December 19, 2018

I want to talk to you for a few minutes about The Little Drummer Boy.

My days off at my new job are Monday and Wednesday. Monday is a hard off; the restaurant is closed, and so, once I finish my morning writing, that day is a wide open, unstructured, free-for-all. Wednesdays are the day I usually go in to the restaurant for a couple of hours to do stuff that I can’t do while I’m actually on the bar. Today included meeting a liquor rep, interviewing a new waiter and discussing inventory. Having that on my mid-afternoon schedule, I’ve turned Wednesday into my grocery shopping, errand running, chore doing day.

When I got back from the grocery store and knew I was going to be in the kitchen for a while, I turned on my Christmas playlist to listen to while I worked. One of the first songs that came up on the rotation was The Little Drummer Boy. Not just any version of it, mind you, but what is quite possibly the strangest duo ever paired together for a song, Christmas or otherwise: Bing Crosby and David Bowie.

Long story short, Crosby was in England and wanted to film a Christmas special, featuring British artists. Bowie agreed to do it, solely because his mother was a fan of Crosby, but almost walked when told he had to sing The Little Drummer Boy, claiming to hate it. Within an hour, the shows producers and writers wrote a counter-melody that Bowie would sing, and after another to rehearse it, the two stars recorded the song.

The bridge that was written has its own name, and the version that they sing is officially called “Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy.” Obviously, it’s kind of hard to miss the lyrics Bowie sings, but today I found myself paying more attention to them than I usually do. All of the words resonated, especially those about yearning for a return to times of goodwill, but none more than these:

“Every child must be made aware/Every child must be made to care/Care enough for his fellow man/To give all the love that he can.”

Not having any kids of my own (that I know about, anyway,) lyrics about kids rarely affect me, but something about today was profoundly different. I know it’s every generation’s right to say that they are living in the strangest, most troubling times, but it’s hard to see the world today – the absolute dumpster fire that is our own government, the menacing growths in foreign countries, the harrowing reports of the destruction of the environment, the economy on the verge of another major collapse – and still remain positive. At some point we find ourselves sitting in the corner and just saying “No mas.” Maybe it’s a reflection of how we feel our own lives are going, and the opportunities we’ve missed and the lives we feel ourselves resigned to. Maybe it’s a sense of aging and mortality, knowing that there isn’t much time left on our balance sheet anymore anyway. Or maybe it is something else that is so personalized, we each have our own tipping point. My guess is that while other things may factor into it, it is an individualized response. That would explain why some people tap out at age 30 and others still lace up the gloves every day at 90.

All that being said, the effect of the words did not bring me down, but gave me hope. It spells out the solution in a very simple, straight-forward way. It tells us to turn to the next generation, and to teach them to learn from our mistakes, but not to follow them, so the sins of their fathers will not be handed down to them. That sounds so simple as to be ineffective, but sometimes it is the simplest things that are the most powerful. So much so, I found myself thinking that maybe it shouldn’t just be a wish for each child to be made aware, but each person. If each child can learn to care for the fellow men and women, what’s stopping us from teaching each other, from learning this ourselves?

I know, lots of things are, including but not limited to institutionalized racism, financial inequality, gender inequality, political beliefs, religious dogma, xenophobia, etc., etc., etc. But here’s the thing about all of that. None of those things are going to change if we ask somebody else to change them for us, if we expect somebody else to pick up the yoke and do the heavy lifting. One of the phrases I’ve heard a lot over the last year and couple of days was that you can’t think your way into right action, but you can act your way into right thinking. And what better season, what better time of year is there than right now to do the next right thing? You’ll never know who might learn from it.

It might even be you.

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