It was the first piano lesson of 2021, and Alex and I were discussing his new scale variations. In December, 12-year-old Alex had “Joy to the World” scales. In the studio, “Joy to the World” scales are a beloved holiday tradition, as expected and anticipated as Christmas sight-reading books and Christmas carol ear-tune assignments.

But now it is January; time to pack away the manger scenes, the ceramic Santa Clauses, and the “Joy to the World” scales until next December. “Alex,” I said, “this week’s scales are in G major and minor, but let’s do these variations….” “Miss Amy,” Alex interrupted, “I was wondering if I could keep doing ‘Joy to the World’ scales. I have two reasons.” I’m listening.

“Number one, ‘Joy to the World’ scales are a little bit tricky so I think it makes me better at scales. But the number two reason is that anything having to do with Christmas makes me feel less anxious right now.”

Sold. (Actually, kid, you had me at “I have two reasons.”)

There are way more than two reasons to seek out whatever might lessen our personal and collective anxiety right now. We all need the literal and the metaphoric snuggle blanket, cozy slippers, and soft PJs these days. Around here, we have flannel snowflake sheets on the bed; my favorite teacup is never empty; I refuse to read anything that could not be turned into a Hallmark movie of rainbow and happy endings. We are all desperate for comfort and security, the assurance that things will be OK.

And then last Wednesday the unimaginable happened in Washington DC. But of course, after 4+ years of compliance, keeping silent, not standing up for goodness and decency and truth, that the US Capitol could be so easily breached should have come as no surprise. Look the other way long enough, and we forget what to look out for. To quote Shakespeare’s The Tempest: “Hell is empty and all the devils are here.”

The mystery writer Louise Penny takes the title of her newest book, All the Devils Are Here, from this line. Most of the books in her mystery series are set in a charming fictional village just south of Montréal called “Three Pines,” where the Chief Inspector Armand Gamache heads the formidable Sûreté du Québec. However, the mysteries center more on relationships, personal struggle and integrity (and hot chocolate drunk in front of the fireplace at the neighborhood bistro) than on murder. Indeed, the kind and thoughtful Gamache lives and leads by four mantras: I don’t know. I need help. I am sorry. I was wrong.

I have been waiting for over four years to hear the roughly 60 million Americans who voted Trump into office say, I don’t know. I need help. I am sorry. I was wrong.

I suspect that this apology will never come. But if the last few years have taught us anything, it is that small actions matter. We have all, in our own ways, looked—and continue to look—the other way. Wednesday’s horror is on all of us. I don’t know. I need help. I am sorry. I was wrong.

Sometimes I think the last ten months have been simultaneously the best and worst months of my life. There have been days when no amount of “Joy to the World” scales were ever going to comfort the disquiet in my soul, and also moments when I thought the very stillness and simplicity of my locked-down life was more precious than I could possibly imagine. But, as last week proved once again, the world we lean into and lean upon is both fragile and vulnerable. All the devils are here.

We are in this mess together, God help us. Armed with little but snowflake flannel sheets and some Christmas carol fragments, we must look—not the other way—but straight forward into the broken, hopeful tomorrow.

I don’t know. I need help. I am sorry. I was wrong.



(Both photos are the Parliament building in Budapest, where history has also seen some violence and unrest over the years…)


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