Live Outside the Box

News item:  Beyoncé and Jay-Z purchase a $200 million Malibu mansion.

Even if you had all the money in the world, wouldn’t $20 million be sufficient?  Think of how much good the remaining $180 million could do for the less-fortunate.  I mean, how many bedrooms and bathrooms can a person use?

If you feel envy of their new digs, remember this:  Beyoncé and Jay-Z still live in a box just like you and I.

Oh, it’s quite an enormous box to be sure—40,000 square feet.  But it’s still a confined interior space whether it’s a seaside castle or a 120-square foot studio apartment—it remains a box.

We spend most of our lives living in confined boxed spaces.  From womb to crib to bed to house to car to classroom to office to hospital to coffin. 

Boxes are how we store things including ourselves.

Four walls, a ceiling, a floor—basic design of human life.

People spend huge amounts of disposable income filling in that space, placing art on walls, hanging lights from ceilings, laying rugs on floors,

Think of all the boxes that you now have in your home.   A house is a box divided into smaller boxes.  The bedrooms, the bathrooms, the closets, the dressers, the shower stall, the appliances.  Years ago, a refrigerator was referred to as the icebox.

Inside the closets are boxes of shoes, memorabilia, photos.

Then we take boxes from inside the house and put them in a larger box called a garage.

You see, our lives are mostly lived in confined spaces.  People think prison is confining when in reality we are all confined.

That’s why whenever I go on a trip, I favor visiting outdoor natural settings, rural areas over cities.  National parks in particular have no walls and definitely no ceilings—unless you count the sky and the stars.

These treasured, preserved areas remind us of how insignificant and finite our lives are.  Human history makes up such an infinitesimal speck in the earth’s existence.

It is humbling to visit Zion National Park and admire mountains that are millions of years old.

Wherever you live, pay attention to the topography that was there before you were born and will remain after you are long gone.  We are but brief visitors to this blessed planet.

If more people would keep this reality in mind, environmental issues such as global warming and climate change could more effectively be tackled.  But there’s something in the human mind that prevents people from thinking beyond their lifespan.  Parents often understand this concept whenever they talk about leaving the planet better off for their children and their grandchildren.

When people talk about personal freedoms, they are overlooking the one that is so obvious, we take it for granted:  the freedom to go outside every day, watching the clouds, feeling the cool air, hearing the birds.  Because these things are always there, it’s as if they are never there, an invisible sensory experience waiting to be savored.

For what matters most is when we walk outside the box.  And that’s something celebrities like Beyoncé and Jay-Z can’t easily do.

Family Photos

How many boxes of family photos do you have?  Are they stored in closets, under beds, in the garage?

Mine are all over the place.  About 20 percent are nicely stored in photo albums, the old-fashioned ones with plastic sleeves.  However, another 50 percent are in plastic baggies grouped together for a specific event like someone’s birthday, or in the original envelopes from the drug store.  Then the remaining 30 percent are in the Cloud, most of which have never been printed on paper.

Such randomness didn’t concern me until recently when I wanted to verify information about my life by double-checking photos. That’s when I realized I now have a new hobby to do in my retirement—cataloguing and archiving the entire Crosby photo album.

The most preserved photos in terms of dates and information are actually the ones I took myself with a Kodak Instamatic S-20 camera which my parents got me for my 10th birthday.  For the next decade, 1968-1977, I shot 52 rolls of film.

Serving as the de facto documentarian for the family, I memorialized the houses we lived in, our dogs, birthday parties, trips to Disneyland, Christmas mornings, and milestones such as graduations, anniversaries, and even the family’s first color TV.  Imagine people today posing near their newest TV.

As soon as the photos were developed at the local drug store, I would fastidiously write complete sentence captions on the back including the date.

I then would select only the best photos to put in a photo album; blurry photos were out for it made me look incompetent as a photographer.  Little did I know that over a half-century later, I would be cherishing those blurry images for they captured loved ones no longer around; thank goodness I never discarded any of them.  And the few that have been misplaced I have been able to re-print since I kept all the negatives.

As I peruse old photos covering decades of time, I realize that I am putting together my family’s history and, in turn, a history of photography.

The earliest photos I have are in black and white as are most of my elementary school photos.  Not until fifth grade in 1968 was the switch made to color.  What’s odd is that the quality of the older black and white photos are superior than the newer color ones which have faded badly.

Another aspect of school photos which has changed is individual photos.  From kindergarten through fourth grade, my schools took one whole class photo outside in the spring time; the next year they switched to individual photos. 

The photography studios would print a large composite of each class assembling the individual photos.  However, a special dynamic was lost.  In the whole class photos, relationships among kids can be observed, friends standing next to friends, as well as personalities shown (a few gigglers).  Also, the whole class photos allowed one to see the full body of the students.  Girls would wear nice dresses, boys would wear nice shirts, and sometimes if a child was in scouts, they would wear their uniforms.  All of that is lost with the individual photo. 

One other major change in photography from the pre-digital to the digital age:  more useless  photos are taken.  With digital, people never take just one photo of a pose—more like 3 or 5—but who needs multiple photos of the same pose? 

When you had a roll of film with 24 exposures and you went on a trip to Disneyland, you knew you had to be selective in what photos you shot.  You wouldn’t want to take 10 photos on Main Street, leaving 14 for the other lands in the park.  In other words, you had to be smarter.

Those of us living today are quite fortunate to have photographic technology during our whole lifetime, something almost all humans who ever lived before us never experienced.

Warning: This Column may be Inappropriate to College Students

CROSBY CHRONICLE:  trigger warnings

You know the warnings that are shown at the beginning of TV programs that content may be inappropriate for some people?  Well, some college students want those warnings issued by professors before they enter a classroom.

A few weeks ago, Cornell University’s student assembly unanimously voted to send a resolution to President Martha E. Pollack that required all professors to issue content or trigger warnings on material that some may deem inappropriate. 

In a matter of days Pollack vetoed the resolution.  She said in a statement that such a recommendation “would infringe on our core commitment to academic freedom and freedom of inquiry, and are at odds with the goals of a Cornell education.”

Alex Morey, the director of campus rights advocacy for the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, told the New York Times that, “what was unique about the Cornell situation is they rapidly turned in a response that was a ‘hard no . . . a very firm defense of what it means to get an education.”

This was a rare rebuke of the current trend at college campuses of students not wishing to hear subject matter or speakers who espouse views that differ with their own.

Just last month at Stanford University, an invited speaker, a Trump-appointed judge, was interrupted by hecklers.  What made matters worse was that an administrator who was present at the event defended the students, refusing to support the guest speaker even after he asked for her help in settling down the unruly crowd.

Neeli Bendapudi, president of Pennsylvania State University, defended Penn State’s legal and moral obligation to host speakers whose views some students may find counter to their own.  “For centuries, higher education has fought against censorship and for the principle that the best way to combat speech is with more speech,” she said in a video.

Amna Khalid, a history professor at Carleton College in Northfield, Minn., claims that issuing such warnings don’t work, “reducing [student] identities to traumatic events and “infantilizes” students whom professors should be preparing for adult life, she told the New York Times.  Mandating warnings on academic materials infringes on professors’ role in helping student sharpen thinking skills.

“Life happens to you while you are driving, while you are walking, while you are in the supermarket,” she said. “The most challenging moments in life rarely come with warning.”

Hear, hear. 

Universities are institutions where freedom of speech can thrive, where young people are exposed to a wide array of ideas which may challenge their own view of life.  Ideally, graduates exit college not only with a diploma, but with a wider acceptance of divergent views; in other words, more tolerant people enter society—which is best for everyone.

Reach Out and Touch Someone

I have a binder where I put receipts for everything my wife and I have spent on maintaining and improving our house for the past 24 years.

On the front inside pocket is a flyer I saved that was in a little box planted in the front yard of this house in order to attract buyers.

It is officially the first page of the binder.

And on this flyer are two color photos:  the largest of the house, the smallest of the real estate agent’s smiling face.

I don’t know why but I had an urge to locate this realtor online to see if she was still selling property.  And lo and behold, she was—in Indio not Burbank.

I texted her a photo of the flyer and told her how much we have enjoyed living in the house for the past 24 years. 

Within an hour, she texted me back, thrilled that I would contact her.

“That was so thoughtful of you!  So happy that you and your wife are still enjoying your beautiful home!   Thanks for thinking of me.”

Weeks earlier I had another encounter with someone from my past.  My favorite math teacher Mr. Kolpas had recently passed away and I called his widow to offer my condolences.  I told her that I would make a copy of a film with her and her husband who acted in a film I made in my late teens. 

When I sent her the video, she was overwhelmed with joy, not only to see Mr. Kolpas but to see the house that was their home for so many years; she shared it with her daughters and grandchildren.

“Thanks so much. Wow. We were so young. Kids got a kick out of it. Thanks!”

Around the same time, I was going through my other 8mm movies I made when I was a teenager, some I hadn’t seen in nearly 40 years.  I screened them for my wife, and during one film I discovered something.  Back in 1975, I filmed a shot across the street from a gas station.  I It is the same gas station that I still go today to service my cars.  And the owner, Tony, is still there since he opened his business in 1971.

I had to show him this because he appeared in the long shot.  What’s interesting, too, is you can see a car being attended to by three different employees in uniforms.  That was the time when gas stations began transitioning from full-service to no-service.  And a younger Tony was next to the car.

I took my cell phone, videotaped that scene and the next day drove over to Tony’s and said, “Guest what, Tony?  I’ve known you since I was 17 years old.”  Then I showed him the video.

“Your son wasn’t born yet?” I asked.

“Not yet,” referring to the middle-aged man who works with his father.

“Boy, I wish we could go back to those days!” he wistfully commented.

It makes me feel good to let others know I am thinking of them or that I appreciate them.  And I was especially glad to do it when they are still around.  Connecting with others helps us feel human and alive.

Loss of Polite Language

When I was an English teacher, I instructed my students to elevate not denigrate their language.  I wanted them to raise their level of discourse so others would view them in a positive light.

It has become a harder lesson to teach when one observes how people speak today.  It seems that being careful with one’s words is a quant antiquated ideal.

When newly elected Barack Obama gave his first State of the Union address to Congress in 2009, Republican congressman Joe Wilson shouted, “You lie!”

It was so shocking that a congressman would interrupt a president while delivering his most important speech of the year that Congress voted to condemn him for making that remark.

Fourteen years later, as Joe Biden is giving his second State of the Union address, congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene yells out, “liar!” which is worse than saying “you lie.”  Other Republicans, yelled “bull—-!”

And were any of these elected officials condemned for their obscenities?  No.

Remember how solemn this annual speech by the American President used to be for over 200 years?

Since when did the House Chamber of the United States turn into a wrestling match? This special club of 535 men and women can’t be polite for 90 minutes for a once-a-year event that is televised for all to see.  They end up disrespecting their own line of work by acting like thugs.

Later that same night, I’m watching LeBron James overtake Kareem Abdul Jabbar’s all-time scoring NBA record in career points, and you’d think this guy who many believe is the greatest of all time would recognize the gravity of the situation when they stop the game to allow him to speak about his achievement, but no. 

Instead of choosing to show humility and grace, he finishes his speech on live television with his family and mother in attendance by uttering, “F—, man.”  It seemed he was speechless, so the first word that popped into his head when he couldn’t think of what to say was the f-word.

It proves that no matter that how many billions he has in his bank account, he is bankrupt when it comes to class.

I can’t imagine the NBA all-time greats like Jerry West or Magic Johnson speaking that way at that moment.   In my book, LBJ will never surpass KAJ in terms of intelligence and dignity.  That record remains his alone.

In my last column, I wrote about how certain groups these days are hunting literature from the past in order to delete words that would not be acceptable today.  I wrote that these people should focus on the time in which they live.

For example, funny how the people with sensitivities to the word “fat” look the other way when it comes to the other f-word.

Why is it okay for the word b—- to be ubiquitous in nearly every Hollywood production?  I’ve seen reality shows where the characters’ nicknames for their friends is the b-word. 

Do you know that one of the films nominated for Best Animated Short Film is called “My Year of D—-,” a slang word for penis.  The film was made by women.  I wonder if a man had made a similar film called “My Year of P—-” if that would have received the same positive attention?

When it comes to entertainment, word appropriateness is in the ear of the beholder.

Why aren’t more people outraged that a six-year-old actor says the f-word?  Whenever I’m watching a film or TV show, and a young actor starts saying foul language, it immediately sucks me out of the drama, my mind thinking about the type of parents who would prostitute their own children to say filthy things just for a paycheck. 

If the parents aren’t going to monitor it, then it is up to the writers, producers and directors who clearly don’t have a moral compass.

All the money in the world would not persuade me to allow my 7-year-old to say “f— that s—” for the sake of entertainment.

And often the adult characters in these scenes don’t react in any negative way to their “children” swearing.  I don’t get it.

“The White Lotus” had a family where the teenaged daughter spoke frankly about sexual activities using slang that would make a sailor blush.  And not a raised eyebrow was seen on either her mother or father.

That show, by the way, has sex scenes in it that would have earned it an X rating by the MPAA back in the 1970’s.

It would not surprise me if a full-blown porn film is made by HBO or Netflix very soon.

Songwriter Cole Porter said it best with his aptly titled tune, “Anything Goes.”

“Good authors too who once knew better words
Now only use four-letter words
Writing prose.

Anything goes.”

That was written in 1934.

Sanctity of Published Work

Unlike writers who work for the stage, screen or television, published authors have the security of knowing that their books will forever remain the same, the purest form of expression untouched by others.

Until now.

We are living at a time when certain groups have sprung up who serve as surrogate word police, alerting publishers of words or images from past books that should be changed to reflect today’s sensibilities.

First there was the cleansing of Dr. Seuss books in 2021 whose books have sold more than 700 million copies.  The estate of Ted Geisel (Seuss) expunged six of his 60 books due to racial stereotypes.  The only way to find them is at a library or by buying overpriced used books.

People easily forget that during the time when these artifacts were created, they were acceptable in that society.  When understanding history, one is supposed to see it through the eyes of those who lived during that time period, not the present time.

The most recent children’s author under attack (by the way, why children’s literature is the epicenter of such scrutiny is anyone’s guess) is Roald Dahl, another popular author with more than 300 million books sold.

Among the hundreds of changes, Augustus Gloop from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the boy who gorged himself on chocolate and ended up falling into a river of chocolate, will no longer be described as “fat” but “enormous.”  By the way, “fat” and “enormous” are not exact synonyms. 

Also, the Oompa-Loompas will be called “small people” instead of “small men.”

What triggered this whitewashing of Dahl was Netflix which owns some of his titles and is interested in dramatizing them for their streaming service.  That’s when Inclusive Minds, one of the word police groups, combed through Dahl’s works and found offensive material.

The group emphatically denies on their website that they “do not edit or rewrite text,” yet this is exactly what results from their findings..  Such irony is one Dahl would have relished if he were alive today.

Unlike the Dr. Seuss situation, a compromise was recently announced by Puffin who publishes Dahl’s books.   Due to the intense pressure of notable people like author Salman Rushdie, who himself has been a victim of censorship, and U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who said that “works of literature [should be] preserved and not airbrushed,” Puffin will continue publishing the original versions as well as the censored version.

This reminds me of what happened back in 2011, when a version of Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was published with the N-word replaced with the word “slave.”  The earthquake of such a controversy rippled through op-ed pieces across the country.  However, the original version was never threatened, and continues being published today.

If there is material in a book from the past, the wrong way to deal with it is to erase it as if it never existed.  Instead, use the offensive material as teachable moments.

That’s what I did when teaching Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist.  The villainous thief Fagin is a Jewish stereotype.  Dickens mostly ignores using his name, dehumanizing him by referring to him as the Jew.  A Jewish acquaintance of Dickens pointed this out to him and so, on his own volition, he went back and removed most of those references.

Sharing this story with my students opens up an opportunity to discuss anti-Semitism.  However, we still read, study and discuss his important novel which mainly focuses on society turning a blind eye to childhood poverty—an issue that still resonates nearly 200 years later.

When I taught literature, I would get my students excited at the notion that Charles Dickens is talking to them from 150 years ago.  This is how he saw his world, a vision that was captured and forever sealed.  There are no video or audio recordings of his voice.  The vocabulary and sentence structure represent his voice.

And now strangers from another century want to alter author’s voices.

I was watching an old Dick Cavett show with Groucho Marx from 1971. The two were talking about the word “lady” and how inappropriate some felt it was, especially those in the Women’s Liberation movement.  “Woman” was considered a more appropriate word to use. 

Today, however, “woman” has become a dirty word for some, to be replaced with “they” to eliminate any whiff of gender.  Who knows what people will think of “they” come 2073? 

If one must examine every artifact from the past and judge it on current trends, then put a disclaimer next to the item, but leave the original work alone, as is. 

I see much to criticize in our culture today.  Let’s work on fixing the way we live now.

One can’t change the past, but one can change the present.  That’s where the focus needs to be.

Rants: What is it about . . . ?

What is it about . . .?

What is it about grown adult men in the prime of their life out and about during weekdays as if they have no job?

As a retiree, I’m always surprised to see men in the 20-40 age range at the Y exercising at 9 or 10 in the morning.

Whenever I see men out in public during business hours, I think, “What mischief are these guys up to?”

It makes you wonder how many of them work for organized crime or are scofflaws siphoning off government programs such as welfare and social security disability.

Which leads me to my next “what is it about”:

What is it about today’s economy where unemployment is extremely low yet businesses struggle filling positions? Restaurants, retail stores and supermarkets are under staffed and have been ever since the pandemic. 

I would like to see a study on the percentage of adults are not employed and aren’t seeking employment, and how are they contributing to society in a meaningful way. Some journalist should look into this.

What is it about the electric bicycles known as E-bikes which have taken over the highways, that go as fast as cars, yet require no licensing and no plates?  These are renegades dangerously driving around us without stopping for anything.

Instead of the government looking into outlawing gas lawn mowers and stoves, why no regulations or legislation about a matter like E-bikes which has the potential of raising the already high death rate on the road?

Speaking of gas . . .

What is it about the price of natural gas which has increased to the level of a monthly mortgage payment?

I came as close as I ever have in my life of fainting when I opened my most recent SoCalGas utility bill.  From November’s $179 to December’s $274 to January’s $660—and that’s for two people.  WHAT?!?

While I had read in the newspaper about the spike in the natural gas market, I still wasn’t prepared for that number.

I called the gas company to find out what is going on and got a recording saying that “no one can answer your call right now” and directed me to go to their website.  No email was provided for customers’ concerns.

By the way, nothing on the message mentioned the exorbitant high bills that customers across the Southland are receiving.

When I went to their website, I was anticipating a banner across the screen saying something like, “We understand you almost had a heart attack when opening your latest gas bill, but let us explain.” 

Instead, one has to hunt around under their “news” tab to find an article about the spike in natural gas prices buried among more trivial articles.

Two weeks ago, I contacted my local state representatives, Assemblymember Laura Friedman and State Senator Anthony Portantino, who have not responded to me at all.  The least they can do is bounce back a form “thank you for your comments.”

The most aggravating thing about this isn’t the money, but the lack of communication on the part of SoCalGas.   How about an insert with everyone’s bill explaining what is happening?  How about acknowledging the outrage customers have by updating the recording on their company phone line?  Instead, you get the sense the attitude is, “Shh, don’t say anything and the problem will go away.”

It makes one want to boycott gas appliances.

Fifty Years Later I Can Still Hear My Father’s Voice

This upcoming January 27th will mark the 50th anniversary of my father’s death.  That is a half a century ago when I was 14 years old.

Life’s not fair as we all know.  Some parents die early but others live long.  For example, director Steven Spielberg’s father died in 2020 at age 103.  That’s 43 more years than my Dad had.  How lucky Spielberg was to have had his father for 73 years.

His father lived long enough to see his children become senior citizens and all that goes with that age such as personal successes and to experience great-grandchildren.

My dad never lived long enough to see how us three children turned out.  He never knew any of our spouses or children; he didn’t even live long enough to see me leave junior high school.

At 11, the only grandparent I ever knew, my father’s mother, died.  That was the first time I attended a funeral.  And the first time I ever saw a dead body in a casket.

A major part of my childhood evaporated, the fantasy in one’s head that people live forever.

Ever since then, I haven’t been able to escape that dreadful thought of how short life is, so when my father died a few years later, it cemented that dreadfulness into my psyche.

If there was anything even remotely positive about going through this, it was the philosophy to not take life for granted.  Embrace each day as a gift.  One never knows when your eyes won’t open again.

As the years go by, the memories of my father fade just a little bit.  While we have several photos and home movies of Dad, there was no way to hear his voice again.  I recalled a recording he made on the large reel-to-reel tape recorder. 

Sometimes when he would not be home in the morning when us three kids woke up, he’d leave behind a handwritten note.  This one time instead of writing his message, he recorded it. 

Months ago, we got the broken machine fixed, and after scouring dozens of tapes, there was Dad speaking to us again.  It was the first time hearing his voice in decades.  The message only lasts a little over half a minute, but it is the most precious thing he left for us.

Now my children can finally put a voice to the old images I’ve shown them of their Grandpa Harvey.

Holiday Decor’s One-Month Lifespan

Oh, to be a Christmas decoration!

You come out of your 11-month hibernation after Thanksgiving and are proudly displayed in a special location in a home, only to return to the dark cavern of a garage or attic within 5 weeks, anxiously awaiting the turning of the months, then to come alive again!

It is always sad putting away Christmas decorations.  It seems that as soon as you take all the boxes down, remove the ornamental baubles and place them strategically around the house, then—blink—it is now time for all of them to be put back inside the boxes, never to come back down for another 11 months.

Christmas is my favorite time of the year, and, therefore, December my favorite month.  It is not fair that December feels like one week long whereas hot August feels like three months.

Traditions permeate the holiday season and so it goes with decorations.  I have old family decorations dating back before I was born.  I even have a cardboard snowman that I made in the second grade that has curvature of the spine yet must be hung on the tree.

When it comes to storing the decorations, I am meticulous to a fault.

Each tree ornament, each tchotchke needs to be put into its own container.  Sometime I have the original box with the price tag still on it; for others, I have repurposed a candy box or a tin can for that one delicate Santa figurine.

Then I label each box so that I’m not frantically opening all the boxes to locate that Frosty bubble light.

I organize items in a large storage bin labeled for a particular room such as den or living room. 

I even have photos of where certain items go on certain shelves in a cabinet so that I’m not starting from scratch next year in figuring out which item goes where.

Yet no matter how hard I try to put everything back in its proper box, in its proper bin, there are always a few items that, for some reason, don’t fit back into the bins and must remain in a place inside the house, a place which I need to recall in late November.

The taking down and the putting away processes are exhausting, taking days to complete.  No doubt, it is more fun decorating the house than it is to undecorate it. 

I know people who keep up Christmas decorations all year long.  If I did that, December would no longer be special.  Being displayed for a short part of the year makes the holiday magic magical—and worth waiting for.

Peal the Bells More Loud and Deep

As I fan of Christmas music, I try to seek out less popular songs that might not make the playlist of those 24/7 holiday radio stations.

One such song is “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.”

It just so happens that this tune was actually a poem by the famous poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.  And, coincidentally, a new movie was released this month called “I Heard the Bells” which details the poem’s background.

Longfellow had six children and suffered a terrible tragedy in 1861 when his wife died in a house fire.  In 1863, his eldest son wanted to fight in the Civil War so he joined the Union army. 

A telegram delivered to Longfellow in early December informed the father that his son was seriously wounded and may be paralyzed.

Imagine how much anguish Longfellow must have felt, losing his wife in 1861 and possibly losing his son two years later.  That Christmas day he found the courage to write “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day,” a testament to people seeking light when everywhere around one is darkness.

The poem has seven stanzas, each one ending with the refrain “peace on earth, good-will to men.”  That repetition emphasizes how people must believe that “the wrong shall fail, the right prevail.”  In extolling readers to believe  that all will turn out all right regarding the Civil War, he was also convincing himself to disavow any doubts about goodness in the world despite his personal life.

Parts of the poem are deleted from the song version due to its direct reference to the War:

Then from each black, accursed mouth

The Cannon thundered in the South,

And with the sound

The carols drowned

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It’s a shame this is not part of the song because it further explains the speaker’s cynicism that leads to the following stanza:

And in despair I bowed my head;

“There is no peace on earth,” I said;

“For hate is strong,

And mocks the song

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

Finally, in the last stanza, it seems as if by magic the tone shifts from despair to faith:

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men.”

Pealing the bells louder and deeper symbolizes making one’s faith louder and deeper.  One would never think of inferring in a Christmas song that God is dead, but Longfellow does:   “God is not dead, nor doth he sleep.”  The speaker proclaims with the pealing of the bells that “the Wrong shall fail, the Right prevail, with peace on earth, good-will to men.” 

In 1863, the United States was broken into the blue and gray armies with many families suffering Christmases without loved ones.  However, America’s civil war would end 16 months later.  And the country would continue to grow.  And Longfellow’s son would fully recover.

While the song was put to music in 1872, it wasn’t until songwriter Johnny Marks—known for his Christmas classics such as “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” and “A Holly Jolly Christmas”—came up with a melody in 1956 that has since become the quintessential version most often recorded in modern times.

In Bing Crosby’s recording, which begins with a chorus singing part of “Joy to the World,” the ringing of bells is heard throughout.

Harry Belafonte’s 1958 reverential recording has minimum instrumentation with a slow, quiet tempo of “Silent Night.”

However, it is Frank Sinatra’s 1964 version, recorded 101 years after Longfellow wrote the poem, that matches the intensity of Longfellow’s words.  That’s because Sinatra’s long-time collaborator, Nelson Riddle, wrote the arrangement like a mini-movie.

Backed by a chorus, the somber tone and timbre of Sinatra’s reading lends an appropriate funereal atmosphere.  As the song proceeds, the power of the orchestra’s volume increases, addng depth to the poem’s meaning in a mere two minutes and thirty-seven seconds.

As the years pass, the world continues to turn despite more conflicts.  Today, America is broken into the blue and red states.  One glance at headlines seems to tell a story of warring not peace on earth.

However, there remains hope that peace on earth could one day be attained as long as mankind keeps pealing those bells “more loud and deep.”