Dec. 18: I struggled with the scissors.

Moving them slowly back and forth across the green construction paper, I came up with a shape that lacked an identity. It resembled a fir tree only because I used pinking shears to give it a jagged edge.

Then I tried to cut small circles out of red construction paper to represent ornaments. After two of these, I knew I just wasn’t up to the task.

With my lack of coordination, it would take all afternoon to finish the Christmas cards for my sisters.

I managed to draw the ornaments onto the tree with red wax pencil and a circle stencil. I glued the tree onto folded parchment paper. And then I carefully wrote the words Merry Christmas! on the cover, and a short poem inside.

The cards were not elegant, but they were heartfelt. Though they looked like they’d been made by a mentally disabled child, they would carry the fused-glass ornaments I made for my sisters.

It was an ordeal: the labor of making the cards, wrapping and cushioning the ornaments, and then carefully packaging the whole thing into US Postal Service boxes so that they’d arrive safely.

But it made me feel a little closer to that glittery fuzz that we call Christmas spirit.

I was tired. But it’s the last evening before Ann goes home, and Tom arrives tonight for two weeks’ vacation. I really want to keep up that Christmas spirit.

I don’t have any decorations – they are in storage – but then I remembered: The Messiah.

Every Christmas, at least once, I play the entire oratorio all the way through and sing along with it. (Trevor Pinnock / The English Concert & Choir)

When I lived in Seattle, every Dec. 26 that I was in town, I’d take part in the Messiah Sing-Along.

When I lived in China, I organized a small group of other foreigners, made (illegal) photocopies of the music, and we sang along with the recording.

So, this evening, while Ann cooked and we waited for Tom, I put on that beautiful music, and sang.

It made me feel the way it always has: gliding along a golden thread that extends back many centuries. To a time when the places of the Bible were not primarily known as war zones. To a light that shines above and beyond any one religion.

This year, it meant something much more.

Singing the Messiah made me feel connected to everything in my past. My long-term memories.

Every one of those lovely phrases, sailing over gorgeous arpeggios and piercing high notes, came rippling out of me without strain. I hadn’t forgotten any of them.

My brain is still intact.


Today’s penny is a 1985, for the 300th anniversary of Handel’s birth.

Dec 18 1985