The song

The Christmas tree glows in the fresh hours of the morning. Everyone else is still sleeping. It’s too early to turn on music for the house, so I plug headphones into my ears and scroll through a music app on my phone. It’s just the dog, me, and a blanket on the couch. Transcendence is a tap away. I click.

Through the headphones, the beloved song about a small village in a faraway land two thousand years ago soothes me.

O little town of Bethlehem, How still we see thee lie!

Nothing still about our part of town. Too recently in North Minneapolis, gang members crossed into their enemies’ territory to settle a score. The sounds of gunshots reverberated off houses four blocks from ours, and before it was over, five men were shot. Ambulances rushed the injured ones to North Memorial.

Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by;

That night before sleep could steal me, I gazed at the dark ceiling of the bedroom, listening. No emergency vehicles screamed by our windows. Only distant sirens sliced the night.

I thought of that day’s shootings, but no emotion stirred me. In fact, I hadn’t even heard the news until a friend, ragged with worry, called to check on us. And then too, I felt nothing; no twinge of pain, no lurch in my heart, no tug of mercy—not like in the early days in our neighborhood when I was all feelings, desperate to do something.  

Why didn’t this kind of news affect me anymore? Because this was gang violence and to be expected? That’s what many people believed. Were they right?

Alone the next day, I sank to my knees on the living room rug—in that favorite spot of mine where eternal meets temporal—and I raised it up: Let me feel something again. Let me see what You see.

Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting Light:

Now this morning, with headphones on, I draw a deep breath and let it go. Maybe that ancient village wasn’t so unlike mine. The streets were dark there too, weren’t they?

Blurry faces tied up in gangs and drugs and violence in my mind now morph into clear ones—the faces of the ones I love. The faces of the young kids in the neighborhood who once played basketball on our driveway. The faces of the ones we opened our door to—and always will. The faces of the ones I worry have picked the thorny path, the ones who might have already chosen the way of death.

What if some of my loved ones in the neighborhood have witnessed hatred blast their friends or family members from this world? What if they’re survivors with PTSD because they’ve glimpsed hell and have to walk with it? Or what if they’ve made the violence and have to live with it?

But there’s a Light. An everlasting Light.

And even in the darkness it comes to pierce their hearts—and my own again.

The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.

This song of the season whisks me away now—and my fears with it—its message vaster than its lyrics. It reminds me we’re not from here, and it’s not where we’ll stay either. All of us were made for something higher than our fears, even higher than our hopes.

The song lifts us above the earth this Christmas season, so we feel again. And for a while, we fly free too. Together.

Glowing tree.jpg

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*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family, neighbors, and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.