My stepmother passed away in October. Wanda and my father were married for 26 years.
I credit her with saving my father’s soul, as she was a devout Christian with a loving heart, and she will be missed. Her favorite time of year was Christmas, and one year I shared a story with her…and she loved it. It’s a story that I share every year with all of you, and even though I thought about writing something different this year, this one is for her.
And although she professed that she couldn’t carry a tune, she loved singing this one. So, this is for you, Wanda. Sing it loudly in heaven. I will miss you.
JOHN PIERPONT died a failure.
He was a failure at school teaching. He was too easy on his students. And so he turned to the legal world for training.
He was a failure as a lawyer. He was too generous to his clients and too concerned about justice to take the cases that brought good fees. The next career he took up was that of dry-goods merchant.
He was a failure as a businessman. He could not charge enough for his goods to make a profit, and was too liberal with credit. In the meantime, he had been writing poetry, and though it was published, he didn’t collect enough royalties to make a living.
He was a failure as a poet. And so he decided to become a minister, went off to Harvard Divinity School, was ordained as minister of the Hollis Street Church in Boston. But his position for Prohibition and against slavery got him crosswise with the influential members of his congregation and he was forced to resign.
He was a failure as a minister. Politics seemed a place where he could make some difference, and he was nominated as the Abolition party candidate for governor of Massachusetts. He lost. Undaunted, he ran for Congress under the banner of the Free Soil Party. He lost.
He was a failure as a politician. The Civil War came along, and he volunteered as a chaplain of the 22nd Regiment of the Massachusetts Volunteers. Two weeks later, he quit, having found the task too much of a strain on his health. He was 76 years old. He couldn’t even make it as a chaplain.
Why am I telling you this? Well, in one very important sense, John Pierpont was not a failure. Every year, come December, we celebrate his success. We carry in our hearts and minds a lifelong memorial to him.
It’s a song. It’s a terribly simple song about the simple joy of whizzing through the cold white dark of winters gloom in a sleigh pulled by one horse. And with the company of friends, laughing and singing all the way. No more. No less.
John Pierpont wrote “Jingle Bells.”
To write a song that stands for the simplest joys, to write a song that three or four hundred million people around the world know – a song about something they’ve never done but can imagine – a song that everyone of us, large and small, can hoot out the moment the chord is struck on the piano and the chord is struck in our spirit – well, that’s not failure.
Merry Christmas, happy holidays and may God bless us…everyone!