Dean Barnett

I am told that one of the great burdens of being married to me is having to tolerate my “singing,” especially while stuck in close proximity to my off key bass in a moving automobile. This weight is especially keen for Mrs. Soxblog on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day when we journey up to New Hampshire to see my in-laws. For an hour in each direction, I happily “sing” along with the Christmas tunes I’ve come to know and love.

My favorite is the “downbeat” version of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” a song that has acquired a special resonance for a lot of people in recent years. Originally, the last verse went like this:

Someday soon we all will be together

If the fates allow.

Until then, we'll have to muddle through somehow

So have yourself a merry little Christmas now.

That’s how Judy Garland sang it in the 1944 movie, “Meet Me in St. Louis.” For a war exhausted nation in which virtually every family had to endure being separated from a loved one, the idea of “muddling through” until everyone could once again be together was a powerfully poignant one.

The Judy Garland version isn’t the one that you hear most often on the radio, though. Frank Sinatra re-cut the song in the 1950’s, and Frank wasn’t exactly the muddle-through type. Anyone who made Frank muddle would have big problems. The Sinatra version transformed the song into a much less somber affair. Frank’s last verse went like this:

Through the years

We all will be together,

If the Fates allow

Hang a shining star upon the highest bough.

And have yourself A merry little Christmas now.

In Frank’s version, the sense of separation so keenly felt in the original version sleeps with the fishes. Instead of “muddling through,” we’re hanging shining stars. The Sinatra version obviously makes for a much happier song. And the listening public has voted with its ears. The Sinatra version has achieved unquestioned primacy, with the Garland version generally only trotted out when an artist (like James Taylor after 9/11) wants to sing a very sad Christmas song.

ME, I’VE LONG FAVORED the Garland version, but not because it’s sad. I find it inspiring. I also find it true.

I try not to write about my health except when I truly have something to say. This is one of those times. As most of the readers of this site know, I’m a 39 year-old man with Cystic Fibrosis. 39 is old for someone with CF. In many ways I’ve been lucky, and sitting here today I can honestly tell you I feel lucky. Lucky people don’t always know that they’re blessed. I do. I have a life filled with people I love, and I just spent the Holidays with them. Does it get better than that?

For me, actually it does. Five years ago, it didn’t look like I’d be here today. But I am, and not only am I rapidly gaining on 40 there’s even a realistic chance I’ll see 50. Hell, there’s even a possibility I’ll see 60, which is a scary thought because I’ve never contemplated myself with gray or thinning hair and a paunch, and not many 60 year olds get to look like Mitt Romney.

None of which is to say it’s all been kicks and giggles. I began my 30’s as a guy who could run 5 miles in 35 minutes and could get by on 5 hours of sleep a day. Now I sleep about 11 hours a day, and make a sourpuss face whenever I’m confronted with a flight of stairs or a lengthy walk across a parking lot.

And that’s where “muddling through” comes in. Regardless of who you are, at some point life plays some rotten tricks on you. Some people get terrible blows from fate; some people make their own bad luck. But everyone at some point realizes that life is at times a slog, and sometimes a cruel one.

But we “muddle through.” As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become ever more convinced that one of the keys to happiness is enjoying the “muddling,” and being cognizant of your blessings while doing so.

Some people just can’t do that. The muddling makes them bitter and angry; they enter a spiral of self-pity. I’ve heard multi-millionaires bemoan their lack of funds, and robust 87 year olds spend hours going through their litany of petty health woes. Neither type is remotely aware that by any objective measurement, they have it pretty good in the area where they voice their most bitter complaints.

LIFE IS ONE BIG MUDDLE. Sometimes you have to muddle more, sometimes you have to muddle less, but for all of us “muddling through” is the natural state of things. Luckily, while we muddle, we can surround ourselves with things we cherish. We can muddle nobly, happily and with a sense of purpose. We can choose to love and allow ourselves to be loved as we muddle.

Ultimately, if you want it to be and let it be, it’s a beautiful muddle indeed.

Compliments? Complaints? Contact me at

Dean Barnett

Dean Barnett blogs almost daily at He has also been a frequent contributor to the Weekly Standard's online edition, The Daily Standard. He can be reached for comment at

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