Posts Tagged ‘personal growth’

“Hark the Herald Angels Sing/Auld Lang Syne” by The Cast of IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE

December 25, 2012

OK, I know it’s technically not a Christmas record, and definitely not something you’ll hear on radio stations, etc. But no carols sung under other circumstances have affected me, and millions of others, more deeply than the songs at the end of It’s a Wonderful Life. It will always be one of my favorite films, and its message of connection, of mattering to one another no matter how materially successful we may or may not be, of each of us touching so many others for the good without even realizing it, will never cease to move me. And to help me when times are tough.

On this joyous day, I want to wish all of you the most blessed and wonderful Christmas. I want to thank everyone who read this blog, even once, for taking time from your busy lives to do so. If my writing has touched you positively, even in the slightest, I am happy to know that. It has been fun and cathartic to externalize feelings and share different songs and ideas I have associated with them for this holiday season, 2012.

And so I bring The Yule Blog to its close with a sincere hope that all of us will enjoy all and only good things in 2013.

“No one is a failure who has friends.”

God bless us, everyone.”



“Believe” by Josh Groban

December 24, 2012

My husband has always been a considerate giver of gifts. For special occasions, he tries to find things no one else would have imagined to give. Even during the course of “regular life,” I’ll sometimes come home from work to find a book he thought I might like, or a television show recorded that he thought I would want to watch, or a tee-shirt purchased because it reminded him of me. He does the same thing for our children. This aspect of his personality is not reserved just for family. I have seen him time and again go the extra mile to be thoughtful to friends, colleagues, and students. Living with him, I have tried to become more conscious of how important little outward demonstrations can mean to others. I don’t come close to approaching my husband’s natural ease and generosity. But he has made me aware of how much it can mean to know that another person is thinking of you, even for no reason at all.

Last Christmas, my husband gave me a little wooden box with a bird painted on the front. On top were the words “Believe in yourself.” And on the back he had written “I do.” At the time, I thought the gift was cute, but didn’t pay it a lot of attention. I put it on a shelf in my room. Over the course of the past year, I have found myself drawn to that little painting, and it has grown to become one of my most beloved articles. Every time I look at it, I think of my kind husband, my best friend, who has never failed to encourage me, especially during some of the hardest times I had in past years.

We have been together for more than 18 years, married now more than 12 of them. There have been times when it has seemed like we barely know who each other is. And then there have been other times when it has been glaringly obvious that we know each other all too well. But most of the time, our relationship rests on the foundation enjoyed by two people who understand each other with a unique closeness, respect each other with special esteem, love each other with integrity and honesty. Every day, I try to be thankful for that gift. Admittedly, sometimes I neglect to remember and appreciate. I like to think I make up for it other times by wondering why I have been so fortunate to meet and spend my life with him.

My husband has always proven he believes in me. He stood by me when I didn’t think I was smart enough to keep up with students in a graduate program. When my grandmother died and I felt like my heart would never heal. Both times we moved and I freaked out over finances and details. During the many anxious days of our wedding planning. The many times I doubted I could ever be a good stepmother. The long nights after 2001, when I was worried over his safety working in New York City. Throughout my pregnancy as I grew increasingly uncomfortable and exhausted. After our son was born and I struggled to regain a sense of stability and confidence. During long years of professional angst and anxiety. Over this entire summer, as I grappled with turning 40 and everything it implied, or at least everything from it I inferred. It was always Michael providing steady and unfailing support, being my rock, holding my hand, believing.

He is an easily embarrassed person, and I am not sure quite how he will react to such a public demonstration of appreciation and affection. But he deserves it. And not for having my back. Just because he is a great man, a devoted father and son, a dedicated teacher, a kind friend, and a better husband than I could have expected to deserve.

My post today, this Christmas Eve 2012, is to assure my husband that I do believe as well. But believing in myself is less important than it may have been at one time. I have come to better recognize in the past year how much I believe in our family, our children, our home, our life together. And how much I always will rely on and believe in him.

“You have everything you need if you just believe.”

“Christmas Canon” by Trans-Siberian Orchestra

December 22, 2012

I wish I could adequately explain all the associations “Pachelbel’s Canon in D” has for me. The song reminds me of my father, who loves the movie Ordinary People, and my mother and husband, who have put up with their spouses reciting lines from the film over many years. It reminds me of being in high school, where I read the book and watched the film twice, for two separate English classes, one of which was a class my father taught. By extension, it reminds me of the wonderful friends I spent so much time with in those high school years, some of whom were my friends outside of school, and others whom I met there. I am lucky enough that several of those people have continued to play a central role in my life.

For complicated reasons I’m not going to explain, December 22 is a day every year when I spend time thinking of these friends–crazy things we did, milestones and life events we’ve experienced, times of distance and closeness. I like to reflect on how much I’ve benefited from knowing several “extra-ordinary” people (pun deliberate) and how much they have meant to me.

“Christmas Canon” really just takes “Pachelbel’s Canon” and adds words focused on a message of expectation, sung by children. I’ve already explained my nostalgic affection for the base song. But the incorporation of youthful voices reminds me of who my friends and I were and all we have been through. It inspires me to believe we’ve continued to be and always will remain forever young, no matter what candles on the most recent cake might indicate.

Some of those friends now live far away, and I see them rarely. Others live close by, but we still don’t see each other enough. These are people, however, who are never far from my thoughts, and certainly always in my heart.

I dedicate my post today to these friends with a sincere thank you for being in my life and a hope that the New Year brings us all nothing but good things, including time with each other.

“Think where (wo)man’s glory most begins and ends, and say my glory was I had such friends.” William Butler Yeats


“Happy Holiday/Holiday Season” by Andy Williams

December 21, 2012

Yesterday, I described what I think is the best Christmas recording and one that I definitely love.

Today I am focusing on my very favorite holiday song and why I hold it in special esteem.

I heard “Happy Holiday/Holiday Season” by Andy Williams plenty of times growing up. I remember liking it mildly but not paying all that much attention to it.

In a similar way, I always liked Christmas music, but never really was as appreciative of it then as I am now. My family and I listened to the songs often while I was a child. Over the years, as I grew older and then met my husband, we formed our own joint music collection and accumulated many Christmas CDs. But the music was always there more as a background, as a way to set a scene, as an adjunct to a festive atmosphere.

Without going into too many details or turning my blog into a keyboard confessional, about two and a half years ago, I went through a tough time. The preceding years had brought turmoil, separations, stress, and disappointment. Changes kept being foisted upon me; in response, I began making my own changes. By autumn 2010, my emotions were quite confused, and for many of those days, anxiety and depression fought for the central place in my life.

Things started to improve a bit as Thanksgiving approached. And, as I have shared in the past with some close to me, one thing that helped me to eclipse my difficulties was preparing for and enjoying the holidays. I tried to focus on other people instead of on my own problems. And I listened to Christmas music almost non-stop that year, to help both distract me from negative thoughts and also remind me of the beautiful concepts and ideas the holiday represents: birth, promise, hope, joy, family, fellowship, love.

For reasons I cannot explain, the song that always left me feeling the best when I heard it was “Happy Holiday.” Maybe I finally tuned into the positive upbeat lyrics. Or maybe it was Andy’s salesman-like delivery of the song. Probably it was both. My son loved this song, too, and seeing his eyes light up in response to my own as we heard those “merry bells” start ringing also had something to do with my great affection for this.

In the two years since, whenever I hear this song, I still enjoy it on its own merits. But I’ve also come to associate it with a certain self-assurance that comes only after experiencing and getting through hard times and, ultimately, being a better person for them. In a recent article (a link to it is posted below), Mary Elizabeth Williams wrote about the power that personal anthems can hold for us. I have had many of those “anthems” at and for different times in my life. “Happy Holiday” by Andy Williams will always be one of them.

Many people criticize the use of the phrase “Happy Holidays” as being areligious, taking Christ out of Christmas, emphasizing the secular. I understand the viewpoint.

But when I hear that phrase, I think of this song, and I feel more spiritual and redeemed. The year it began to hold meaning for me, it helped me regain strength and faith, even if the faith was mainly in myself.

So who’s to determine what makes for a sacred experience?

“Angels We Have Heard On High” by Josh Groban and Brian McKnight

December 19, 2012

This has always been one of my favorite traditional Christmas songs. And probably among the most challenging to sing.

For the last several days, even before last Friday, I was starting to lose my spirit. There’s so much left to get done before Christmas, both holiday-related and not. Along with the stress of my little life, the loud clamor of the world’s unpleasantness threatened to drown out all positive messages that I could hope to hear. When I woke up this morning, I even felt anxious about what I would write today. My thoughts somehow landed on this carol.

If we consider this song not literally, but figuratively, maybe the voices of angels are singing to us all the time. When major catastrophes strike, it’s not surprising we can’t hear them. Even when things are relatively calm, however, those voices have to compete with all of life’s distractions: technology, reality television, shopping, bills, groceries, doctor’s appointments, meetings, etc., etc.

So I tried to consider if maybe I’ve been deaf to any angels calling to me lately. And it dawned on me that, yes, I had.

There was my co-worker yesterday who invited me to a party for a department I haven’t been part of for more than two years, who makes me laugh and listens every day to my silliness.

There are the many friends and relatives over the past month who have been reading my project and sending me little notes of encouragement. Some I see all the time, and others I haven’t seen in years. Some live very close, and others are in different parts of the country and world, but they all have extended attention and kindness that matters so much to me.

There’s my stepdaughter, who called yesterday to tell us of her solid academic success this semester, which was a wonderful sound to hear, as has been her more frequent and consistent voice in our home as she’s attended college close to it this semester.

There are my parents, whom I’ve often underestimated and failed to appreciate, both as a child and as an adult. They have been super enthusiastic about my writing in the last few weeks, but that’s really nothing new. They have always encouraged me in all the aspects of my life, this blog being the least among them.

And there are the two guys, my husband and my son, who help me navigate through this chaotic, noisy world. Their voices try to find me and help me every day, with the sweetest message of all: “I love you.”

We all have angels in our lives. I promise you if you listen close, you will hear yours, too.

“Silver Bells” by Anne Murray

December 13, 2012

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.

“Remember (Christmas)” by Nilsson

December 12, 2012

Today is 12-12-12, the last in a sequence of triple-number years that began with the fateful 2001, and the likes of which I will not see again in my lifetime. When I think back to 1-1-1, so much has changed, obviously for the world overall, but also in my life.

I was, at that time, a newlywed. I did not own a home. I still had a living grandparent, and was in many ways barely recovered from the death of another. I had yet to turn 30, let alone 40. My stepdaughter was only slightly older than my son is now; my son and niece and friends of many children and relatives had yet to enter the world. I was still close with people whom, through time and circumstance, I have become distant and, in at least one case, sadly estranged. I had yet to meet others who would become pivotal players.

And I was very much me but still becoming me, having yet to experience some of my own best and worst times, all within a little more than a decade.

“Long ago, far away

Life was clear

Close your eyes”

I first heard today’s song in the movie You’ve Got Mail. It plays behind a scene in which the female protagonist, Kathleen (Meg Ryan), is decorating her Christmas tree. Kathleen is just going through the motions, trying to keep up joyful appearances and a festive atmosphere, even though her heart is not in it. Her beloved children’s bookstore, inherited from her deceased mother, is being driven out of business. She’s in an unfulfilling relationship. Kathleen is at one of those points we’ve all experienced, a phase that I myself went through slowly over several years during this 12-year cycle—a time when you know things are changing, that they have to change, and you can do nothing to stop it.

You don’t know if things will improve or get worse. All you can do is understand that they will be different and hope for the best.

At such times, like Kathleen, our default is to look to the past and wish we could just return to easier, more certain circumstances. When people we loved and depended on were still there and available to us. When less was demanded or expected. When we understood our role and place and felt secure and stable.

“Remember is a place from long ago

Remember, filled with everything you know

Remember when you’re sad and feeling down

Remember—turn around”

Even a soul as troubled as the unredeemed Ebenezer Scrooge, upon first returning to the past against his will, is initially moved and filled with delight—to see the town of his youth, his old schoolhouse, friends from yesteryear, his own boyhood self.  In fact, in the written A Christmas Carol, at least as much of his return to the past is as happy as it is sad–he remembers a joyous incident with his sister and an exceptionally festive time with his former employer and coworkers.

The sadness Scrooge experiences in the novella heavily involves his broken relationship with Belle and a scene that usually is not included in adaptations of the story. In that oft-neglected scene, Belle now has several children and a grown daughter who greatly resembles Belle in her youth. Scrooge watches the family boisterously enjoying one another and celebrating Christmas the same year that he buried Jacob Marley. Belle laughs dismissively when her husband mentions having seen Scrooge earlier that morning, “quite alone in the world.” This is the last vision that the Ghost of Christmas Past shows the distraught Scrooge, emphasizing “These were shadows of the things that have been . . . That they are what they are, do not blame me!”

But Scrooge isn’t simply mourning what has been. Or even what is. What tortures him most is what might have been.

“Remember life is just a memory

Remember, close your eyes and you can see

Remember, think of all that life can be


It’s so tempting to say that if I could go back in time, I would do certain things differently. Over the past several years, after a series of challenging events, I’ve had many moments when I’ve second-guessed decisions, longed for another chance to appreciate friends and loved ones with whom I’ve either lost touch or just don’t spend enough time, and yes, wished for do-overs, to rectify wrongs and, in a few cases, mend fences. But just like how the past I remember is likely illusory, so is the idea that I’d really significantly alter my path. For everything new obtained, something treasured would have to be relinquished. The option to fix one of yesterday’s missteps could actually lead to a less pleasing and suitable life than the one I have now.

This does not mean just blindly swallowing today as it is, confusing acceptance with complacency, and taking no action to remedy or improve things that I can. But to once again combine ideas from two of my most favorite influences (Mr. E.M. Forster and my all-time most beloved television show, LOST), I cannot look at my moments of flashing back to the past, flashing forward to an undesired possible future, or flashing sideways to alternative realities as anything but finding signposts, and not arriving at destinations.

The message I take from Dickens’ story as it evolves, from You’ve Got Mail and the changes that Kathleen experiences to arrive at an ultimately happy place, and of today’s song by Nilsson is this: Use the past as a helpful refuge, but do not let it become an anchor. The past can help us understand how we got to where we are. It can bring us pleasure and happiness and a sense of reassurance when our todays are unsteady and our tomorrows filled with foreboding.

But we cannot become so frozen with anxiety, consumed with regret, or preoccupied with minor or major alterations  of our lives in progress that we squander the present and whatever future remains. To do so certainly means being continually haunted. But the specter is simply oneself.

“Dream—love is only a dream


Remember—life is never as it seems”

The last words for today, as for many of these posts, are from that masterful genius who brilliantly portrayed the human condition across all seasons of the year, and especially at Christmas, Mr. Charles Dickens:

“Spirit!” he cried, tight clutching at its robe, “hear me. I am not the man I was. I will not be the man I must have been but for this intercourse. Why show me this, if I am past all hope?” For the first time the hand appeared to shake.

“Good Spirit,” he pursued, as down upon the ground he fell before it: “Your nature intercedes for me, and pities me. Assure me that I yet may change these shadows you have shown me, by an altered life.”

The kind hand trembled.

“I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach.”