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. Still, the beautiful words of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow roll through my mind so wild and sweet.
I hear them as I make my way down crowded grocery aisles and run our teenager from one activity to the next. But to experience their magic entirely I must quiet the recesses of my heart.
First, I offer my thanks for Longfellow. Then I thank God for my wonderful dad, for it was he who introduced me to one of America’s most beloved poets.
When I grew old enough to understand historic imagery and had myself collated enough life experiences on which to draw, Dad began to read his favorite poems to me, most often as I readied for bed.
Laying 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 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 over a lifetime, but he would use the words others so beautifully penned to speak love to me.
Dad’s love for me continues, even though this will be the eighth Christmas to arrive since his 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 imagine his shoulder resting next to mine. The natural grace of the poem sweetly rolls along in my mind, producing enough joy to outweigh my sorrow.
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 threatens our senses 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 good-will this Christmas.
- Joan Bay Klope can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org