advent journal: a faraway christmas

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One of the cool things about Guilford is a biannual event called GreenStage Guilford, which is four or five days of various live performances around town. This year, one of the spinoffs was a periodic Open Mic at The Marketplace, a local sandwich and coffee shop.

I signed up, of course, because, well, Open Mic, and I decided to read an updated version of my story, “A Faraway Christmas,” which was first written about twenty years ago for a Christmas Eve service in Marshfield, Massachusetts. Since the story is about a town with a Christmas tree in the middle, and Guilford is a town with a Christmas tree in the middle, I updated it again.

I hope you enjoy it.

A Faraway Christmas
by
Milton Brasher-Cunningham

Since we’re all gathered here at this Open Mic,
to hear stories and songs ‘neath the twinkling lights,

It’s still hard to find Christmas—get that holiday spirit
This year did have promise, but, oh, what a year it

has been: full of struggles, and still with the virus—
do you think Christmas still can unite and inspire us?

If we tell the old stories, will they sadden and stress us,
if we say what we miss, won’t that just depress us?

I don’t know–maybe so–but it seems worth a try
to do more than just sit by ourselves and, well, cry,

so I’ll tell you a story in the time I’m afforded
and hope that my effort will somehow be rewarded.

“Twas a Faraway Christmas in a Long Ago Town
of no great importance and no real renown,

filled with people who seemed fairly normal to me,
who worked and who played and seemed happy and free.

They had puppies and children, ate bread and ice cream,
they went shopping and swimming, they slept and they dreamed;

they laughed and did laundry, they danced and they dined,
and they strung Christmas lights on the big Scottish Pine

that grew on the Green in the middle of town,
and when Christmas was over, they took the lights down.

They read the newspaper, the dads told dad jokes,
and some of the children put cards in the spokes

of their bicycle tires, so they made quite a din
till it came time for parents to call the kids in.

Yet for all of the things that kept people together—
that great small town feeling, the Christmas Card weather—

for all of the hope one was likely to hear,
the hearts of so many were held captive by fear.

Others always felt tired, some were down or depressed,
and then some–put quite simply–their lives were a mess.

Some felt pressure from not having paid all the bills,
some were keeping dark secrets that were making them ill;

some felt guilty and thought they were headed for hell,
but the town seemed so perfect, who could they tell?

So everyone kept all their feelings inside,
and all wished for someone in whom to confide,

to say, “Life is lousy,” or “I’ve made a mistake,”
or “Sometimes I’m so sad I don’t want to awake,”

or “I miss my Grandma,” or “I loved my cat,”
or “I never, no never get my turn at bat.”

Everyone kept it in, hardly ever spoke up
until one Christmas Eve, when an old man named Buck

came to turn on the lights on the tree on the Green
and found no one, not anyone, anywhere to be seen.

He stared up at the tree and the lights shining bright,
and alone on the Green he talked back to the night,

“It’s Christmas,” he said, “when I should feel warm,
but I don’t think that this year I can conform.

It’s been hardly two months since my friend passed away;
how can I smile when he’s not here to say,

’Merry Christmas’?” And right then he burst into tears,
and all of the sadness from all of his years

Came out of his eyes and ran down his cheeks,
And he thought he would sit there and just weep for weeks.

His wailing was heard by someone walking by,
“Hi,” my name is Jenn–and I don’t mean to pry . . .”

Buck looked up at the voice and the kindness he heard
Somehow she had helped with just two or three words.

“I’m Buck,” he replied, “and I’m tired and mad,
but I think most of all I just feel really sad.”

She wasn’t quite ready for the truth that he told,
but it helped her feel brave standing there in the cold.

“Thanksgiving was lonely, my birthday was, too.
I guess I could say that I feel just like you.”

So they poured out their hearts, like a sister and brother,
then someone else joined, and then came another,

with a story to tell and feelings to free,
and they all sat and cried ‘neath the big Christmas Tree.

Can you imagine how many tears fell,
after all of the years that no one would tell

how it hurt just to live, how they felt terrified
of saying out loud what they carried inside.

How long does it take to clean out your heart,
to get it all out, to make a new start?

They cried until daybreak, till the first rays of dawn
broke over the tree tops and spread ‘cross the lawn,

in the new morning light Buck could see ‘cross the Green;
he smiled up at Jenn; the whole town could be seen.

They had come through the night, first one, then another
to sit down together like sister and brother,

to pour out their hearts for the first time in years,
and let out their feelings, their sadness, their tears.

Jenn started a carol, the one she knew best,
about joy to the world, and it burst from her chest.

The others joined in, not because they weren’t sad,
but because they’d admitted the feelings they had;

everyone sang along, both the sad and the scared,
Because true friends are found when true feelings are shared.

There’s more to the story, but my time is short,
Of how life was changed I cannot now report,

But it sure sounds a lot like our little town,
With a tree on the green and the lights all around,

What if we spoke the truth, what if we named our fears,
what if we loosed the sadness we’ve tied up for years?

Would we ever stop crying, would the dawn ever come?
And like those in the story, once the tears had begun

Would we sit on the curb, first one, then another,
and talk about life like sister and brother?

We aren’t so different; we’re frightened and sad,
we feel helpless and hopeless, and certainly mad,

But let none of those words be the last on this Night
as we sing songs of peace, and we pray for the light,

Our wars and our worries will not define us,
let’s not let our grief and our sadness resign us;

The walls that surround cannot keep us apart
if we speak truth in love and we open our hearts.

We are all full of feelings in these difficult times,
but let’s see past the sorrow and look for the lines

that connect everyone, with a word or a touch,
let’s look for new ways to say, “I love you so much.”

And this story that came from a Long Ago Town
of no great importance, of no real renown,

Could be ours, if true feelings were what we would say;
and we’d find such a Christmas not so faraway.

Peace,
Milton

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