Tuesday, November 26, 2019

It's the Hope of Hopes

during the past week, i've seen a couple of things on tv that struck me as ridiculous.  the first was a news report in which some people survived when a delivery truck careened over an ice-covered highway and overturned near where they had pulled off the road.  as the truck skidded toward them, they took cover in a ditch in exactly the place where the truck finally came to rest on its side.  these lucky people were left largely unharmed because of the way the truck came to rest, trapping them in the ditch without the truck descending into the ditch.  in an interview a few days later, one of those who lived to tell the tale said that in this event god had been watching out for them.

earlier that week we had watched a movie about a toy shop owner who had been forced out of business by the ruthless owner of a larger toy store that had opened across the street.  the owner of the larger store gloated over his business prowess that had caused the demise of the smaller store.  the out-of-business shop owner told his wife, who was expecting their first child, that god would provide for him.  he stayed at home for months, presumably supporting the family with savings they had put aside, unable to find work until he had an inspiration for a new children's board game that he was able to bring to market with the help of a large manufacturer.  soon he was able to reopen his store, as the larger store was failing due to people discovering the true nature of its owner and refusing to shop there any longer.  as the christian store owner watched his rival suffer, he decided to make him a gift of three hundred thousand dollars to keep his business afloat.  the man's generosity caused the unscrupulous businessman to do an about face, convert to christianity, and become business partners with his benefactor.

as i thought about these two things, one a true-life report of what could have been a disaster for its victims, the other a fictional story with an unbelievable plot intended to convince its viewers that faith in god will solve every problem, i found myself wondering how anyone could believe what was being told.  after the news report about the people who were left unscathed after the accident, i turned to my wife and said that if god were really watching out for those who took shelter in the ditch, the accident would never have happened, they either wouldn't have been in that place when the truck skidded and overturned or the truck would have managed to avoid skidding off the road in the first place.  i'm glad that there were no serious injuries as a result of this accident, but luck was on their side, not god.

as the christian toy store owner summarized the events of the fictional story, he told those watching that god had caused his business to fail, so that he could invent a new game that enriched him enabling him to give a large gift to his competitor, which then caused the hard-hearted businessman to examine his life and convert to christianity.  all of this was a part of "god's plan."  what a conniving god he must worship!  this god made him fail and his family to suffer through month's of worry as they watched their savings vanish in order to bring a heartless rival "back into the fold."  i'm afraid i don't want to worship such a god.

may we see that the events of life are not being controlled by god but that our lives are in our own hands.  just as the bad things that happen to us are not allowed to happen because of god's indifference, neither are the good things the result of god's machinations.  we must take responsibility for ourselves.  when we are generous and compassionate, we can be a blessing to others, not because we are being manipulated to do so by god but because it is the right thing to do.  may we be grateful that we have the freedom to accept life on its own terms and make the best of it.  shalom.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

My Home Lies Deep Within You

as i sat down to write, i was torn about the subject of my short post for this week.  i wondered if i should write about the ongoing impeachment drama unfolding in washington, about a situation in my personal life, or about a concert my wife and i attended this past week.  in the end, i decided to write about the concert because music is such an important part of my life.

we attended a concert in another town just north of ours and happened to be seated next to two women from a town about an hour west of where we live.  as my wife visited with the two women before the concert began, she told them that we had hope to hear the vienna boys' choir when we travel to houston for thanksgiving but couldn't make the dates work out with our schedule.  to our surprise, they said that the choir was performing in their town in just a few days.  as we waited for our concert to begin, i got my phone out and was able to get us tickets for the concert in an almost-sold-out auditorium.

last weekend we drove to the concert and delighted in the beautiful music created by these children being trained in austria.  they sang a variety of music, ranging from the renaissance to show tunes, with the emphasis on what i would describe as "world music," some of it composed in the style of the country in which it was written and some of it folk music.  after the concert i pondered about the magic of music.  as their conductor said, making music causes you to be happier and makes what is sometimes a burdensome task a lighter one.  i wondered how many of these boys would go on to become professional musicians and how many would go into other fields, carrying their musical experiences and the amazing opportunity of seeing so much of the world with them.

as someone who has worked in the field of music my entire life, i can't imagine a world without music.  in my retirement, i miss the day-to-day experience of practicing music for my livelihood and go as often as i can to hear others make music.  we are fortunate to live in an area where there are concerts of all types available to us at a very reasonable cost.  for instance, in the past month we have gone to a free concert of french classical music at a nearby college, to hear a world-class trio of professional singers, to a series of concerts by several talented ensembles at a nearby amusement park, and finally to the concert we attended this past weekend.  in december we will go hear a singer that we have not heard before do a concert, to a symphony christmas concert, to an organ recital, to a string orchestra program, and to a christmas choral program.  in addition, i will be singing messiah with our local community chorus, which just began its preparations for this annual presentation, as well as playing the christmas eve service at the episcopal church in our town.

what is it about music that makes life so much richer, that lifts us from our humdrum existence, that puts us in touch with some deep longing in our souls?  i remember as a small child listening in rapt attention to the pianist in the small country church i attended with my family and longing to be able to play as she did.  i began begging for lessons when i was five, and, when i was six, my parents relented and let me begin studying the piano, though they thought i was too young.  those lessons began a journey that i have not yet completed, and, in many difficult situations, music has been my salvation.  i will always be grateful to those who supported me along the way, beginning with my parents and my first teacher.

may the gift of music be a part of each life.  may we appreciate those who make music and support them in their work.  may each of us experience the joy that music brings each day.  shalom.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

When Evening Falls So Hard

last sunday, our son came for a visit.  we were apprehensive about his visit, because he was coming without his wife, and we had just been to visit them a little over a week before.  we were glad to see him, of course, but thought it odd that his wife was not coming with him.  after an hour or so of conversation, he got around to the reason for his driving the hour and a half to our home on a sunday afternoon: he and his wife were separating and would be divorcing in the near future.

he seemed to be handling the breakup well and assured us that this would be an amicable dissolution of their marriage.  they had discussed how to divide up their assets and debts equitably, she had found an apartment that she would soon move into, and he would remain in their home for the time being until a propitious time arrived to sell it and divide the proceeds.  they both have good jobs that appear to be secure, and, while money will be tight for both of them in the short term, they can manage it seems.

i was impressed with the maturity both of them were exhibiting in this process, and i could sense relief on our son's part that they had come to this decision.  as he told us, they seemed to be on different paths in their lives, and they could both see that there was no way to reconcile their personal goals in life.  they had moved back to arkansas from colorado a few months ago, and he longed to return to the mountains with which he felt a deep connection.  while we hate to see him move so far away again, i understand his love for the rockies.  i have long felt more at home in the mountains than anywhere else, but i never had the opportunity to live near them, so i am happy that he finds himself in a position where he can choose where he wants to live once the divorce is finalized and his financial situation is less precarious.  he envisions that scenario taking about two years, and that seems to be a reasonable timeframe.  by that time, his feelings may have changed and new opportunities may have opened up for him.

after he left, i ached for him and his soon-to-be ex-wife.  i believe they love each other, but the course of their lives has set them on different paths.  we are glad that our son can count on our support and that of his sister.  his spouse doesn't have that support from her own parents, who are religious conservatives that don't agree with divorce, though she has other family and friends that will be there for her.  our son longs for time to be by himself to sort his feelings out, and i think it will be good for him to be on his own, something that he has never been able to do before.  he jumped from being a college student into his first marriage, which ended when his wife left him for another man.  when that marriage ended, he moved into our guest house, which put him back with mom and dad, and he went from that situation into his second marriage and a move to north arkansas to be with his new wife.  now he looks forward to living independently and sorting through his thoughts, dreams, and goals.

may each of us have the time we need to search out our own way.  may we do so with compassion for those who are a part of that search and who we encounter on the path.  may we have the space to be our authentic selves and to discover who we are in our deepest hearts.  may we see the opportunities life presents us with and be thankful for the obstacles we encounter that help us become more compassionate, caring, and resilient people, remembering that the rocks are there to be climbed so we can see new visions.  shalom.

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Put On A Happy Face

i want to write today about my wife's mother who died ten years ago.  she was a woman that i admired greatly, and i think about her often.  she was born in rural southwestern arkansas in the early twentieth century.  her mother was the daughter of irish immigrants who settled in an irish community in western kentucky, and her father was a prosperous farmer who had moved with his young wife and several other family members to arkansas from the boothill of missouri, just across the mississippi river from the area where my wife's grandmother had grown up.

my mother-in-law had an idyllic childhood, growing up on a farm that was largely self-sufficient with her two sisters and one brother.  her mother was a kind-hearted, happy woman who loved to sing irish and american folk songs and popular victorian ballads, many of which my wife's mother, juanita, remembered.  juanita had a few piano lessons and loved to play the family piano.  her skills were minimal but she could play all the songs she loved to sing, the songs her mother had sung to her as a child, as well as gospel hymns.  in her young adulthood, before she married and left her family home, the house she grew up in caught fire.  she wanted to make certain that her beloved piano didn't burn with the house and somehow managed to draw it herself to the front door so that the piano would have to be moved out before other prized belongings could be saved.  though the house was a total loss, all the family members survived unhurt, along with the piano.

her father had a fine new home built, but soon after juanita began going out with her future husband, carl, and subsequently they were married.  her father, elmer, believed that juanita's husband was not worthy of his daughter and had an intense dislike for him and all his family.  elmer was even more disgruntled when another of his daughters married into the same family.  from that point on, relations between juanita and elmer were strained, though they continued to see one another and maintain a polite, though distant, relationship.

juanita had been a good student at the small country school where she graduated as valedictorian of her class.  her formal education ended then, and as she began her married life, she and carl moved into the town nearby where carl held a variety of jobs to support his wife and the daughter that was born to them in the early years of their marriage.  by the time my wife was born, the youngest of four daughters, juanita had gone to work in a sweat shop making coats and jackets for the lowest wage required by law while carl operated a mechanic shop that adjoined their house on eleven acres of land he had bought by securing a loan from a former employer.  the shop didn't make much, if any, money, and juanita's meager income was their main source of support.

carl was an abusive father and had become a religious fanatic.  the daughters were beaten mercilessly for the slightest infraction of his rules, and juanita was helpless to protect them.  in those days, men ruled and the law believed that what went on inside a home was none of its business as long as no one was killed.  it was a difficult time for juanita and her children.  the children were required to do all sorts of menial labor around the property and to help in the shop, and there was little time for the sort of play that most children enjoy.  my wife and her sisters remember how hard their mother worked and how much effort she put into making their lives as happy as possible under the circumstances.  through it all she never lost her positive disposition or her sense of humor, and it was only her presence that made life bearable for the four girls.

juanita was a gifted writer, and we delight in reading the stories about her life and the poems that she wrote, writings that she carefully preserved and treasured and which we now treasure ourselves.  she was a great story-teller and loved recalling her life on the farm and the people she knew growing up.  her father never let a visitor leave without first enjoying a meal with the family, and there were always guests at the table to enjoy the fine cooking of juanita's mother.  many family members lived nearby, and juanita and her cousins had great fun exploring the woods and streams near their home and playing games with each other.

carl died after all the girls were grown and married with children of their own, and juanita was left alone.  by that time, an interstate had come through near the family's eleven acres, and carl and juanita had been able to sell their land for a tidy sum and buy a large farm just outside town where they raised cows and chickens.  juanita was left to run the farm by herself, so she got out of the chicken business and leased the pasture land to another cattle farmer, while she continued to take care of her nice new home and the beautiful plants she had set out in her yard at the new place.  when two of her sisters bought homes in the same neighborhood in town, juanita bought a home that was just down the street from one of her sisters, and the backyard of her new home adjoined the back yard of the other sister, so that all three sisters were within easy walking distance of one another.

with carl's passing, she was free to live life on her own terms, and she relished her freedom.  her brother, who lived in michigan, invited her on long trips with himself and his wife, and she jumped at the chance to see the country with them.  her children and their families, including us, always took a long trip together during the summer and invited juanita to go along.  she was always excited to see new sites and spending time with family members made her adventures even more fun for her.  she kept journals of her travels, recording the events of each day of her journeys.  reading about these trips and seeing them through her eyes, the eyes of a country girl who until that point had never traveled more than a few miles from her home except to visit relatives in kentucky as a child, has made us appreciate how fortunate we've been in our lives to see and do so much.  that we were able to share our ramblings with her made them even more memorable.

i wonder what juanita could have done under different circumstances.  with her keen mind and sharp wit she could have gone far if she had a supportive father and husband to encourage her.  as it was, she made the best of life with what was available to her, always trying to make the lives of others better with her kindness and wisdom.  she always said that "you're worthless if you don't have a little 'dink,' and dink she had in abundance.  she lived life as fully as anyone i've ever known, never losing her optimism and good humor no matter what life threw at her.

may we all have a little "juanita" in us.  may we learn from people like her that life only gets the best of us if we let it.  may we never give up on kindness, and may we always look for the best in others.  shalom.