Christmas without Rush Limbaugh

OPINION: This article contains commentary which may reflect the author's opinion

Millions of us are experiencing a terrible void in the absence of Rush Limbaugh this Christmas.

Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” contains a character soliciting charitable donations, who reminds Scrooge that “want and grief are both felt keenly during this festive season.” Though critics (most of whom never listened to him) will never understand, Rush Limbaugh was undeniably loved by so many of us.

As we celebrate what may be the last shared American tradition, Christmas, Rush’s absence is palpably felt — his voice is being missed.

As Rush signed off just before Christmas, with the achingly beautiful “Silent Night” that Mannheim Steamroller broadcasts every year, I finally put on Stille Nacht by Mannheim Steamroller. Rather than speak the holy season, he let the music speak for him as the violin and swell of the orchestra faded away into the distant chimes of sleighbells against a rushing wind.

Last time I heard it, Rush was clearly saying goodbye over the opening melody. In an uncharacteristic gesture, Rush’s voice briefly rattled with emotion, but his flawless timing allowed him to use the musical backdrop to convey his most important message: gratitude – to his family, to us, his fans, and to his Creator. “God is with me today,” he said. “God knows how important this program is to me today.”

Millions of listeners must have wept silently when the program ended. During his last Christmas speech, Rush explained that was his last. He died of lung cancer less than two months later.

But not before leaving us with this: “My point in everything that I’m sharing with you is to say thank you, and to tell everybody involved how much I love you from the bottom of a sizable and growing and still beating heart. And there’s room for much more—all because I have learned what love really is.” With those words, Rush closed what had become his favorite time of year, in which he could express his extraordinary generosity and appreciation and infectious joie de vivre to all around him.

However, it wasn’t always this way. Rush would turn melancholy in the weeks leading up to Christmas for a long time. We noticed that our usually ebullient boss became moody, as if hurt. He didn’t explain why, so we muddled through the brief mystery as supportively as possible. In the new year, his sour demeanor would disappear as quickly as it appeared and we would all forget until next year.

At the first hint of seasonal sadness we (proud members of his “highly overrated staff”) would remind each other, “Oh yeah. Christmas.”

During those days, some speculated that it was because his father, Rush Limbaugh, Jr., died in December 1990, just as his son began his astounding career trajectory. His gloom may also have been contributed to by losing his mother, Millie. Rush didn’t say anything about that; we just guessed. His passions, his irrepressible laughter, and his wisdom were all shared with his audience, but he kept his hurt private; he never revealed anything about his life. To quote him, he did not want to “bleed all over people.”

Enter Chip Davis, the founder and leader of the neoclassical group known for its Christmas music. Rush’s NYC staff jetted to Chicago for a Mannheim Steamroller concert in the early 1990s. During those days, Rush began playing some of his favorite selections as bumper music, slowly adding longer snippets to the air – until that annual carol became synonymous with Rush. There is no way I can listen to Mannheim Steamroller’s triumphant synthesizer-and-brass “Deck the Halls” without anticipating Rush’s joyful voice returning from an advertisement break.

The unique combination of depth, originality, and Christian tradition shared by both performers, in my opinion, allowed Rush, a man of words, to communicate through Chip’s music some of the deepest truths he knew and felt. Rush expresses the inexpressible both through time and Yuletide music, embedded with longing and loss, but also thankfulness and love.

Of course, it wasn’t that simple. It was clear that Rush had a complex character. I would dare to call it his own redemption story, but his Christmas transformation did not occur all at once. Rush explicitly stated that Christ fulfills exquisite spiritual yearning. Rush’s grateful prayer to the Giver of Life is where Christmas begins after he got sick: “Every day is a gift. Every day I wake up, I thank God that I have it.” Glory to God in the highest.

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