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Notes from the Small Pond: Have yourself a merry little struggle

The holidays are tough. Everyone gets that. Beyond the annual reminder of all the things you failed to accomplish since last year's promises and the general schizophrenic paranoia of wondering why everyone else is so together and joyful and bubbly while you spend lingering moments lying in bed staring at the ceiling or paralyzed in the shower or parked in your driveway thinking "How'd it get like this?"

Beyond all that normal craziness, there's a second level of beautiful melancholy that this season breeds.

Judy Garland sings it.

The ever-popular tune "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" is an excellent and representative manifestation. The original lyrics were written by Hugh Martin, with help from Ralph Blaine for the 1944 musical "Meet Me in St. Louis." It starred Judy Garland as a girl lamenting the fact that her family was moving to New York City, leaving their familiar and beloved St. Louis, Missouri, home. The song is her character's way of "cheering up" her little sister, as they prepare to depart eastward at this very same time of year:

"Have yourself a merry little Christmas

It may be your last

Next year we may all be living in the past

Have yourself a merry little Christmas

Pop that champagne cork

Next year we may all be living in New York

No good times like the olden days

Happy golden days of yore

Faithful friends who were dear to us

Will be near to us no more

But at least we all will be together

If the Lord allows

From now on, we'll have to muddle through somehow

So have yourself a merry little Christmas now ..."

In fact, these original lyrics were too rough, even for Judy Garland, who insisted they be lightened up, lest the song prove too depressing and negatively affect ticket sales.

Here's the version that eventually made the cut: youtube.com/watch?v=nH9RyySpkU8.

This year, during this holiday season, when you hear the homogenized version of this song with the Muzak, Walmart-ized lyrics: "Hang a shining star upon the highest bough," plug your ears and find Judy Garland's version about "muddling through." It's so much more honest, heartfelt and true. Her voice quakes through like a child fighting off tears, trying to understand loss of innocence, the loss of things familiar. Muddling through.

That's what we do. We muddle through. All year. Every year. Until we don't.

At Christmastime, the muddling is simply more noticeable. It's not pessimism or negativity or seeing the glass half-empty. It's just the truth. In this life there will be trouble. The Christmas season, in addition to celebrating the mitigation of suffering and darkness, poignantly reminds us that suffering simply is.

Hence the muddling. Have yourself a merry little Christmas. And keep in mind the ones less merry. The muddlers like you, me, them and us.

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