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by Andrea Girman, PhD, MPH

When I was eight years old, I found a brand new record player under my family’s Christmas tree – a small portable model that played only (and I am truly dating myself here) 45s. Perusing the choices of music provided for me was a bit disheartening and clearly indicated that Santa was not quite so aware as he had been made out to be. Ever the optimist and a true believer that we eventually do have our Christmas wishes fulfilled, I noticed several days later that the trite tunes about “little fishies swimming in the brook” had been replaced by my original requests, Happy Christmas (War is Over) and Imagine by John Lennon as well as Nights in White Satin by the Moody Blues.

I remember sitting on the living room floor staring up at the chunk of coal my grandfather (conveniently, a coal miner) had placed in my honor at the top of the tree – right below the radiant glowing whiteness of the star where it could not be missed – listening to Lennon’s words over and over.

“Imagine all the people living life in peace … You may say that I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. I hope some day that you’ll join us, and the world will live as one.” ~ John Lennon, Imagine

Thirty-four years later, hearing these songs – especially at the holiday season – fills me with a remembrance of childhood, of my questioning of the world I keep growing into, of the possibility for peace and hope for a world truly living as one. More than anything as I have moved into my adult years, it is the potential for global community and the sense that I belong to something greater than myself that I celebrate most at this time of year. Even the sentimental animated cartoons that I ritually watch each December 24th resonate the idea of being part of something more: the precious softening of the Grinch’s face as he hears the songs of Whoville on Christmas morning – a melting moment that shifts him into a ‘if you can’t beat them, then surely you must join them’ burst of activity; the misfit Rudolph finally being embraced for the very gift that his peers had previously shunned him about – a brilliant light shining from him that cuts through even the most non-penetrable gloom; and Linus’ soliloquy on the stage telling Charlie Brown what Christmas is really all about with gentle confidence – an inspiring tale about humanity’s redemption in a humble stable that results in the transformation of a frail little tree.

Maybe all we really do need is love.

These are indeed dark days. Yet I am reminded again and again each year at the winter solstice that the light is always there, waiting to return; that new beginnings are ever just a moment away; and that despite the isolation that we may feel at any given moment in our lives, we do belong to something bigger than ourselves.

“Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.” ~ Mary Oliver, Dream Work

This holiday season friends and family will likely be seen gritting their teeth again at the sound of me singing off-key with Lennon and the Charlie Brown Gang. And though there are not many things that I am sure of in this world, of this I am most definitely sure: somewhere in this great big world, someone else will be singing with me.

Best wishes for health and healing this holiday season to you all.