Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Peaceful and joyful

Not long after Halloween, a friend described her daughter practicing Christmas carols on the piano. "I know this is early, but it sounds so peaceful and joyful," she wrote.

Perhaps this is true of all writers, but certain words catch my ear in a particular way: a simple phrase that, when dissected, can't possibly be original or unique, but somehow hits me as if it is. "Peaceful and joyful" – it may not quite bear the resonance of t.s. eliot’s "When the evening is spread out against the sky, Like a patient etherized upon a table" or Robert Frost’s "The woods are lovely dark and deep, but I have promises to keep" and yet their pairing jingled in my mind as pleasingly as the Christmas carols must have sounded to my friend when she wrote that.

Peace and joy are words that are often twinned in the holiday season, of course. And surely those two abstract nouns are among the most noble goals to which we might strive. But “peaceful and joyful” are a more tempered version. Adjectives, not nouns, and somehow more modest and relative in nature. Even when the absolutes of peace and joy seem impossibly out of reach, the adjectival forms seem possible: even if we haven’t achieved peace and joy on either the universal or the domestic level, an 11-year-old playing Christmas carols can still be deemed peaceful and joyful.

I liked the phrase so much I decided to adopt it as a holiday season mantra and resolved that everything I choose to do under the umbrella of the holiday season had to fit into one category or the other, or better still into both.

This isn't to say I expect the entire month of December to be peaceful and joyful for me. There are other things I'll still need to do -- like buying groceries, and folding laundry, and commuting to work -- that may seem neither peaceful or joyful. But anything I opt to do in the name of the holiday season -- any party I attend, any gift-buying excursion I embark upon, any hours spent creating the perfect holiday newsletter -- are hereby required to fit into at least one of the two categories.

It’s a little simplistic as a benchmark, I realize. Peace and joy should be hallmarks of everyone’s holiday season, and for that matter, everyone’s non-holiday season as well. And I’m sure I’ll still find myself standing in a long checkout line or baking Christmas cookies at midnight at some point this month, feeling neither peaceful nor joyful. But I still like those guidelines. Peaceful. Or joyful. Maybe even both. As a way of approaching the holiday season, it just sounds right.

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