Merry & Bright; But Not That Bright!

If you are a child of the 50s/60s, maybe you remember suffering a malady of temporary blindness every Christmas morning. Sixty some years later, it doesn’t seem there are any lasting ill-effects. It was all well-intentioned, an attempt by fathers everywhere to capture the childlike wonder on that special day.

Every dad, theoretically, wants Christmas morning to be special for his family. This spirit of well-meaningness is personified in the affable Clark Griswold as chronicled in the movie “Christmas Vacation”. We laugh and relate to Clark’s story because in some ways it’s our story too.

If, from Clark, we can learn what NOT to do, could it be that there’s an outline, a plan for the guy who wants to get it right, leaving the family with happy memories of Christmas 2016?

If we go back a couple of centuries we find this advice:

1. Deck the hall with boughs of holly,
2. ’Tis the season to be jolly,
3. Don we now our gay apparel,
4. Troll the ancient Christmas carol,

5. See the blazing yule before us,
6. Strike the harp and join the chorus.
7. Follow me in merry measure,
8. While I tell of Christmas treasure,

9. Fast away the old year passes,
10. Hail the new, ye lads and lasses!
11. Sing we joyous all together,
12. Heedless of the wind and weather,

Fa La La La La La La La La

Let’s interpret this line by line and see if it works in the 21st Century.

1. Decorate the house.
2. The season is fraught with the potential for stress and frustration. Don’t worry, be jolly.
3. Feel free to wear whatever crazy sweater you want.
4. Crank up a Christmas playlist and sing along at the top of your lungs.

5. Build a good fire, if you have a fireplace.
6. Maybe you don’t have a harp to strike, but a ukulele or kazoo will do.
7. Encourage others to join in the merriment.
8. Definitely tell the Christmas story.

9. Savor every moment. They pass quickly.
10. View tomorrow with a youthful optimism.
11. More singing.
12. Turn off the TV and the hyper-reporting of Oklahoma’s TV weather prognosticators.

Fa La La La La La La La La

And by all means make memories, take pictures and video. Today we can do that without blinding our children and grandchildren as our dads did to us with that bank of flood lights they would turn on with their 8mm movie cameras just as we awoke on Christmas morning to see what Santa had left under the tree. Usually by 11:15a or so our eyesight would recover so we could join in the merriment.

If you’re not familiar with those lights dads used for their film to work in indoor settings, you can still see them today keeping the french fries warm at McDonald’s.

Fa La La La La La La La La

A Life, A Rhapsody

I’m not the first to draw an analogy between a life lived and a composition. One of my favorite examples is from “Mr. Holland’s Opus”, a movie I wrote about here. Mr Holland was the band director of a high school for many years. In a scene toward the end of the movie, one of his former students, Gertrude Lang is speaking at an assembly given to honor him:

“There is not a life in this room that you have not touched, and each of us is a better person because of you. We are your symphony Mr. Holland. We are the melodies and the notes of your opus. We are the music of your life.”

What a wonderful tribute. What a beautiful metaphor for a life’s story.

In 1924, George Gershwin composed “Rhapsody In Blue.” It is a classic. It was the hallmark of music scored for orchestra written in jazz forms of the 20s. A rhapsody, and particularly “Rhapsody In Blue”, is characterized by its range of emotion and tonal qualities along with a feeling of improvisation, but with a recurring theme.

A rhapsody is literally an epic poem, written in one movement, recited or played from start to finish. 

I want to tell you of a story of a boy. To me this boy’s life is a rhapsody.

This boy grew up in Lincoln Parish, north central Louisiana, in a little town called Dubach (dew-bach). It was clear to all that love and loyalty for family would be a theme of his life.

I didn’t know him as a boy, but I know from the stories I’ve heard that he made the most of every life experience and relationship. His stories are rich and humble. In fact there is a humility that everyone who knows him, knows is genuine.

There are some things I know for sure about him. He loves music. He was a musician himself. He played the clarinet. I think it’s interesting that “Rhapsody In Blue” starts with a clarinet solo, just as the rhapsody of his life does. He is a great encourager of the musical pursuits of others.

He has never been one to be the center of attention. In fact, he is one of the most selfless people I’ve ever known—always doing what he could to allow others to have their moment in the light.
He reluctantly tells stories of his service in World War II; if you ask.

Just as “Rhapsody In Blue” debuted in 1924, 90 years ago; so did this man. Happy 90th Birthday Dad!

My Dad has provided wonderful guidance and instruction for me all of my life. Some of it has taken, unfortunately some I have squandered. 

Dad never told me I should pray and read my Bible. I came to understand how valuable those things are by watching him practice those disciplines himself. If I am a good husband and a good father and a good grandfather, it is because of the example he has provided.

My Dad understands that the highest calling in life is one of service. It is another of his life’s themes. He has given so much and sacrificed so much—he and my mom both. I look back now on my first drum set and I know that they sacrificed much for me to have those. I know that for my Dad, as a Baptist preacher, to have a son playing drums in a rock and roll band, back in the day when Baptists were particularly concerned about rock music and dancing, must have been difficult. Yet somehow he managed the conflict because he wanted me to love music.

Over the last few years, I’ve watched Dad age with the same grace by which he’s always lived. His eyesight is nearly gone. One day I said something about how hard that must be, yet I never him complain. His reply was, “You know in some ways I see more now than I ever have.”

Here’s the thing about him and those beautiful attitudes of his: “Rhapsody In Blue” is a masterpiece, but only when it is played by master musicians under the direction of a master conductor. Many years ago when my Dad yielded his life to God as an instrument in the Master’s hands, it took. I swear, it’s as if it was his destiny. Thank you Dad for being faithful.

Oh, and those words of Gertrude Lang to Mr. Holland:

“There is not a life in this room that you have not touched, and each of us is a better person because of you. We are your symphony Mr. Holland. We are the melodies and the notes of your opus. We are the music of your life.”

I am honored to be a part of Mr. Fuller's Rhapsody.