By Glenn Townes
glenn.townes@njurbannews.com

I doubt few people will disagree with me when I say that this has been one of the most difficult and challenging years in recent memory. Nearly everyone I know has been impacted directly or indirectly by COVID-19, financial worries, stress, or racial tensions. In one way or another, this has been a terrible year for thousands, if not millions, of folks.  And that’s why the songs Merry Christmas Baby by Charles Brown and The Christmas Song by Nat King Cole are blasting loudly and non-stop on my computer!

I play the songs every year around Christmas. For too many reasons to list, Merry Christmas Baby and its down-home, soulful, and bluesy lyrics hold a special place in my heart. The soft and earthy tones of the late singer fill my home every December.  He sings, “Santee came down the chimney about half-past three, left these pretty presents that you see before me, Ooh, Merry Christmas pretty baby…Sure have been good to me…I haven’t had a drink this morning…I’m all lit up like a Christmas tree!” As I listen to the song and sip on a traditional holiday libation—some generously spiked egg nog, I reflect on the highs and many lows of this past year. My daily routines was disrupted. The madness threw my usual pep in my step, and on point, groove became a series of missteps, stutters, and stumbles. I’m always the first one to criticize people resistant to adjustments, growth, and change. I smirk when I hear people say,  “But, I’ve always done it this way; why should I change now?” Here I was falling into the same habit that I faulted others. Most of the time, change is good–even it’s forced by a global health crisis.

Some of the inconveniences this year included wearing a face mask nearly all day every day, social distancing, no Thursday afternoon Happy Hour with friends. There was no semiannual writer’s retreat/vacation to the Florida Keys for a weeklong respite of sun, salmon, and solitude. Also, I  always faced the risk of contracting a deadly virus every time I left the house. Perhaps, the most challenging thing for me this year was dealing with the loss of two of my closest and dearest friends to complications related to COVID-19. Their loss taught me the incredible value and importance of life. It also taught me to embrace those close to me and hold them tight and never let go, as tomorrow is indeed not promised.

The holidays are a peak time for mental health issues to arise. The gloom and doom of that dreaded monster depression attacks and cold cocks people in an unrelenting fury.

I’m included in that mix, as I lost my Dad, 11 years ago–4 days before Christmas. I miss him every day and especially at Christmastime.

However, my spirits are lifted when I listen to both Charles Brown and Nat King Cole croon their signature songs. The boost in my mood is due to the positive and beautiful memories I have of Christmastime as a child, and adult huddled with my loved ones– and not the rum-laced egg nog I’ve been imbibing! As Nat King Cole ends the classic song, “Although it’s been said many times, many ways, Merry Christmas to you.”

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