until then.

Every year I think I have a favorite Christmas song, and then every year it changes.

It’s not that the music changes, these songs come and go on the radio each November and December, pulsating through shopping malls and city parks. They craft an idealistic perfection for us to step into, like a picture-print by Courier and Ives. Gooey strings and warm voices float over us, just like the food and beverages ease through our bodies.

If it’s not the music that changes, it has to be us that change. We enter each holiday a different person than we were a year before. We are hopefully smarter, richer, more thoughtful, and of course, happier than we were 365 days prior. I have entered this holiday season filled with a very different slate of emotions. I have endured the biggest transition of my life, going from Midwesterner with a desk job to Texan with hundreds of children chasing me around all day. I love what I do, I’m thankful for each moment and every child I teach. The only problem has been balance, learning how to still be myself in the evenings and weekends, doing the things that make me the person I enjoy being. I knew this transition would take time, and it turns out it is going to take more time than I originally anticipated. In two weeks it will be Christmas, and as I look at my life in many ways I’m still living out of cardboard boxes. I’m still shuffling furniture, trying to discover the perfect spot for my nightstand. I still haven’t found a cup of morning coffee that quite suits my needs like ones in previous towns. I arise every morning optimistically hoping for something concrete, feeling like I’m on the cusp of a truly profound definition in my life. When I crawl into bed, searching for a nightstand that is in the wrong spot, I know that I’m not there yet. I still can’t help but be thankful though, even in months of uncertainty, adjustment, and growth. I still live a truly blessed life.

Before I said that the music doesn’t change. There is one song that has changed over the years, and I frankly think it was better off in its original version. Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas was originally composed for the 1944 musical film “Meet me in Saint Louis”. The original context of the song was that the father of the family has taken a new job in New York, and the family will soon have to pack up and move there, leaving friends, loves, and most devastatingly, the 1904 World’s Fair. Esther, portrayed by Judy Garland, was originally supposed to sing:

Have yourself a Merry Little Christmas, it may be your last,

Next year we will all be living in the past.

I certainly agree, this may have been too depressing, even for a song that was supposed to be sad. Hugh Martin reluctantly changed all of the lyrics, except one, which he insisted on leaving. The line that many of us now know as “Hang a shining star upon the highest bough” was originally supposed to be “Until then we’ll have to muddle through somehow”. This change was not made until 1957, when Frank Sinatra begged Martin to change the lyric for his Christmas album.

As much stock as I put in the Church of Frank Sinatra, this to me was the most poignant lyric, the moment in the song that uses all of that anxiety and worry to really make a statement about the human condition. Look at the lyrics before the changed line:

Some day soon we all will be together, if the fates allow.

First of all, hanging an ornament on a high tree branch hardly seems like the kind of thing one would want to do after realizing that there is a certain lack of togetherness. The line is hopeful and cautiously optimistic, knowing that all decisions must be run through the coffee filter that is fate. Instead, pair the two original lines together:

Some day soon we all will be together, if the fates allow.

Until then we’ll have to muddle through somehow.

This is what makes this song so incredible; that the emotion, the action, the feeling of “muddling” can be so beautiful. Very few of us have it all together, those random, always changing components to our lives that we require to be happy. It is only when fate allows us to be synchronized in a worldly harmony that we do truly all get to be together. This song is not about joy, it is about prospective joy. Prospective joy is even more beautiful than the real thing, because it lives in our hearts, minds, and imaginations. So much of Christmas lives in these places, locations where nothing, not even reality, can take it away. I am incomplete, flawed, a true work in progress. But I know that some day soon my world will come together, if the fates allow. Until then, I’ll have to muddle through somehow. Regardless of this, I am going to be thankful, and do my best to have a merry little Christmas now.

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2 responses to “until then.

  1. This is not only my favorite Christmas song, but David INSISTS on singing the original original version whenever it comes on the radio (mainly because we love that musical)

  2. Very nice post, Nathan. (I didn’t even realize you had a blog until today!) I hope you know that some Milwaukeeans are wishing you a very merry Christmas – and hoping we have a chance to see you again in the not-too-distant future. Until then…

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