Every year around this time, without fail, I’ll see that old photo taken on a faraway Christmas Eve in 1914, and as a mother, daughter and sister, my heart breaks and sings at the same time – maybe not near as miraculous as their singing was, no doubt. The Christmas Truce took place between British and German forces on the Western Front during WWI; a soccer game also broke out shortly after the singing.
And why this photo, you may ask? Why am I talking about this one?
Well, call it the spirit of the season, but there are many ways I can put this photo to good use: literally and metaphorically and symbolically, and a lot of other ways I’m not ready to acknowledge on such a public forum, but I’m going to try.
When I see the photo, I see painfully young men in good spirits, kicking a ball around on a muddy field. Their uniforms ragged, shoes worn, and no doubt their empty bellies, exhausted bodies, broken minds, freezing toes and hands. And what, I wonder had those feet known before they brought them to a frozen field in the middle of what some would call hell on Earth – to No Man’s Land?
Did they warm themselves by a fire while their mother bustled around in the kitchen? Were they teased by kittens, lying in wait to pounce? Did they carry them through field and forest, trying to keep up with their father’s much longer stride? To school? To market? To the revered stage of a symphony orchestra? Did they know the spring of a piano pedal? Did they tap in time to the playing of a violin?
I spent most of my childhood and young adulthood traveling, and I have never forgotten the peace that finally comes from the press of your home underneath your feet.
Did they revere the ground of their home as we do? Were they reluctant to turn away from these homes and people they knew, to march in a direction that might lead to their deaths?
And what did they dream of being and doing before the call of war? What did they carry with them in their hearts, and what did they leave behind? What did they lose by the time this photo was taken?
And I think of the countless times I held the feet of my three sons in my hands. How many boo boos I kissed on those toes, knees, fingers, elbows, and on their heads and foreheads because, for some reason, they seemed to move forward, gaining momentum from trying to keep up with their little heads, so the head always took the brunt of the injuries.
I think of how long it took to get them here, how many nights I sat up with them and held them, nursed them through sickness, taught them, praised them, and for two of them, watched them drive away in their car to college.
There is no difference between myself and the mothers of that age, except that to date, I have not had to bear watching them drive away to war.
Each one of these young men had something to live for, and perhaps the most paramount realization that comes to me when I see this photo year after year, I want to sing along with them because for one brief moment, they recognized their humanity and how sacred it was, how precious. With an unrelenting onslaught of destruction dealt to them at every turn for weeks and weeks, on that night, they bowed their head to love. And that’s the truth of it: this entire world, whether it realizes it or not, bows down to love. For whatever purpose, reason, thought, dream, sentiment, whether selfless or self-serving, it was enough for them to lay down their arms and acknowledge the humanity in the faces and uniforms across that field.
And maybe they were homesick for those other Christmas Eves when there was no fighting. Only caroling, candlelight, warm beds and full bellies. Hugs and laughter. Comfort. Succor. Safety. Life, and that is what they were celebrating: life and each other.
And for a brief moment, it was enough.
I hate to get all sentimental and mushy on you guys, but I figure I’m approaching 50, and sooner or later I have to start doing what I want, and once in a blue moon, impart the scant bit of wisdom I have managed to acquire. Why not now?
So, here it is, and hopefully you take the meat and the heart of this message to, well, to heart. Because there, it can grow.
There is a lot I can choose to lay down and not take with me into the new year. Anything that is keeping me from life and all it represents, anything keeping me from harmony and peace (which you cannot put a price on).
There are no bullets whizzing past my head. I am warm. I am safe. I am loved. It may feel like a stretch, but it isn’t. I can take that first step across that muddy field toward any conflict that arises. I can break out into song in the face of adversity, I can revere the lives around me and place their worth to equal mine or better. I can strive for these things, because a long time ago, the bar was set.
I hope you all have a very blessed season. Thank you for another year serving as your editor here at The Clarion. Truly, the best part of my job is the people I meet and see every day. Thank you, again. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. May you find something to sing about in the coming year, and when you do, don’t hold back; you might be surprised who joins in.