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LOOKING INTO THE HEARTS OF OTHERS CAN BREAK YOURS

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If this Christmas column is going to make sense, I'll need a couple of paragraphs to set things up.

First, you need to know I have a friend named Paul Fleishman who writes children's books. Big-time children's books. He's a Newbery winner. But my favorite book by Paul is practically unknown. It's a picture book called "Rondo in C."The book is about a young girl who picks "Rondo in C" for her piano recital. But instead of focusing on the pianist, Paul takes a look inside the heads of the people who attend. He lets us see the memories that the music stirs inside of them. One listener recalls the night he fell in love with his wife in a quiet garden. A woman remembers playing "Rondo" for her own piano teacher. One man even has a vision of south-flying geese.

It's a sweet little book.

Also, you need to know this: My father, the director of the Box Elder Symphonic Choir, had his annual Christmas concert last Sunday in the Brigham City Tabernacle.

And as I sat in the balcony listening to the choir sing "Silent Night," I began to think about my own life, and I thought about Paul's little book. And I thought it might be fun to look around and imagine what others were thinking and feeling.

I learned a quick lesson: Looking into the hearts of others can break your own.

To my left I saw a grandmother and her 25-year-old granddaughter. I'd known them both - and known about them - for years. (In Brigham, we don't believe in secrets.) The grandmother had lost her husband 30 years before to a fatal illness, the young woman had recently lost her husband to fate itself. And "Silent Night" was filling their faces with melancholy. But it was melancholy with a difference. For the grandmother, the sadness had grown sweeter with time - like aging honey. Her mouth had a tender smile. But the tart sting of loss still froze the corners of the granddaughter's mouth. No smile in sight.

Would the girl have the strength to follow her grandmother to higher ground?

I plan to stay tuned.

Just to my right I caught the eye of a block of cement who should have been named "Biff" at birth. He was weather-worn, calloused. He had fingers like Polish sausages. He made other men look like tippy-toe dancers.

And the man was softly - ever so softly - singing the words to "Silent Night" into his young wife's ear. I knew when her father asked her what she saw in this guy, I was seeing what she saw.

Below me sat the rest of the town - the bank workers, the barbers, the teachers, shop keepers and civic leaders. One retired bank president had picked the worst seat in the house - the far left corner of the front row. The acoustics are so bad there you couldn't hear a fire alarm. But he didn't care. He'd come to admire the accompanist - the mother of his children.

And finally, a young mother stood in a nearby aisle, bouncing her fussy baby - the soft sounds working as a special effect, not a distraction - for the cradle song. The mother seemed to know it, too. On the line "sleep in heavenly peace" she kissed the baby's head. I thought of a poem by Janet Lewis where the poet asks if Mary loved her baby more because he was the Son of God. Then Lewis answers her own question. No, the poet says, she loved him just the same.

The young mother in the aisle loved her baby just the same.

"Silent Night" has only three verses - not nearly enough to construct a "Spoon River Anthology" of 300 characters; it's hardly enough for a newspaper column.

But three verses are just right for some things.

They were just right for giving me the feelings I'd been searching for since the first of December.