“Silver Bells” by Anne Murray

Today, my alarm went off, and the first thing I heard was the radio announcer reporting that Philadelphia was ranked the nation’s third dirtiest city. And it just made me sad. Another list focused on negativity. Another bad mark against my hometown’s name.

It was an ironic literal wake-up call that once again caused me to doubt myself. Just yesterday, I was thinking how special and spectacular it is to be from, work in, and live near a large city, particularly at the holidays. So many decorations in windows. Special events continually at one’s disposal. The constant hustle and rush of people.

I had met my stepdaughter for lunch. She is living at college nearby, taking the subway back and forth to school, starting to branch out and learn the city. I admit to enjoying being her gazetteer–explaining how to get around, the location of different landmarks, what to do if you go the wrong way. If you are from the city, navigating is something you simply learn by osmosis. Teaching it to someone else is a little harder, but I welcome the challenge.

We had a lovely time. She has wrapped up another semester of school, and we talked about the summer and the next few years to come. Being with her at this time in her life makes me feel happy and vicariously eager, and I admit to wanting to hang around her and absorb her projected positive energy. At 20, she radiates health, youth, and beauty. I look at her and wonder how the time from when I myself was 20 vanished so quickly.

When we were done, I walked her back to the subway station and then treked back to my office, about a mile away. It was well past lunch time, but the city was more alive than usual. Crowds were streaming from stores. People had their arms filled with packages. Outside of almost every restaurant, patrons saying farewell to one another were embracing, wishing each other happy holidays, and vowing to “do this more often” in the new year. And the song that popped into my mind as I moved in the midst of this was “Silver Bells.”

I chose Anne Murray’s rendition of today’s song, because her voice instantly brings me back to the late 1970s/early 1980s, when I was growing up in South Philly. There my character and experience were molded by and shaped within an urban environment that, just like any other place, had negatives and positives. For good and for bad, it helped make me who I am.

I didn’t hear any silver bells yesterday. No Santa stood on a street corner collecting for the Salvation Army. And yes, there was also a ton of traffic, drivers honking and getting impatient, pollution, litter, and all the other things that can make a city challenging and difficult to tolerate.

But it’s what I know and love. And it’s exciting to watch my children, one of whom is almost an adult like me, coming to know and love it, too.


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