Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
Psalm 51:10-12

It was a gift from my kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Roberts. I’m not sure how its giving played out. It seems an odd gift to a six-year old student. Perhaps it had been dropped at school (because I do remember it being broken, even from the beginning) and was destined for the trash. Perhaps I’d asked to salvage it. Perhaps she figured it was lost anyway. However, that portion of the story really went, it has always been cherished as a gift from a most beloved teacher.

Every Christmas, for more than 40 years now, the red, star-shaped music box has been a treasured part of my nostalgia. Through the year, it used to sit on the shelves in my bedroom, among other music boxes and treasures. Most of those tchotchkes are long gone- sold in garage sales or given away. The star, as imperfect as it is, still remains. Now it spends most of its days packed away with the other Christmas decorations wrapped in tissue paper, points poking through. And every December it is rediscovered (re-given), with a bit of melancholy but mostly with joy. An oldest friend.

Picture the star, bright red, reflecting Christmas lights. Its seven plastic points have seen better times. One is cracked the length of its peak. Another chipped at the tip. The brass underneath, is tarnished and dull. Originally it was meant to be a candle holder- pirouetting a gentle light to the music of “Silent Night.” The music was never pleasant though, very tinny and weak. But it was the melody of reminiscing which always sounds sweeter.

This year, winding the disk at the bottom, didn’t bring the familiar ratcheting of the spring being coiled. The whole mechanism was frozen, unmoving. I removed the small screw at the top and the red star cover to reveal its innards. The gears and pins and fan. The barrel with the cryptic notes and the comb that translates the bumps into tune. I know these parts well (though this year I had to put on my glasses to see them clearly). Every year, it seemed, I would find myself opening up the star to loosen its wheels from their year’s slumber. And every year, with a bit of nudging and coaxing, the music would come. Until this year. Roger offered to take a look. But I hesitated. This was part of my ritual. Part of my Christmas. Part of me. To tinker with things left neglected and packed away. To reawaken memories and music. It always brought to me a sense that, with enough focus and effort, I could set things aligned and turning right again.

Methodically, I started tracing each step of the mechanics. Giving a gentle shove to the barrel released one note. Just one note’s worth of hope where it had left off the year before. I thought of Great Uncle Elwood. He was a watch-maker. To have his tools. His understanding. His hands here now. He would know exactly how to mend the silence. Holding my breath, I removed two more screws to the covering over the spring. One more twist and the whole thing leapt. A couple notes played (laughed). Thinking perhaps all it needed was to relax the spring, or too afraid of breaking it irreparably, I screwed the whole of it back together. Winding it now brought ratcheting but then a sickening click and silence. My mother had always warned against winding my music boxes too tightly. I imagine this is what had happened. Or the spring, left coiled since last winter, could no longer hold the tension and gave way.

Beginning this article (and sharing the star with the children on Christmas Eve), the message was meant to be- it’s a good time of year to examine our lives (what makes them tick) and to get everything in working order again. As always, God has taught me a lesson in the teaching. I see my own face in the reflection, my own heart as the source of the meditation. Maybe instead of thinking I can repair my own soul, it’s a good time of year to open up my life and allow my Maker to tinker. After all, it is God who has the master’s tools and understanding. It is his hands only that can free up what holds me frozen and release the springs in my life that have been wound too tightly to move. Perhaps the lesson is to let him free his song that we keep bound within. To let it play out. And sing until you find yourself at rest.

Remembering a song that will play out again,