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Love lives along with steady faith
I heard the bells on Christmas Day
their old, familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
--Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
There are no bells in my neck of the woods to hear at Christmastime, for I live at the end of a country road and the one church I know that rings bells in town is too far away for me to enjoy. But no matter! The beautiful words of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, so lyrical and grounded in sentiment, roll through my mind so wild and sweet.
This time each year I thank God for my wonderful dad. It was he who introduced me to one of American’s most beloved poets.
When I grew old enough to understand historic imagery and had collated enough life experiences on which to draw, Dad read his favorite poems. He occasionally read to me at night as I readied for bed. Lying on his back, he’d stretch out atop my bedspread and hold the book of his current fascination above his head to block out the ceiling light and read out loud. Eventually I’d crawl under the covers and beside me he’d read. At first I heard the abbreviated language of poetry and was left mystified. I’d interrupt, “I don’t understand what that means!” in sheer frustration before Dad patiently explained his interpretation. In time I came to love the sound of the words, the imagery, history and poetic conventions.
In college my love of words overstepped practicality and any thoughts of a specific career and I eventually earned a bachelor’s degree in American literature. And it was there, in the various dorm rooms and library carols, while toiling over the short stories, books, and poetry produced by American writers, that I came to understand the depth of Dad’s gift to me. Not only did he give me a love of words that would bring joy to me over a lifetime, but he would use the words others so beautifully penned to speak love to me.
This will be the fifth Christmas to arrive since Dad’s death. I will once again read Christmas Bells without him beside me. Yet, I feel his love. And if I get quiet enough I can still feel his shoulder next to mine. The natural grace and melodies of the poems sweetly roll along in my mind, producing enough joy and optimism to comfort my sorrow.
And certainly renew my faith.
Faith lives because the world changes little and God changes not at all. The issues of war and hate, personal loss, disappointment, ill health, financial worry and death —- all that can threaten our sense of balance and optimism, were equally present in the time of Longfellow. Yet, Christmas Bells reminds us of two unchangeable facts: God is on duty! He is in charge!
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
‘God is not dead; nor doth he sleep!
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men!’
Wherever you are, I wish you peace and goodwill this Christmas season.
Reach Joan Bay Klope, firstname.lastname@example.org.