Archive for the ‘Music’ Tag
Spring is here. Ribbons of yellow daffodils are growing on the side of the road. Robbins are hopping around, their red breasts puffed out in front of them. And soccer season has begun. My weekly schedule is suddenly an ink smear of places I need to be. I’m having a hard time keeping up with it all. In fact, I’m NOT keeping up with it all. Last Friday I completely forgot about a music evaluation my son, Hunter, had for piano. It was an exam of sorts, including sight reading, performance, theory, and technique. He’d been working toward it for months. And I forgot. So did he. We both felt terrible. Tears-on-our-cheeks TERRIBLE.
First thing Saturday morning I called his teacher, Rebecca, to apologize. “I don’t even have a good excuse,” I confessed. “We just forgot.”
Hunter’s piano teacher is one of the kindest, most gracious people I know. But even so, I expected her to be frustrated. Disappointed at the least. I would have been. Instead, she responded by saying, “I am so happy to know that everything is okay. I was worried that Hunter was sick.”
Before I had a chance to plunge into an even deeper state of guilt, our sweet teacher went on to say, “Now, Janessa, I’ve had this sort of thing happen to me many times. I wish I had been gentler with myself. Please. Be gentle with yourself.”
There wasn’t much I could say to that, especially not with the tears welling up in my eyes. I shared her words with my son, Hunter, and saw a wide-eyed look of gratitude and adoration appear on his face.
Be gentle with yourself. What a valuable lesson. I hope Rebecca knows she is teaching Hunter so much more than how to play the piano. And I am learning, too.
I know I’m a little late for a Thanksgiving post, but tonight our family had an experience that left me feeling profoundly grateful for the gifts we are given each day.
To start off, the week before Thanksgiving, my 3rd grade daughter brought home a poem she wrote and illustrated at school. I loved the poem. Not just because my daughter wrote it and I enjoyed reading her thoughts, but also because the poem was a wonderful exercise in learning how to find gratitude. My daughter’s teacher had the students in her class think of eight things they wanted. After each longed-for wish, the students wrote something they already had that they were grateful for. For example, here is my daughter’s poem:
I wish I had another puppy, but I’m grateful I have one.
I wish nobody would get sick, but I’m grateful I don’t get sick a lot.
I wish I had all the books I wanted to read, but I’m grateful I get to read some.
I wish I never had hard times, but I’m grateful I have friends and family when I do.
I wish I had a job with animals, but I’m grateful I can when I’m older.
I wish I would never grow up, but I’m glad I get to stay little for a while.
I wish the day would last forever, but I’m grateful it lasts 24 hours.
I wish I could do whatever I want, but at the same time I’m grateful that I don’t.
I could add a few of my own: I wish my husband liked 19th century British literature, but I’m grateful he’ll watch Jane Eyre with me anyway. I wish I didn’t have to wash the dirty dishes, but I’m grateful I can feed my family. I wish I had more time to write my book, but I’m grateful for four children who keep me busy and make my life purposeful.
It really is a wonderful exercise – finding what you are grateful for in the moment you are longing for more. Tonight’s experience was all about that. My husband and I took our kids to a special event organized by a dear friend of mine: a concert by children for children. She and her family organize the event each year, inviting friends to come and participate in a night of holiday music. Children perform, sharing their talents, and at the end of the night donations are accepted for the One Heart Bulgaria foundation, which aids orphanages in Bulgaria.
At the beginning of the concert, we were shown a slideshow of orphaned children living in Bulgaria. I found myself drawn toward the children’s dark, quiet eyes as they looked into the camera, inviting me to see the world from their point of view. It allowed me to step away from the long hard stare I fix on the things I think I want most, both for me and for my children, and to appreciate the most basic and important elements of our lives: love, faith, and family; food, health and home. There are so many gifts that have already been given, so many wants that have already been met. And so many opportunities to give instead of receive.
In last week’s post I promised more discussion about my failed attempt to finish my novel by January 24th. Like I said, I’m happy with the way the revisions are going, but in February I wasn’t feeling quite so optimistic about it. I have been working on this novel for YEARS. It has grown and developed so much, but it has also spanned all the years of my motherhood. In fact, when I started with my first critique group I missed our inaugural meeting because my oldest child had just been born. At the time, I was workshopping the same manuscript I am working on today, and in February, that newborn baby turned ten years old.
When his birthday arrived, I was already feeling like a failure for not finishing my novel. Now I began to mourn the fact that my baby had become such a big boy. Time felt like a weight on my shoulders. I didn’t seem to have any control over it. I wanted to stop the rush of years, get my book done, and hold on tight to my little ones before they all grew up.
About that time, my parents came into town and invited me to a Utah Jazz basketball game. I brought my oldest son with me, and we had fun eating nachos and cheering with the crowd. Then something entirely unexpected happened. At half-time a group of dancers came to the floor. They wore long tops and pants, and most of them had white, permed hair. They were announced as Jean’s Golden Girls, ranging between 50-93 years old. Between them they had 500 children, 1200 grandchildren, and 250 great-grandchildren. The music started, and those women started to shake and shimmy like you’ve never seen.
It took my breath away. I watched them give everything to the dance, smiles on their faces. I whooped and screamed, delighted at their performance, their joie de vivre, and suddenly I was crying. Tears streaming down my face in the middle of a loud, hot, crowded basketball stadium. I seriously wondered if I was losing my mind. I tried wiping my eyes before my mom could see and wonder about my mental health, but I just couldn’t watch those ladies without a profound emotion welling up from deep inside.
By the time their six minutes on the court had ended, something inside me had changed. I didn’t think of time in the same way – as something finite that was rushing past me, ever elusive. I saw it now as a gift to be enjoyed. Celebrated. Used for living, writing, mothering, dancing. The fear that time would pass me by no longer pressed down on me, and when the show ended with a ninety-three year old woman doing the splits in center court, I cheered louder than anyone else in the stadium.
That was over a month ago, and the weight is still diminished. I continue to ask myself, ‘Will I ever get my novel finished?’ but I know I will. Maybe not in the time frame I would like, but I am committed to it, and I will finish it. It is also true that my children will grow up much faster than I would like. And it will break my heart and make me happier than I can imagine all at the same time. But I’m going to try not to worry too much about deadlines or driver’s ed. I’m going to try and enjoy the dance.
I missed posting yesterday because I fell asleep as soon as my kids were in bed. Derek and I took a quick trip to New York over the weekend and had to get up at 4:30 in the morning yesterday (2:30 a.m. here in Utah) to fly back home. The reason for our weekend get-away was the marriage of one of Derek’s college friends, an old fraternity brother of his.
The wedding was held in Bridgeport, Connecticut, at the Rodeph Sholom synagogue and was a conservative Jewish ceremony. It began with the Tish and the Bedeken. For the Tish, or “Groom’s Table”, male friends and family of the groom, or Hatan, gathered in a room to rejoice before the ceremony.
Many of Derek’s fraternity brothers and their spouses attended the wedding, but the groom is the only one of the group who is Jewish. When we were instructed to separate – men in one room and women in the other, there were a few stiff smiles from the women in the group – incredibly talented and successful doctors, surgeons, attorneys and businesswomen. I realized that it is unusual in our society to segregate ourselves in this way. But once the men had left for the Tish, and the women remained in the Bedeken to await the arrival of the bride, there was a change in the room. To me it felt like a lightness. A pause. Women turning to each other as women. When the bride arrived, glowing in her beautiful gown, it was like being in a room full of light.
Once the bride, or Kallah, had greeted her friends and family, she sat at one end of the room and waited for the groom to arrive, like a queen on her throne. When he entered the room, he was led by the men from the Tish, singing, dancing, and waving their fists in the air. It was such an entrance, full of celebration and rejoicing. Not just for the bride and groom, but for the families, the community, the people.
The groom was led to the bride’s seat, where he carefully pulled her veil over her face. The rabbi spoke to the wedding guests, explaining that the bride is veiled to signify that in spite of her beauty, what is valued most is her spiritual qualities, which will never fade. The veil also physically separates the bride and groom, reminding them that they remain distinct individuals even as they unite in marriage. I loved pondering on the significance of the veil, and the way it honored the bride in so many ways on her wedding day.
Following the veiling of the bride, we all went upstairs to the sanctuary, where the bride and groom entered the Huppah – a canopy with four open sides representing their first home. Once under the canopy, the bride circled the groom seven times, symbolizing the way her love will surround her home and protect it from outside harm. The blessings that followed, both spoken by the rabbi and sung in Hebrew by the cantor were beautiful. The songs, sung in their deep, reedy way, resonated throughout the synagogue and recalled other times, other people, who had made the same ancient promises the bride and groom were making to each other that day.
As Derek and I left the synagogue, walking out into the cooling October air of a Connecticut afternoon, I told him how much I had appreciated the traditions we had seen that day. “I feel anchored,” I told him. It didn’t matter that the religious beliefs behind the traditions differed from my own. It was the honoring of traditions that anchored me.
I thought more about it on our drive to the reception: the way an anchor falls through water, sending waves and ripples in a concentric path. On one side the ripples move outward, touching the past, on the other side they reach into the future. That is what tradition does for us. It connects us to the people who came before us, and to those who will come after. It centers us in time and space, resonating through us like ripples on the surface of the water, or the words of a cantor during the recitation of blessings to a new bride and groom.
Earlier this month I decided to acquaint my seven year old daughter, Hattie, with the infamous Anne-girl of the carrot
red hair. I just couldn’t wait any longer. I loved the Anne of Green Gables series when I was young, and any of L.M. Montgomery’s books I could find. Returning now with my daughter and finding Anne waiting for us in the pages of a book has been like reuniting with an old and dear friend.
At first I worried that Hattie might be a little young to understand the language and nuances of the book, but she follows closely along with every turn of the page. Tonight her eyes widened with horror when Josie Pye dared Anne to walk the ridgepole of Diana Barry’s roof, and when Anne broke her ankle and was bedridden, Hattie wanted to know, “Did Gilbert come to visit her?”
A favorite moment in our reading came the other night when we met Diana’s spinster aunt, Josephina Barry. In spite of Miss Barry’s boorish reputation and her imposing demeanor, Anne opens her heart to the older woman. This causes Miss Barry’s icy facade to melt away, and the two discover a surprising new friendship. That night when Anne returns home to Green Gables, she confides to Marilla, “Miss Barry was a kindred spirit, after all . . .You wouldn’t think so to look at her, but she is. . . Kindred spirits are not so scarce as I used to think. It’s splendid to find out there are so many of them in the world.”
Those words ended the chapter, and as I closed the book Hattie looked at me and asked, “Do I have any kindred spirits?” We talked about special friends she has had over the course of her life, and then I tucked her into bed. But as I left her room I asked myself the same question. “Who have been my kindred spirits?”
The first to come to my mind was Teresa.
I met Teresa during my time as a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I was twenty-one. She was sixty years my senior. A white-haired woman living in Trieste, an Italian city that borders Slovenia. A city with hills so steep and wind so strong that handrails line the sidewalks — thick chains strung between iron posts.
Teresa was a member of the Mormon church, but was too old and frail to make the long trek to church on Sundays. So I would go and visit her each week with my companion, another missionary my age, and we would bring a message to share with her. Something that we hoped would be uplifting, strengthening in some way.
I learned right away that if anyone had strength to share, it was Teresa.
She would watch for us out her window, waiting for our arrival on the rattling bus that transported us around the city. There was always a hot meal waiting for us inside, and mugs full of rich, steaming cocoa. I had just arrived to Italy when I met her, and hardly knew any Italian. She didn’t know any English. But we both knew the songs of Ella Fitzgerald, and we first bonded over those bright, bouncy tunes.
In a way, those melodies we shared were a reflection of Teresa. She was as buoyant as the notes that float so effortlessly in Fitgerald’s vocals. She never complained about her health or her lonely life in her small, squarish apartment. She had a brightness to her that lifted her above the mundane. But at the same time that she floated buoyantly above discouragment, there was a deepness to her. A penetrating thoughtfulness and an anchoring strength.
On one of our visits, I asked Teresa if I could sing her a song from our church’s hymnal. She said yes and requested the hymn ”More Holiness Give Me.”
I was confused. I knew the song well. To me it represented all of my inadequacies — listing all the ways I failed to sanctify my life, and give precedence to spiritual matters. I felt the song was written for people like me, not for people like Teresa. In her tiny living room, sipping cocoa, I felt that if I could just open the right set of eyes I would see wisps of heaven trailing through the room, and angels moving among us.
But I had asked and she had answered. I sang the song.
More holiness give me,
More strivings within,
More patience in suff’ring,
More sorrow for sin,
More faith in my Savior,
More sense of his care,
More joy in his service,
More purpose in prayer.
More purity give me,
More strength to o’ercome,
More freedom from earth-stains,
More longing for home.
More fit for the kingdom,
More used would I be,
More blessed and holy
More, Savior, like thee.
She listened quietly, with her face turned to the window. She seemed to find solace in the words that I sang. I was glad. I would do anything I could to make her happy. But I still didn’t understand.
Not until now. Not until I thought about kindred spirits that night with Hattie, and remembered my surprise when Teresa asked me to sing the hymn. I realized Teresa spent her life working to have that holiness, that purity, patience and love. It was what she valued most. She wanted to hear me sing “More Holiness Give Me,” for the same reason that I thought she, of all people, didn’t need it: because it embodied all that she wanted most in life.
And in thinking about Teresa, I found this truth: we are what we value. It’s a familiar lesson: “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” But it became more poignant and meaningful when I recognzied it in the life of my kindred spirit.