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I uncharacteristically jumped out of bed as soon as my alarm went off. (Well, not exactly jumped!) I was a gal on a mission and wanted to get an early start on my Christmas shopping. And, yes, folks, December is early for me. I am amazed by folks who by Halloween victoriously declare, “I have it all done!”

That said, the mall parking lot was packed at 11 a.m. on a Tuesday morning. I cruised around until I spotted a young couple who were “strolling” to their car. Trying not to scare the bejeebers out of them, I followed at a discrete distance.

My breathing became shallow and my heart did its impatient two-step as I followed at a snail’s pace. Finally, they stopped at a nondescript car. They loaded their packages into the trunk and proceeded to enter the car and sat… Yup, folks, they just sat, chatting it up.

Taking deep breaths, I sat in my car too. After what felt like an eternity, they began pulling out. Just as I started to cut my wheels, another car zipped into my coveted parking space!

I was on fire. I uttered a few non-publishable words and began inching through the crowded parking lot looking for another spot. I eventually found one — in “Siberia!”

I finished shopping and made the long trek back to my car. Traffic was heavy as I headed for home. The “jingle bell” music didn’t cut it. I switched stations and heard these words:

“I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat,
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

Traffic was at a stand-still. I felt tears gather behind my eyes. No, it wasn’t the traffic, although it could have been. I thought, “Peace on earth? Good will to men?”

This lovely carol is based on the poem “Christmas Bells” written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow on Christmas Day during the American Civil War. His words reflect the same fears and uncertainties that divide us today.

“And in despair I bowed my head:
There is no peace on earth, I said.
For hate is strong and mocks the song,
Of peace on earth good will to men.”

There’s no doubt about it folks, we are living in scary times. Our country is not divided into North and South as it was during the Civil War (although sometimes I wonder) but, between red and blue states.

Rhetoric is so amped-up, it’s hard to follow the bouncing ball of politics. On social media we are divided into “us “and “them.” And to boot, sometimes I am “us” and sometimes I am “them.”

Folks, when did civil discourse fall out of vogue? When did rudeness replace enlightened conversation? When did lying for personal gain, replace telling the truth? When did downright insults and name calling replace respect?

I am bewildered.

Sadly the fires of “isms” (racism and sexism) still burn out of control. Those “isms” are stoked daily by political fire-starters, social media, or maybe your next-door neighbor.

I know of a family who will not be spending Christmas together. It’s akin to the Hatfield and McCoy feud. Some support the administration’s policies; others do not. Tragically, instead of calling a truce, the fabric of this family has been ripped apart and discarded like a worn holiday tablecloth.

Yup, folks are angry on both sides. Yet, so much that is going on is out of our control.
However, there are still a few things we can control. How about striving to bring peace and live in harmony regardless of one’s political affiliation, race, gender, or sexual orientation? Or is my idealistic self out of touch with reality? I hope not.

What if each of us, metaphorically carried one lighted candle? We would light up our world—a world that seems to be encased in darkness.

In retrospect, had I smiled at the driver who stole my parking space instead of “catching fire,” I would have switched on the light of harmony and peace. Instead, I cursed the darkness and the driver.

Let’s make a deal: Instead of just surviving the holidays, why not shine a light on the true meaning of Christmas?

Can we set aside our political differences and just be Americans?

We teach by example: Our kids and grandkids are watching us. The world is watching. We need to watch ourselves. We need to judiciously watch what we say and how we say it.

“I heard the Bells on Christmas Day” was written during a time of despair. Yet, the last stanza is illuminated with hope — something the world needs now.

“Then pealed the bells loud and deep;
God is not dead, nor doth he sleep.
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
With peace on earth, goodwill to men.”

Let’s try to make the lyrics of this beautiful carol into a reality. I have a stubborn hope and faith in humanity and feel we can pull this off.

Deal?

Faithful readers: Thank you for your comments, cards and messages over the year. I wish you and yours continued blessings.

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Celia Marszal-Iannelli
Celia Iannelli is a native New Yorker enjoying a second career — in 'retirement' — as a freelance writer. She lives in Jamesport.