I don’t know a soul who’s not been battered
I don’t have a friend who feels at ease
I don’t know a dream that’s not been shattered
Or driven to its knees ~ Paul Simon, American Tune
And I may be obliged to defend
Every love, every ending
Or maybe there’s no obligations now
Maybe I’ve got a reason to believe
We all will be received
In Graceland ~ Paul Simon, Graceland
It’s early December I’m in the car, driving home from some rote errand, groceries or the dentist, or running one of the kids to an activity, none of which I will remember tomorrow. We’re in the midst of short days where darkness comes before dinner, a pattern of life we think will never end. And yet, at midday it is cold and bright. The Cascades are all around me, the sky so clear I can see all the way to Mt. Baker, a white mound against the blue sky. Paul Simon’s voice comes over the car radio – American Tune.
Twenty years evaporate in the midst of the memory only music can bring. The first time I ever heard Simon’s masterpiece was the early nineties coming back from a day of skiing with a young man I loved. My feet thawed under the car heater, my hand rested on his thigh, when American Tune came through the stereo. Music, a passion we shared, always seemed more poignant, more beautiful when I was next to him. I closed my eyes and let it melt into me.
The melody is based on a Bach piece (I just recently learned this). Simon’s voice is clear and lovely, in juxtaposition to the sadness of the lyrics – a discussion of the loss of the American Dream.
It might have occurred to me the first time I heard American Tune at that moment in 1994 that we were in a similar state, but the words did not penetrate my youthful enthusiasm. Although my generation had come into the work force during a recession, I was young and hopeful, virtually untouched by the economy because I could live comfortably in my two-room apartment on a receptionist’s salary. Growing up in a teacher’s modest household, I had learned to live frugally. I also understood that money was not the only thing that made a person happy. I still do.
But then I did not have a family. I did not have an eight year old who wrote letters to Santa that they’d like an American Girl doll. “Could you bring it, please, because it’s too much money for Mommy to buy?” I did not have an eleven year old who said there wasn’t a thing she wanted this year.
Then I was not a single mother with a mortgage, car payments, insurance, and all the other costs of this American life. I did not have two sets of blue eyes looking at me across the dinner table that trusted me to take care of them.
I blame myself, of course, for all we don’t have, all I can’t give. I could forget writing and get a real job. Part of me would die, like it did for the twenty years I spent in corporate America pretending to be someone I’m not. (Human Recourses is not the career for a sensitive, honest and compassionate person, but that’s another subject altogether.) For better or worse, I am now living an authentic life and it has consequences. I am an artist in a culture that does not believe art matters. I am self-employed in a country that makes it almost impossible to own a small business.
The American Dream seems far away most days, especially during the holidays when I stare into the dark night and wonder how I will pay for Christmas and still make my car payment, not to mention the taxes I should set aside. The sad truth is – many Americans are far worse off than I. It is no wonder that mental depression is heightened during the holidays. Whether we’re worried about money or not, many of us feel inadequate, lonely and hopeless. Many are reminded of years past, of loved ones gone.
My dreams have been shattered. I’ve been driven to my knees, weeping on the bathroom floor. I’m weary. I know many of you are too. I know it seems some days that it’s just too hard. Too hard to make enough money, too hard to get it all done, too hard to make all the people you love happy, too hard to feel hopeful.
But we cannot give into the darkness. As a Christian, I have to remember what this holiday means. Jesus was born to save us. He does not care if we’re rich or poor. Someday He will open his arms to welcome us and all will be forgiven. Maybe I have reason to believe we all will be received in Graceland. For other faiths, or those with none, perhaps you can be cheered by the sight of twinkling lights in our neighborhoods, or the lines of innocent children waiting for Santa, or the words of a song you love. Maybe you can simply be grateful for the memories of years past, of loved ones held, snowballs thrown, carols sung, cookies left for Santa.
But I know you’re weary and battered and ill at ease. I know. I wish it wasn’t so.
In late December I sit with a dear friend in my living room. The lights from the Christmas tree twinkle like diamonds, the gas fireplace throws off a soothing light and with wine in our glasses, we talk of lost love, of lost dreams, of how to make it through this hard life when we’re so very weary. We play Paul Simon’s Graceland. His words, his voice, bring the light of a thousand beautiful memories, of the hope for a thousand more. We agree. Tomorrow is another day. Another year waits to bring redemption, hope, joy. And there are so many who love us, so many we love. We clink glasses and agree to fight another day.
Tess Thompson is a novelist and freelance writer living in the suburbs of Seattle with her two precious daughters and their naughty kittens. Her romantic suspense novels have been Amazon and Nook bestsellers. Find all her books, including her latest, Blue Midnight, on Amazon.