As we're wrapping up the last quarter of 2023, I've started to play one song on repeat: “A Long December” by Counting Crows, a song that holds a lot of meaning for my family and me. When my dad was reaching the end of his deployment in November 2010, he thought of this song and its refrain: “A long December and there’s reason to believe/Maybe this year will be better than the last." That sentiment is something I have clung to in hard times, especially at the end of the year.
Military life is hard. It takes our parents away from us: it takes us away from friends and family, and it makes everything have an end date - whether that's moving at the end of the summer, a parent coming home, or turning around to leave again. There’s an odd feeling that comes when you’re about to move and suddenly everything you do is the last time you’ll do something, like walking the dogs at a specific park or getting takeout from a favorite restaurant. It’s hard to believe that a regular occurrence will suddenly stop, and it takes effort to truly savor the moment. Or, as Adam Duritz sings, “I can’t remember all the times I tried to tell myself/To hold on to these moments as they pass.”
What I love most about this song is that it isn’t a cheerful song, it’s a hopeful song. The song was written after the death of a friend of the band’s. It’s a song about going through hard times and staying hopeful about the future. It doesn’t try to make the present seem better than it is, an idea that resonated with my dad and I as we dealt with our own struggles. Instead, it focused on the fact that even in hard times, there is a “reason to believe” in a better future.
Finding a silver lining is something military families are used to because sometimes that’s the only way to get through. In my family, that looks like subsisting on Chick-fil-A and Panera while watching one of “our” shows while my dad's away on TDY. Or, a trip to Philadelphia with my mom for a long day of doctor appointments can also include a visit to a yarn shop. Finding those reasons isn’t always easy, but even the smallest glimmer of happiness can help carry you through.
“A Long December” is very obviously about the end of the calendar year. But, that isn’t the only good time to listen to it. For military families, big transitions generally happen in the summer during PCS season, making June or July the “long” month. For teenagers starting school, it's August or September. During my dad’s deployment, it was a “Long September,” and after it got extended, a “Long October.”
What makes this song so comforting to me now is the memory of all those long Decembers, or any other time period, when I listened to this song. Looking back, I can say with certainty that 2021 was a better year than 2020 (and you probably can too). Returning from deployment made November better than October by a very wide margin. Even small improvements are worth celebrating from one month or year to the next. Each of the last few years has indeed been “better than the last”, and every time I listen to this song, I’m reminded of that.
Now that my dad is retired and I’m in college, it won’t be military life that this song helps me through, but it certainly has struck a chord for me during moves and long absences. So in this remaining bit of December, or any other time, I encourage giving this song a listen. It’s a beautiful song about better times being just around the corner.