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For me, Christmas will always be in the music.

From those early days of grade school innocence, when nuns began the crusade to drill the words of every carol in Christendom into my brain until now, the joy of the Christmas message remains a constant prayer.

Some of my most enduring memories of the holiday involve those teachers, the songs they taught, and the way we sang them. Childhood Christmas was simpler, when the annual school Christmas pageant was followed by a skippy cup of ice cream, some Christmas cookies, and an hour long carol sing.

It mattered not a whit that puberty had rendered the male voices in our "choir" more akin to bullfrogs than the Vienna Boys Choir. The real meaning wasn't in the voices, but in the words -- the hope and the promise and the triumph of Christmas.

Less than a decade later, but a world away from the well-scrubbed faces of grade school and Mother's Club cookies, I spent a far different Christmas under the spell of the carols.

On Christmas Eve, 1968, I arrived at the Air Force transient hospital at Yokota, Japan. Three weeks earlier, I had lived through a battle in Vietnam that inflicted 86 per cent casualties on my company of the 1st Cavalry Division. To say I survived, though, might have been an overstatement. Two bullets had broken my leg and torn off my knee cap. Literally, every friend I had in Vietnam was gone and I was on the verge of losing both my leg and my sanity. Three operations on the knee did little to improve the chances of preserving either. I was in Japan to give a new team of doctors a chance.

My universe had been turned upside down by the battle but had been partially righted by the care of the nurses in Vietnam. Now, I was yanked from their tenderness by an Army that thought of December 24th as merely another day on the calendar. I was back in the midst of strangers in a strange land.

I was in a lot of pain and I was frightened by what that pain might mean to my future -- as a cripple, or worse, as an amputee. Christmas had always been a day to be shared and now I was alone in the starkest, bleakest sense of the word. The only consolation I could derive came from the music piped through the ward.

"The First Noel" ... "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear" ... "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" ... the carols restored at least a tiny measure of familiarity to this dark, strange Christmas. By the time the rotation of the music began again, I was on the verge of believing there might be "Joy to the World." Each time I reached that plane, though, the pain in my knee dragged me back to the ugliness of my new world.

I was interrupted in the midst of my self-pity by a low moan coming from the bed next to me. So self-absorbed had I been, that I was oblivious to the fact that others were suffering as much as I. The sounds came from a man covered in plaster from the top of his forehead to the tops of his knees. Cutouts for eyes, nose and mouth were the only interruptions in his cast. His arms were casted to the wrists and metal rods held them away from his body.

While the sounds of hope and love and joy echoed through the ward, they were frequently punctuated by the sounds of pain and suffering. While others cried out their anguish, the man in the cast issued only quiet groans. I could only imagine what terrible pain he must be in -- what hopes and dreams had been crushed by the brutality that rendered him so helpless. And suddenly, my pain didn't seem nearly as important and my loneliness became a lot more tolerable.

When the nurses doled out pain and sleep medications and the lights went out, the beautiful strains of "Silent Night" close out Christmas Eve. I asked the nurse, who tended me to move my bed closer to the man in the cast. She looked puzzled, but complied. I reached out and took my new friend's hand as the carol told us "all is calm, all is bright."

No words were spoken. None needed be. I felt a gentle tightening of the hand in mine and for the first time that Christmas, I believed I might truly survive and for the first time in three weeks, I really wanted to. For me, Christmas will always be in the music.

This story was contributed by: David Ajax