|Last year's tree. Much
like this year's tree
She wasn't religious (or actually Christian), and I'm not religious (or actually Christian), but there is something transcendent and hopeful about Handel's masterpiece. For me, it captures the feeling of hope that is the best thing about religious faith, and the joy of being with the family you love, especially during the holidays. Handel's Messiah makes me think about that feeling you get when you look into the face of any newborn and imagine that they might be the one to bring peace to the world someday. Music isn't my field and I don't know the technical terms, but I've always loved how the lines of music illustrate the words and phrases: for example, when you're listening to "the crooked straight, and the rough, rough places plain," the notes are actually crooked, then straight, then rough, then plain.
Because Mom played it so often, I know every word of Messiah and have gone to performances of the sing-along with my own copy of the score. When my son Daniel was little and I played it, usually around Christmas (we don't do religious on Easter -- for us, Easter is about celebrating spring and chocolate peanut butter eggs), he knew it too and would sing along, not knowing what the words meant -- or more accurately, interpreting them as a child would. "We like sheep!" he would sing at the top of his lungs, thinking, as a kid who likes animals might, that the chorus was singing that they liked sheep, which was fine with him. I still smile every time I hear it, remembering my little boy's interpretation of the text.
(The actual words are "All we like sheep have gone astray..." and very Handel-like, the music goes astray, just like the words.)
I was listening to the Messiah on December 19, Electoral College day, and it didn't make me feel transcendent or hopeful or in tune with the holidays, as it usually makes me feel. I realized that I was feeling actual despair. I feel like as a country, we have gone astray — again. Back in 2000, the Supreme Court gave us the presidency of George W. Bush. Which in turn gave us thousands of deaths: 9/11 and the invasion of Iraq, and as the piece de resistance, the collapse of our economy. I thought we'd learned. I didn't think it would happen again. But look at us. It's only eight years later, people. It feels like we're on the brink on something horrible. Our first lady, Michelle Obama, recently told Oprah, "We're feeling what not having hope feels like." I thought this particular article expressed my fears succinctly:
"It is ordinary Americans of all classes and races who fear that, under Trump, environmental protections will be dismantled, limits on Wall Street greed will be removed, the rights of minorities and women will be undermined and American foreign policy will be run by dangerously unseasoned amateurs with a crush on Vladimir Putin. Such fears are not based on feelings or fake news stories; they are confirmed by the composition of Trump’s Cabinet."So I started writing this post to remind myself of the possibility of hope. There has been some good news. Governor Jerry Brown says that California will not stop research into climate change, no matter what Trump does; that makes me proud to be a former Angelino. Bill Gates has started a fund to invest in transformative energy and climate research. And come on, it is unlikely that an administration that is already more corrupt than any other ever entering the White House will stay in office for an entire term... except I no longer pretend to even understand what Republicans hungry for absolute power will do.
Angry Trumpeteers refer to liberals as "sensitive snowflakes," among other horrible things. Well, there's a wonderful pro-environmental site called Treehugger that posts all sorts of positive stories, another little bit of hope. For the past few Decembers, they've reposted an absolutely gorgeous set of close-up photographs of snowflakes. They also just posted a livestream of the Northern Lights.
So I hope that for the next little or long while, it will not be as bad as it seems. I hope that we have not gone too far astray, and that we'll find our way back.
Happy Hanukkah, Merry Christmas, and happy holidays.