The Ultimate Holiday Wish: The Barry Manilow Moment
A What with Who?
Trust me. I'm shaking my head, too. When I consider the ultimate holiday wish for you and your family, I hark to the herald of a memory involving a singer-songwriter from the mid-seventies who happens to be in his mid-seventies. You read it right the first time. My Christmas Wish for you is the Barry Manilow Moment.
The funny thing is, I don't listen to Barry Manilow. In the rarest of occasions that I find myself in the mood for adult contemporary music, I prefer Neil Diamond. I don't mean to disparage Mr. Manilow's talent or disrespect his reputation. After all, five decades of sold-out concerts proves that he is a both a staple and a veritable juggernaut in the music industry. That said, I've not purchased one of the more than 85 million albums sold worldwide.
Given the choice, my tastes align more to the classic and hard rock genre. I even liken myself a bit of music snob. I love talking about how AC/DC made better music with Bon Scott than they do with Brian Johnson. I'd tell you that Dark Side of the Moon deserves to be heard from beginning to end, and much to the embarrassment of my family, I still wear Def Leppard, Led Zeppelin, and Iron Maiden concert shirts out in public. So where does Barry Manilow fit in?
The Barry Manilow Moment
At age 48, I don't have many memories from kindergarten - 43 years is a long time ago. I know that I wasn't fond of the molasses cookies the school offered for a daily snack. I'm still recovering from the memory of my teacher asking me on the very first day of school if my last name sounded like macaroni. (On a side note, can you guess what my nickname was for the remainder of the school year?) I also happen to remember one spring day in the school parking lot while my mom attended one of my parent teacher conferences.
On this particular day, I was in the car with my older sister and younger brother. I think it was a brown and beige, two-tone Pontiac sedan. We were in the parking lot of Lower Milford Elementary School. My mom instructed us to stay in the car while she went inside the school to meet with my teacher. Back then, it wasn't uncommon for parents to leave their kids alone in the car. It was a different time. I don't know how long we were out there. I'm sure I processed time differently as an impatient - if not petulant - child. I was in the front seat of the car. Like I said, it was a different time. I don't remember what came over me, but at some point, I felt compelled to roll down the window. I propped myself upon the door with my feet still inside the car, and then something strange and amazing happened. I began to sing.
The car provided the makeshift stage. My arena was the small parking lot in front of the school. My acapella started softly, but each repetition of the refrain grew into a rousing crescendo. Because my exposure to music was limited to what I heard in the car on AM Radio, my song of choice was Barry Manilow's, "I Write the Songs". In 1976, this was a hit single, and I still remember the lyrics - I write the songs that make the whole world sing, I write the songs of love and special things. I write the songs that make the young girls cry . . . I write the songs, I write the songs . . .
I don't know if I had an audience, but I'm sure that anyone in the parking lot - and quite possibly the entire state - could hear me. I didn't care. My tone or pitch didn't matter. It didn't matter if I got the words right. What mattered was that I was singing at all. What I felt in that moment was an unbridled sense of joy that exploded in the form of a song, and the power of what I felt in that moment remains with me to this very day.
As I reflect back on that moment, I smile at the thought of what it must have looked - or sounded - like hanging outside the car, singing at the top of my lungs. Singing is not something I enjoy. If you were to actually hear me sing, I'm not sure you would enjoy it either. The conditions necessary for me to grab a microphone today would require both a karaoke machine and a designated driver. Perhaps the act of singing was the expression of something more meaningful. Perhaps what I long for is that fleeting moment of joy that explodes into the refrain of a Barry Manilow song.
Allowing the Barry Manilow Moment
In our effort to achieve a conventional - if not acceptable - measure of success, we place conditions on our happiness. We look to the future at the expense of what we have in the moment. We think we will be satisfied once we get that raise or the next promotion. We think we will be content in a bigger house or a more affluent neighborhood. We think we might find a more enjoyable job once we've saved enough money for college. Everything in our life is measured against the standard of "if I only had a little more." When you experience life from that perspective, you'll find that you never have enough. In the ruthless pursuit of these abstract measures of success, we've lost sight of what we have. The truth is that you don't need stature or a deep reservoir of time and money to experience true joy in your life. You only need a moment.
Life has a way of placing distance between us and those moments of joy. We turn things like happiness into objectives that we must earn through quantifiable measures of success. We convince ourselves that we need to work for our happiness. We think that with enough money or material possessions, we can buy back the joy. With enough power, we presume that we could compel the world to deliver joy to our doorstep. We spend our days striving for more stuff or more status in the futile attempt to capture a moment until the moments are gone. Only when the moments of life have past us by do we realize that no amount of money or status will bring us back to the joy that erupts in the parking lot of a rural elementary school.
Give and Receive the Present of BEING Present
Like you, I've spent too many holidays far from home. It's somewhat ironic that we seem to cherish our connections most when we are geographically disconnected. Particularly in the military, the pain of separation over the holidays reminds us of the priceless moments together with family and friends. To be honest (and at this point, why wouldn't I be?), I measure the "success" of the holidays based on the things I do to make other people happy. I buy too many presents. I send too many of the same card to different people. I seem to have forgotten the value of being present with the people who most appreciate the mere fact that I am present.
The greatest gift you have to share with the people you care about in this world is - YOU. This is the most valuable and unique present you have to offer, and only you can give it. Is this not the very thing your family wanted most when you spent those holidays away from home? This holiday, stop reading your work emails. Turn off the television. Tell your family about the memories you cherished most when you were separated. Ask them to share their fondest memories of the holiday season. Be gracious, be mindful, and recognize the sights, sounds, smiles, and laughter of the moment. Be present, and you just may receive that most elusive gift of joy this holiday season.
So, that's what it means to have a Barry Manilow Moment. It isn't something you do. It isn't something you buy. Your only requirement is to show up. If you struggle to find joy, maybe you've been looking in the wrong place. Maybe it doesn't require looking at all. Be present. Give the greatest gift you have to offer, and in another 43 years, you may be the one telling the story about the joy you received this holiday season. Who knows . . . you may even start to sing.