction.

But my stress-addled mind for the past few days somehow made me realize that it’s possible.

I’ve always loved this time of the year.  I love the accoutrements of the season:  the smell of pine needles in my house, the aroma of cookies baking at my mom’s, the sight of Christmas trees dressed with shiny glass ornaments, sheltering wrapped gifts.  Bright, colorful lights hung outside on bushes and homes.  Happy cards in the mail from people you haven’t heard from in a while.  And the distinct melody of carols played approximately one month a year.  People all over embrace this ‘most wonderful time of the year’ (to borrow the phrase) for these reasons.

Unfortunately, advertisers and marketing departments have glommed on to this aural truism, beating old chestnuts into abject submission. Invariably, backlash starts, typically with complaints about hearing “Jingle Bells” while still tripping over Halloween candy displays at Walgreens.  “Earlier and earlier every year”, they gripe.  And they’re right.  If it were me, I’d keep every song on pause until the day after Thanksgiving.  But I’m not in marketing.

I do love these songs, though.  Most of my family and friends know this, too.  I am proud of my small but diverse array of Christmas tunes I have on my iPod.  I keep them segregated to their own playlist–not to be accessed until after Turkey Day.  I especially like the religious-themed ones.  “O Come O Come Emanuel”, “Away In A Manger”, “Do You Hear What I Hear?” always make me shiver with memories of singing at Catholic school and mass when I was a boy.  Not that I had a good voice or was a talented vocalist.  I just enjoyed the lyrics, the haunting melodies, the soaring choruses.  Many of the songs were melancholy–sleeping in a dirty stable, not having money for an appropriate gift, getting home for Christmas ‘if only in my dreams’.  I think it was the first time I heard–and felt–the blues.

Sadly, few of us sing Christmas carols outside of church any more.  Do you gather your friends and family around your piano or go wander the snowy streets belting out “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear”?  Probably not.  So when I heard that two writers from the Chicago Tribune organize and host a “concert” of just Christmas carols–and where audience participation is expected, I wanted to be there.

Am I glad I went.  All the musicians on stage were instructors at Chicago’s Old Town School of Folk Music.  So they were not only talented musicians, but wonderful emissaries of such a gorgeous style of music.  Songbooks on each of the auditorium seats made sure all of us would know the verses to “Up On The Housetop” and more.  Some we could sing by heart, too.  Those I liked the best.

And I realized something as I sang with my wife to no one else but everyone in the theater–you never feel stressed when you are singing.

With all of my years of singing in the shower, in the car, at the gym, in my garage band days–wherever–I never noticed this before.

Man, did I need this.

News broke earlier in the day.  Someone had blasted their way into a Connecticut school and senselessly shot 26 people, most of them children.  Kids approximately the age of mine.  All gone.  Countless lives shattered and reeling.  Driving along in my car listening to the news, I felt tears welling up as the horrible brevity of the words sank in.  I felt like I was going to retch.  No more smiles of anticipation for the fun I was going to have with my wife this night.  No more joy at the thought of sharing these sacred, lilting melodies with strangers brought together by the same soulful stirrings.  Just nauseous grief.

And when my brother informed me that the shooter, himself dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound, was surmised to have been someone with Asperger’s Syndrome (a form of autism), it just made it worse.  For you see, my brother’s son–and my Godson–is himself on the autism spectrum.  He has some of these same mannerisms that were used to describe the killers’.  My brother, a wise and passionate advocate for autism awareness and research, posted on his Facebook page a brief plea for patience and understanding of what is a very complicated and likely unconnected coincidence.  Essentially, being diagnosed with Asperger’s does not a killer make.  Autism, either.  Simple as that.

Of course you probably know that my 5 year old son Alex has autism.  We have our struggles, as does he.  Lately, his self-injurious tendencies have increased–without clear explanation.  We’ve been struggling with this.  Medication, therapies, techniques–whatever we can do…anything and everything to extricate him from this rut before it becomes deeper and harder to get out of.

Alex has been having trouble with constipation for over a month now.  This combined with some digestive issues and the fact that he is still not yet potty trained make the discussion of poop omnipresent in our household.  It stinks, literally and figuratively.

I held my nose and wiped his butt again today, a couple of times.  (Laxatives help.)  But as I carried the soiled, pungent diaper to the trash can behind our house once more of a thousand times, I remembered what happened at that elementary school this past Friday.  And I think about all those mothers and fathers of those innocent children, and how they will never get to care for any part of their child’s life any longer–save a funeral and their memory.  Suddenly, this poop didn’t smell so bad.  It was proof that my child was alive.  Regardless his condition, challenges or odor, Alex is alive and with us.  And for that–especially during this blessed, dearest season–I am grateful.

I got to sing one of my all-time favorite songs that night.  It felt so good, so cathartic, a salve for my soul.  My voice low and stronger than I would have thought.  For the second time in the day, tears welled in my eyes.

Holy infant, so tender and mild.

Sleep in heavenly peace.

Sleep in heavenly peace.

One Comment
  1. Thanks, Mary brought this post to my attention. Hope to see you back again.

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