This past Saturday found me caught up in the mayhem that is the modern Christmas season. I needed to run to Walmart to get a couple of items—just 2! Of all things, can you imagine it, we ran out of coffee…in the Bice household? That’s another story.
For reasons I’ll explain shortly, we were in the Chicago suburb of Aurora, so I dropped the rest of the family at the Fox Valley Mall for a special outing (will return there in a moment) and headed a half-mile away to Walmart. Traffic on the Saturday afternoon eleven days before Christmas was awful, even worse than typical suburban Chicago traffic. So it took longer to get to the store than it did for me to park, run in, make my selection, and head to the check-out. As one might imagine, the place was a commercial zoo, people darting here and there, dodging the occasional shopper who stopped in the middle of the aisle to ponder over some glitzy product on the endcap.
Unbelievably every checkout kiosk in the self-pay section was open, and just as I arrived, one became available. Scanned my coffee and headed out the door—back to the asphalt battle zone otherwise known as 75th Street.
Alas, returning to the mall led me to another battleground, this time grabbing the nearest available parking place. Up and down a couple aisles I crawled and finally wheeled my way into a vacant spot. Wow, only a hundred yards from the entrance!
Unlike the vast throngs around me, we weren’t there to shop. It was our grandson’s birthday, so Grammy, Papa, Mommy, and four-year-old cousin were making a day of it. The mall was the third of four stops on his special day. The second stop was 2Toots—a train-themed burger joint—for a late lunch.
What brought us to the mall was an indoor “ice” skating rink especially geared to little tykes. I say “ice” because you’re not really skating on ice. You use regular skates, but the “ice” is a very hard plastic surface—it’s not even cold! In fact, it was quite warm in there. Anyway, the grandsons had never skated, so seemed like this would be a good introduction. And it was. They had a good time.
After getting worn out skating, we worked our way through the crowds to the huge double-decker carousel for a merry go round. It was fun looking out on the sea of people heading this way and that. The scene changed a bit with every rotation of the carousel.
All of this was dramatically different from the first stop on our grandson’s special day, and it was the primary impetus for a trip to the burbs. Twenty-three years ago, while living in Vermont, we became acquainted with pianist Robin Spielberg and fell in love with her original compositions and unique arrangements. She came to Pfieffer Hall on the campus of North Central College in Naperville to perfume in a concert of Christmas (and holiday) music, incorporating a youth choir and some sing-along selections.
Something interesting happened when she came on stage, sat down at the piano, and began to play her composition, “A Change of Seasons.” The birthday boy had been pretty wound up with excitement and was quite restless. What six-year-old wouldn’t be on his birthday, especially after riding in the confinement of a car harness for the past two hours?! We were on the very front row, and when Robin came out on stage, the grandson crawled onto my lap, still a bit fidgety.
Then the music started. And the fidgeting stopped. He became still, silent, almost mesmerized by the soothing, tranquil sounds of the grand instrument just twenty-five feet away. The music ended; the applause roused us from the quiet place. A word or two of introduction, “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing!” began, and he settled into that zone again…until he began quietly humming along.
To be sure, it delighted me to have my grandson contentedly resting in my embrace and thoroughly enjoying the moment. Those are rare occasions in one’s life and must be savored and treasured.
But what struck me was the powerful effect of music, creating this brief, momentary oasis in the chaos and clamor of the modern Christmas season. Later at Walmart and the mall, music blared from the overhead speakers no matter where you went. But it wasn’t the soothing, calming, reflective sounds that settled a little boy in his Papa’s lap. They were the fast-tempo, upbeat renditions of holiday songs that seemed to fuel the shoppers in the rush to find their treasures.
The faces in the concert hall were serene. At times, smiles and laughter broke out. Voices joined in as we sang well-known carols.
In the stores, faces were intense, eyes focused, nary a smile anywhere. Store personnel, doing their jobs, seemed weary of it all. “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” seemed utterly powerless to lift the spirit—it could only drive onward.
I’m reminded of a troubled man, a powerful king, but one losing his grip. Seems sleep eluded him; restlessness plagued him. See him pacing back and forth in the throne room, unable to sit still, to relax, to think clearly, to govern.
Music, not like the fare piped in to feed the shopping frenzy. No. More like that which stills a restless boy and brings him to quiet, joyful humming along.
We’re told that when this troublesome spirit came upon the king, a youth named David “took a harp, and played with his hand, so Saul [the king] was refreshed, and was well, and the evil spirit departed from him.” [1 Samuel 16:23]
Perhaps we would do well in this another hectic, sometimes chaotic, Christmas season—when we’re feeling the tension mount, the smile fade, the real message of Christmas fade into the background—to shut it all out for a while and put on some quiet, soothing, calming Christmas music.
And find our souls refreshed.