“Jewels of Music” is a new series on Mittwoch Matinee. All performances are conducted by Susan Lees. Lees is a musician who has spent her career as a bilingual special educator, serving children with disabilities and their families. She uses storytelling and music to encourage friendship among special education students, their peers, and regular education teachers. You can reach her at “Contact” on the navigation bar above.
by Susan Lees
Christmas, the season of wishes, sighs, and dreams, is coming. It is not only our children who wish. Moms and dads hope that the celebration might transform their lives and relationships, their sense of meaning and belonging. Who knows? Perhaps celebrating these Christmas days of rebirth might make all things new in our neighborhood, church, and home.
The children in our lives still hold fast to the world of possibility, a world where anything is possible on Christmas. As a teacher and psychologist for children with handicapping conditions, I smile as I recall the many experiences that made this true.
One year, I had children with communication disabilities. There were deaf and mute students, students with autism, and students with behavioral and emotional handicaps. All came from migrant labor camps. They had never been to an airport, so I arranged a trip to Palm Springs Regional Airport. After touring the airport and meeting pilots, flight attendants, and baggage handlers, we watched flights arriving and departing and talked about the places the planes had flown.
As we prepared to leave, a young pilot asked whether our students would like to board his plane for a tour. I thought they might be reluctant since none had been on a plane before. But they happily boarded the plane, toured the cockpit, and took their seats. After buckling in, they called out, “Dr. Susan, are you going to fly the plane?” Such an openness to the world of possibility and such trust that all would be well!
Christmas can also be the season of “sighs” because of the loss of people, capabilities, and dreams, or even the willingness to dream. A week before Christmas, my mom would take me on the train to the Loop in downtown Chicago, where she worked. We would walk up and down the streets, looking at the decorated store windows. These windows were truly works of art, featuring stories and moving parts created by professional window dressers. The day would end with lunch at Stouffer’s Diner.
Another Christmas sigh continues to this day: taking down the Christmas tree on January 1. All the ornaments and the tree had to be placed in a box and removed to the attic. The Christmas tree was a symbol of joy and generosity for me, but it died when I closed and taped the box. To this day, I feel sad when I take the tree down.
The celebration of Christmas can awaken those spaces, moments, and dreams in which ordinary time stops. These spaces and moments are called by many names such as “thin places” or “thin moments.” The Celts described these as sites where the eternal comes close to earth, where persons can see, remember, and accept the unseen. The Irish marked sacred spaces as locations where something special happened. Thin places and moments are focused on truth–the truth that can offer comfort and strength, but also the hard truths we may not wish to hear.
Although I know of sacred, thin places, it is often not possible for me to travel there. Fortunately, there is no limit on thin moments. One reason may be that thin moments are close at hand and do not require a pilgrimage. Thin moments have a way of finding us in times of joy and sorrow. It may be that we enjoy the celebration of Christmas, the season of wishes, sighs, and dreams, because of all these thin moments, too many to count.
Robert Schumann (1810-1856) was a German Romantic composer best known for his piano music, particularly his short compositions such as Papillons, Phantasiestucke, Waldszenen, and Kinderszenen. Schumann captured precious, thin moments and places well.
Please enjoy these brief selections from Schumann’s Kinderszenen, Opus 15 (1850): “Von Fremden Landern und Menschen” (About Strange Lands and People) and “Traumerei” (Reverie). When Kinderszenen was published, the Berlin music critic, Heinrich Rellstab, remarked that a musical imitation of the actions of a child could hardly be taken seriously. However, Schumann’s small pieces became the most favored by pianists. Kinderszenen is often identified as Schumann’s most beloved collection.
Image credits: feature by Matthias Kinsella on Unsplash; tree by Annie Spratt on Unsplash. Want more? Go to Robert Brancatelli. The Brancatelli Blog is a member of The Free Media Alliance, which promotes “alternatives to software, culture, and hardware monopolies.”