I have no idea how most people are spending the day we call Christmas. I, for my part, started it by wanting to quickly send out some well-wishing emails and then start whipping up some enthusiasm to get me excited about Christmas. Most years, this is a pretty hopeless task, and I’ve learned to fake it. “Silent Night” and “Jingle Bells” roll off my tongue effortlessly by now.
So there I was, pressing “send” on my Christmas mails and about to shut off my computer, when I noticed a dangling USB plug. Mind you, around my computer, the digital signals better find their way on their own, because my Gordian knot of cables is certainly not making it easy for them. Intrigued, I followed the lone, unmatched USB connector back into the darkness of the mess. My nose up close, tugging and threading, I eventually emerged at the other side with my fingers still pinching a totally inconspicuous, black cable. It lead me to an external hard drive that was more than a decade old and leading a dusty and useless life among a slew of other, similar, apparatus. Back then, 500 MB compared to a mansion of space instead of a cramped studio apartment, as it does nowadays. Consequently, as is wont to happen, it had been made redundant by bigger and faster drives.
I plugged it in. Its lone red eye blinked alive and it made some promising whirring sounds. You know, from the spinning magnetic discs before they got replaced by SSD chips. My computer seemed cooperative and humored me for the time being. It displayed a generic icon on my desktop with “Backups” underneath it.
Why stop there? I double clicked on the disk icon and was served up a window with about ten backup folders, labeled by date. Yup, I had been right: they dated back from well over a decade ago. Daniel Craig was just starting to get the hang of being James Bond.
Nested in the first backup folder there was another one named “Music”. And it began to dawn on me. Someone very close to my heart had been suffering from depression. Slowly and inconspicuously, her condition had worsened. Initially, I had taken the happy face as an indication that all was well. It took me too long to realize that the smiley face was nothing but a crudely painted on mask to hide the sadness. And when that paint flaked off, it was too late for words to reach her. Whatever I said, however much I reasoned, the black cloud had become too dense. I was afraid, I was going to lose her.
It was a few weeks before Christmas, and the leaden skies made the brief daylight hours seem even more oppressive than the long, dark nights. That’s when I sat down, picked up my guitar and started to pluck some chords. You see, I don’t really play the guitar that well, I am a physicist, not a musician. But my heart made up for what my fingers couldn’t play, and, against all odds, a song started to emerge.
I got some audio recording software, a mic, and assorted cables to plug it all in. Then I recorded the song. And about a week later, when it was finished, I was at a completely different place. Writing and recording the song had transformed me. But that, of course, is the least important part of the whole story.
The day before Christmas Eve, I burned the song on a CD and wrote its title on the label: Life Is All Around You. I wrapped it and gave it to my friend as a Christmas present.
I am not kidding myself that it was my song that helped her turn her life around, even though she is nice enough to insist that it was. Maybe it was what it stood for. Or maybe it made her realize how strong our connection was. Fact is, she started to improve and get better. Today, she still experiences wisps of darkness but they don’t sap her life force any longer. She has found a vocation that inspires her, and she’s going places with it.
Of all the Christmas presents I have ever bestowed upon my friends and family, this one was as much a gift to myself as it was to my friend. And that kind of present makes the best present of all.
And now, after listening to it again after so many years, I decided I was going to put it up for other people to listen to as well. If only to share my joy about that long ago moment. And, if I’m completely honest, I’m starting to feel some Christmas stirring inside. Do you?