When All Is Said And Done It Really Is A “Wonderful Life.”

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Christmas Tree Decorated With Colored Lights | Photo by siuz.com

With all of the problems caused by the pandemic I guess I am like most people in that I have had to deal with bouts of depression and anxiety. My wife and I and our adult daughter who lives with us are all in the category of having serious underlying conditions.

Right to left: Our Daughter Michelle, My Wife Suzanne and me | Photo by Tim Chuey (The only selfie I have ever taken)

That fact has made us even more cautious than the average person. We have kept ourselves away from other people as much as possible and only doing the things that are absolutely necessary. We wear masks, stay at least 6 feet away from others and spend as little time as possible when doing the grocery shopping.

I thought retelling my story that I explained to you in two segments in December of 2013 would help me put things into the proper perspective. It might even give you a more positive attitude. Here goes.

Christmas Presents
Christmas Gifts Under The Tree | Photo by alama.com

Christmas is the time when thoughts turn to presents, giving and getting presents. When we are very young the getting is so much more important to us than the giving of presents. Often we were told to make a list of the things we wanted so Santa would know exactly what would make us happy. I don’t know about you but deep down there was always one present that I really wanted that I didn’t get. It was usually something that was either way too expensive or outlandish like wanting a pony when you live in the city. There was another complication in my life that made Christmas, and all of the holidays for that matter, difficult to live through. My father was a coal miner and my mother a housewife, we were allowed to use that term back then, and they adopted me when I was just over 2-years-old. The life of a coal miner was difficult at best, especially way back then. Many of them worked their shift and went home to a few beers and collapsed from exhaustion at bedtime. My father had a weakness for alcohol and was an alcoholic who had a just over fifty-year abusive relationship with my mother. As it turns out my father and all of his brothers suffered from the same problem. That leads me to believe that there is at least a genetic component to their alcoholism and that makes me thankful that I was his adopted son and not in that gene pool. He never drank while working but would start when he got home. I think his biggest stressor was that he couldn’t stand up for himself with his bosses so he took it out on his family when he came home. Holidays were worse because he had that much more time at home to drink. The reason I am dredging all of this up is to show how every holiday, especially Christmas, became tainted with his alcoholic episodes. I learned from this experience that Christmas would rarely ,if ever, be good for me if I expected presents to make me happy. We had recently moved and we now lived two doors away from the elementary school I was attending, the school, and the convent. I had a cousin attending that school and she was in their church choir. I was encouraged to join and I gave it a try. I really liked it.  It was a parochial school and the nun who was in charge of the choir, mainly the discipline, told us to remember that singing is praying 100 times because we were not performing but giving the congregation the proper atmosphere to be prayerful.The rehearsals took a lot of work, but were very rewarding. What I learned from this experience was that Christmas for me became the rehearsals and actual singing in church. I could be disappointed if I didn’t get the right Christmas present, but if the singing was my goal I would always feel fulfilled.

Album Cover "The Angel Choir A Program Of Christmas Music In Seven Languages | Photo by Tim Chuey
Album Cover “The Angel Choir A Program Of Christmas Music In Seven Languages | Photo by Tim Chuey

In February of 1959 we recorded a record album of Christmas music. The price to buy the 33 1/3 rpm record album was $3.00. Any profits from the sale went to support the Catholic Diocese of Rochester, New York. We sang in 7 languages and what made that even more special was that each song was taught to us by someone who spoke the language in which it was written. The languages were Latin, German, Ukrainian, Italian, French, Polish, and of course English.  We sang a French Christmas Carole “Qu’as-tu vu Bergere”? “What did you see, Shepherdess?” An Italian lullaby to the Baby Jesus called “Dormi, non piangere” which means “Sleep, weep not” was particularly soothing. A Polish lullaby “Lulaj-ze Jezuniu,” “Go To Sleep Baby Jesus” dear to my Polish mother. The song that got to me more than any of the others was “Stille Nacht,” “Silent Night” sung in its original German. I sang the English version many, many times before but when we sang it in public for the first time the German version literally made the hair stand up on my neck. That was back in the day when the choir sang from the choir loft which was up high in the back of the church.

Close-Up "the Angel Choir" Album Cover Showing Names | Photo by Tim Chuey
Close-Up “the Angel Choir” Album Cover Showing Names | Photo by Tim Chuey

I was in the 8th Grade when we recorded the album and it was really cool to have all of our names on the album cover.

We zoom forward to current days and I still sing in a church choir. Now my wife, my daughter and I sing in the St. Paul Catholic Church choir together. The choir sings from the front of the church facing the congregation. I particularly like it this way because I can look into the faces of the people while we are singing. I had a Glee Club director in college who told the members to find two people in the audience to sing to. One who is really into the music and might even be mouthing the words we were singing and the second person to look for is someone who appears to be caught up in emotion. I remember while singing in another church choir one time I found someone to sing to who looked so emotional they might start crying at any time. I would glance at her between looking at the director and my music. By the time we were finished singing the hymn I could see her expression change and she actually starting singing with us. It is a good feeling to know you may have helped to change the mood of someone who was feeling some sort of emotional pain. All I want for Christmas is to sing beautiful hymns in church. Now maybe you can see why the singing has replaced the anticipation of getting presents for Christmas, for me at least. I still look forward to and enjoy sharing Christmas presents and time with my family particularly my two grandchildren. The true meaning of Christmas, peace on earth and good will toward all, stays with me the whole year long as I sing in church each Sunday.

Please don’t get me wrong on this. I loved my parents and they did a good job raising me with the right values and sent me to good schools. They both died many years ago and I had to reconcile my feelings about them. Forgiveness is the only way to get that “monkey off my back” about my father’s alcoholism and my mother’s enabling his behavior. Yes, they had choices in life, but to some degree they both were trapped in those roles due to the social structure of the times. If an organization like “Women’s Space” existed back then my mother’s life might have turned out differently. I don’t regret any part of my life so far because it is all of those struggles that worked to make me the person I am today. I was a better father to my children than my father was to me and one of my proudest things to say is that my son is even a much better father than I have been.

This is not the subject I was planning to write about this week for my column. After weeks of preparation and rehearsal I was poised to worship God with song at Midnight Mass Tuesday night December 24, 2013. It seems another plan was unfolding.

St. Paul Catholic ChurchChoir 2013 |Photo by Pete
St. Paul Catholic Church Choir 2013 | Photo by Pete Kerns

This picture of our choir was taken Sunday morning December 22 and as soon as I found someone to take the picture I put my coat back on and immediately left for the after hours medical facility. ( I didn’t even remember who the person was that I asked to take the picture, but in my own defense I was very sick and not thinking straight. It shows you how oxygen-deprived my brain was if I couldn’t remember the name of the Eugene Police Chief. Sorry again Pete and thanks for taking a couple of pictures for me.)

After the picture was taken I headed straight to a medical facility. The doctor examined me and prescribed an inhaler, but by early in the day Christmas Eve my wife had to take me to another doctor.

Second Doctor's Visit | Photo by Suzanne Chuey
Second Doctor’s Visit | Photo by Suzanne Chuey

This time I got an X-Ray, antibiotics, and a second kind of inhaler along with Prednisone for my pneumonia. Needless to say I didn’t go to church. As a matter of fact I was feeling pretty  sorry for myself as my wife and daughter were getting ready to leave the house so they could sing. I needed something on the television to keep me somewhat aware while I attempted to update my late night weather forecasts for EDN through a very foggy brain. It turns out that my favorite movie “It’s A Wonderful Life,” mentioned in a previous column, was on right then.

 | Photo by
It’s a Wonderful Life | Photo by outsidethebeltway.com

As I watched George Bailey go through his doubt of self-worth It came to me in a flash of recognition. I seemingly lost the one thing I really wanted for Christmas. The one thing I depended on to get me through, but if the circumstances were just slightly different it could have been much worse. If I were living in my car or on the street I could have died within 24-48 hours if I hadn’t seen a doctor. Life seems so much more precious when you can hardly breathe. Breathing is supposed to be an autonomic response meaning that it works without us having to tell it to. In my case I couldn’t even take a half breath, so at night you listen to yourself straining to get each cubic inch of air that you can. I guess I am lucky that I have sleep apnea because I’m not sure I could have kept breathing properly overnight without my CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) machine forcing air into my lungs through my nose. It is very humbling to lay there wondering what will happen next and if you do fall asleep will you wake up in this world or the next. I know this may sound a bit overly dramatic, but for those of you who have experienced it for yourself I’m sure you would agree with my description.

Our son, daughter-in-law, her mother, and our two grandchildren kept me in their thoughts and prayers also which helped give me strength. We’ll be able to have “Christmas” with them when I am strong enough. And to celebrate our son’s birthday together instead of over the phone. That would give us the chance to exchange presents and be able to physically hug each other.

I am recovering, much more slowly than I would like, and I am grateful for the fact that I can take a reasonably deep breath without choking on it. It will probably be a week or more before I am back to what I would call “my normal life” but I know my outlook on life has taken on a new perspective for the New Year 2014. I am going to do my best to spend more time with my family and stop worrying about the things I have no control over. So, you see, I didn’t get what I wanted, but I got what I needed most. Happy Holidays!

That’s what happened 7 years ago. After going through all of that I think you can understand why we haven’t been physically to church since the pandemic broke out. Back in 1966 I was hospitalized for 28 days having been taken to the hospital at 4:00 AM with what was called a Fever of Undetermined Origin (FUO) that spiked to 107 for four days. Having survived what they believed was a virus that gave me the fever and a massive blood clot in my right leg you can appreciate my reluctance to physically go to church and sing, even though a mask. Once you have nearly died due to a virus it’s simply a matter of survival. The precautions we are taking now are meant to protect me and anyone that may have contact with me. Until I get the vaccine and most everyone else is inoculated I’ll have to make due by watching the Mass celebrated online. I’m sure God would rather have me alive than to die because I didn’t take every necessary precaution. Have faith. Life will be more normal in the near future and it is truly a wonderful life.

Let me know what you would like me to talk about or explain. You can comment below or email me at: [email protected].

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