By Emily Strand
My favorite ornament is broken. We hang it on the tree, though — every year. It is no less lovely for its brokenness. We just take a little extra care with it.
This ornament is a three-dimensional treble clef, carved from a roughly egg-shaped piece of wood. My husband gave it to me the very first Christmas we knew each other. At that point in our relationship, music was the main interest we shared. We hadn’t decided whether to be friends or something more, but we knew we both loved to play and listen to music. An old man in the neighborhood where he grew up carved ornaments every year, and on a visit home during the holidays, my husband said he was drawn to purchasing this one for me.
I was nonplussed when he gave it to me. I hadn’t gotten him a gift; I wasn’t aware we’d reached the “gifts” stage in our new acquaintance. But I remember receiving it with joy — as a good sign for things to come.
And it has been a good sign. Music has always brought us together, just as that ornament has always appeared on our tree at Christmastime. Back when it was just us, back when not getting enough sleep on a weeknight did not ruin an entire week for productivity, we would routinely head out to a nightclub around 9:00 p.m. (I’m trying to imagine leaving the house now at that ungodly hour; I can’t, it’s too terrifying). We’d sit in these smokey clubs together (that’s how long ago it was — these clubs were smoky) while some obscure musical artist passing through our mid-sized city gave an austere but brilliant performance. And we’d talk about it afterward. Soon we became more than friends.
Over time our musical interest shifted to playing music at our parish — a more forgiving venue than those smoky bars, especially when our careers became more demanding. When we were married, our love of music drove our wedding planning. We didn’t care what color the napkins were and gave few instructions to the photographer, but the music had to be good. A large choir made up of our musical friends sang. They were like angels, everyone said. One guest told me it was the most beautiful wedding she’d ever attended. It was all because of the music.
Making music together as a couple, and later as a family, has been a lifeline — an enduring good sign. There have been many difficult moments, as in other marriages. There have been highs and lows, sometimes too many lows and not enough highs. But there has always been music. I suppose music can also be dominated by dark notes of hurt and pain and loss. It is no less beautiful — perhaps it is more beautiful, because it endures.
I don’t remember the year that delicate, carved wooden ornament he gave me became a little crushed on one side. I don’t remember how it happened or who did it, if anyone. (Sometimes we blame the cat for these things.) I also don’t remember being particularly sad about it; but I recall thinking it was somewhat appropriate. Marriage is a delicate thing, easily crushed and yet surprisingly strong and enduring, if someone is willing to take a little extra care.
The music ornament still shows up on the tree each year. And we’re still here, too — a bit wounded, but still making music.