For the first time in five years I actually sat down and watched the television rebroadcast of the 50th Annual Bethel University Festival of Christmas that I had been part of during my senior year of college. For those unfamiliar with the Festival of Christmas, perhaps I better explain. It was basically a concert that the Bethel Music Department would put on every Christmas, and performances would be over the period of the first four days of December. It is not because I hated the festival or didn’t want to watch it, it was just sometimes too difficult to sit through it. Now, I am not saying it was a bad experience, it was just something that had created such a deep longing, one I had been so afraid to deal with.
Which is strange, as I have no problems getting together with my friends. I have no problems meeting up with my old professor, and I enjoy going back to visit the school and guest lecturing. I even enjoy talking about the good ol’ days with my friends. However the festival is one single moment, frozen forever in time. The person I see on the screen in the choir, was me at age 21, and that image can never be changed.
For the longest time people would harp at me about it being “time to move on” or “time to grow up.” After all, what is the cultural stereotype of a “loser”? Some one who lives in his mom and dad’s basement and watches high highlight reels of his “glory days.” Aren’t those highlight reels nothing more then a series of those frozen moments? That is what it certainly felt like to me. I felt that if I watched it I would just be trying to relive my glory days. It was best not to watch it, and forget any of that happened.
Fact is, I couldn’t forget those so called “glory days”, or perhaps to use a more seasonal term, days of Auld Lang Syne. Many people will say this is a cliché, but for me, college was the time of life. Now, that’s not to say it was a perfect bed or roses and everything was wonderful and great. There were some hard times during those years. There were days when dreams were shattered, and moments were I felt like my heart was ripped out of my chest like one of Mola Ram’s victims in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. There was even a day were I was forced to confront my own mortality.
However, in the midst of those hard times there were many wonderful moments, so many that those great moments overpowered the bad ones, and in many ways made those bad moments more tolerable. It was during that time that I learned some of the greatest lessons from my trusted friend and mentor, Dr. Thomas Becknell, who taught me not just about literature and writing but about faith, life and nature. I discovered ( or perhaps rediscovered) my true purpose. I fell in love for the first time. More importantly I found the best friends I have ever had, friends whom in the short span of time that I knew them, became part of my family.
It was also a time in which something else happened. This may also sound like a cliché, but I rediscovered the magic of Christmas. Now some may shy away from using the term “magic”. Some may even condemn its use as they associate it with “The Dark Side”. However, it is being used to describe something exciting, wondrous, and mysterious, something that, even though their may well be a logical explanation for how it happens, but you don’t want to know that explanation. To know how or why it happens would ruin the surprise. While “miracle” would certainly apply , the word carries to much theological weight to it and is almost used too liberally, so much so that it is even used in a sarcastic manner for things that may not be miraculous. So, magic it is.
One of the disadvantages of growing up is that we tend to loose our sense of wonder and awe of things. That first snow fall of the year becomes a reason to grumble and is explained off as the result of two colliding weather pressure systems. The lights on the Christmas tree that enchanted us on our first Christmases are only the result of an electrical current. Even love is written off as the result of a bio-chemical reaction in the brain. No longer do we look at those things with the same wonder and excitement that we did but with a simple shrug as we turn away to do some other thing on our list.
However, during that time, I found that sensation returned. On campus there was a greater sense of wonder and amazement at Christmas time. I would leave for Thanksgiving break and then all of a sudden, just as it was in the old fairy tale of The Elves and The Shoemaker, the school would be decorated for the holidays. From the giant tree in the Community Life Center, to the garlands, banners and ornaments that filled the Great Hall, it all just felt so magical. Even the snow that blanketed the campus felt like something out of Narnia or Middle-Earth. The campus was like Cair Paravel, Rivendell and Howarts all rolled into one. Because of this, I actually felt like I could pause a moment and reflect on the spirit of the season.
Even the student body changed durring that week. While there may be some coming stress from finals, the students seemed to smile at each other more. Doors seemed to be held open longer. Hugs seemed warmer, handshakes were warmer and fist-bumps…bumpier. Even study parties felt more fun. Unless you were a cold hearted curmudgeon, it was impossible not to be affected by this magic. It was a time and a place where the true meaning of Christmas was celebrated in full.
However, college is only four years long and that time came to an end. I had to graduate, grow up and get a “real job”, one just so happened to be in retail. As such the magic of Christmas was replaced with the coldness of commercialism. My friends all moved away, and one sadly passed away in the summer of 2010 as a result of a car accident. Further, she could be seen quite frequently in the festival broadcast. No longer did things seem as magical. To watch the festival again was to transport myself like Ebenezer Scrooge to a past that was best long, long forgotten.
Then, this year, as I was flipping through channels, I decided that rather then fight it, I would allow the Spirit of Christmas Past to take me back to that time. I remembered the spirit and the meaning of the season, which had been the very reason the festival had been put on in the first place. I thought back to those good times with my friends and how much fun we had. I remembered my friend who is now gone, and shed a tear for her, for her husband who lost her, and for her child who never even got to celebrate its first Christmas. I recalled the lessons I learned from my mentor. I even saw the campus as it was back in 2006, and was reminded of the place that I had fallen in love with when I was only 10 years old and I had visited that school for a Young Author’s Conference.
In that hour I discovered something. Something I knew all along, but had never admitted. Something that didn’t make it hard to watch the special anymore. It is best described in the wisdom that the All-Knowing Trash-Heap gives Gobo the Fraggle to relate to the human Doc in the series finale of the classic 1980’s TV show, Fraggle Rock. That wisdom is that, “You cannot leave the magic.” Sure enough, I could not and cannot leave that magic.
What is that magic? Well, there is first that magic of friendship. For some reason in four years time, those friends I found became like family and they still are. Any time I get together with them, no matter how long it has been since I last spent time with them, it is like merely a second has gone by. When we are together we then regale each other in yet another story about our collegiate exploits, and plan some new, fun adventure. Those friendships never ended, and they transcend the laws of time and space because the bond is so deep and so true. Even my departed friend, as I believe she is in a better place, is still my friend. I just have to wait longer to see her again.
Then there is the magic of those lessons I learned. Not a day goes by where I do not recall something I learned or read in college. They were lessons that had real weight, real depth and real meaning. They were lessons with substance, not just trivial facts or figures. Even though I do not see my mentor everyday his words still guide me, like Obi-Wan Kenobi guiding Luke Skywalker on his path to becoming a Jedi. True wisdom never leaves you, and not even a crashed computer can change that.
Even that school itself was magic. For some reason, ever since I was in elementary school it called to me. I cannot explain what it was, except to say that it felt like I was meant to be there. I fit in like a round peg into a round hole, so much so that anytime I visit, it still feels like home. The reason why was because of the people, and the memories we made.
Now, what about the magic of Christmas? Well, it can still feel as magical as it did during those four years of college. If I conduct myself with a sense of wonder and amazement, maintain a feeling of excitement, and remember the meaning, it can be magical again. Sure, I may help put up the decorations, but that doesn’t mean that the magic is gone. Black Friday cannot crush that. Family stress cannot kill it.
I cannot leave the magic. It stays with me. That place, those people, this season it stays with me. It’s all in my heart and in my memories. So what if I can’t go back and do it all over again? As long as I do not become consumed with the loss of that past, like that stereotypical loser watching a high-light reel, but rather celebrate that past that past, why shouldn’t I cherish and treasure those days of “auld lang syne*”? That is what I did while I watched the festival again, I cherished the gifts I had, remembered the magic, and celebrated the true meaning of Christmas.
*Auld Lang Syne is old Scottish for “old long since”, or to put it plainly “ Days gone by”.