Tuesday, December 29, 2009
I'm sure there have been years when I somehow managed to miss it -- or inexplicably neglected to make time for it -- but those years have been few. Indeed, it was the allure of this movie that that sowed the seeds of intrigue leading to my choice of Vermont for the destination of our honeymoon some 12 years ago. By now we have even managed to watch the movie in Vermont more times than one. "Snow, snow, snow, snow...it won't be long until we'll all be there with snow..."
And so it was that we set aside the time yesterday to slide in the DVD and settle in for the annual experience. It felt like a double delight since we opted to stay home this holiday season. Our own private cinematic taste of Vermont -- the holiday holy land for us far moreso than the North Pole. And true to form, as soon as the General -- against his will -- descended the steps in his uniform for the grand finale of the show, tears starting streaming down my face.
As I say, it's not so much because the show is that touching. Sure, it's warm and tender and touching in many ways, but by now I know most of the lines and the songs by heart. There is even one less desirable one that, through the gift of digital tracking, I now choose to skip right over. If it were the movie alone, its capacity to "touch" surely would have long since worn off.
No, I think the tears have more to do with the thread this single movie weaves throughout the entirety of my life. I can't think of much else -- if anything -- that has endured with me from my very beginning. Year after year, in one location or another; broadcast, videotape, and now DVD; always and reliably there, since I myself was a child on through the time when I had children of my own and now that they are grown. Bing and Danny and Vera and Rosemary have become almost family -- no, more like organs of my body --and this song something like the beat of my heart.
It is, I suppose, simple nostalgia, but it feels like more than that -- a touchstone, perhaps, somehow recalling everywhere I've been, how I peculiarly dream, and who I uniquely am. And I am grateful for it...
...One more blessing to count, in those worrisome nights when I can't sleep, instead of sheep.
Saturday, December 26, 2009
Thursday, December 24, 2009
That said, it has all been something close to angel visitation. Kindnesses extended; calming voices; gentle touches, helpful responses; reassuring encouragements -- from volunteers, nurses, chaplain, nursing assistants, friends and even those dreaded lab techs. And doctors, of course. Gentle, kind, affirmational and informational; indulgent but firm. The words may not have literally been "fear not" but the implication has been the same. And if "tidings of great joy" might be stretching things a bit, "tidings of great promise" surely describe the hope for days ahead as a result of Lori's new hip.
And so it isn't the typical Christmas Eve whose sun will be rising in the next couple of hours, but one filled appreciatively with "good news". And if titanium and ceramic and plastic are not the common gifts beneath the tree, they are certainly welcomed ones this year, accompanied by dreams of hikes around the lake and through the woods -- and simply an easier time getting in and out of chairs.
"Angels We Have Heard On High" drifts out of the stereo, and as if on cue, one has returned to the bedside, keeping watch; checking monitors and tubes. Lori has drifted back to sleep. Despite the morning traffic picking up in the hallway beyond the door, I think I'll drift back that way myself.
"Sleep in heavenly peace."
Monday, December 21, 2009
"Somehow, we've allowed the success or failure of the Christmas season to be judged by the volume of retail sales, and this looks to be another down year. We've allowed our whole economy to become 70 percent dependent on consumer spending, of which Christmas sales are the make-or-break component. Not good. An economy that is over-reliant on consumer spending is a sick economy" (Richard Doak, retired Editor of the Des Moines Register).
Thursday, December 10, 2009
But the winds also made it beautiful. The sidewalk leading to our front door looked, for all the world, like an albino Arizona – gentle layers of wind-swept desert, albeit snow instead of sand. All that was missing was a white saguaro cactus for accent. By contrast, outside our dining room window in the courtyard between townhomes, the snow was whipped up into shoulder high peaks of firm meringue. Somehow, and in apparent disregard for the laws of physics, snow accumulated atop the deck railing despite the wind, sliced into oversized muffins by the warmth of the rope lights wrapped around the wood.
And the trees. We thought all day of December in Vermont. How can evergreen boughs support such loads? How is it possible, as was true of the small potted tree on the sidewalk, for snow to completely encase the branches to the extent that branches are no longer in evidence, leaving only a general pyramidal shape perched on a pot? And how is it possible that, despite the frosty and complete coverage; despite the thick and obscuring veil, when evening came and the timer switched on, the lights on those trees still twinkled...
Perhaps it was simply to confirm to us who had huddled inside that despite the treacherous wind, despite the bitter cold, despite the blanketing snow, “the light shines on in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
Tuesday, December 8, 2009
Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed my teachers -- Mrs. Newman, who was a far too delightful of a woman to be subjected to the disinterest of people like me; Mr. Petty, who was nice enough to pick me up at some terrible hour of the morning before school and drive me to the studio. I won't hold it against him that he invariably expected me to actually practice in-between lessons, especially when the assignment was some "sonata" or "concertina" (you should have heard the sneer with which I could say those words!). Mrs. Newman, at least, had assigned me peppy little things like "Aqua Caliente."
No, it wasn't dislike of my teachers; nor was it, I suppose, any particular or focused distaste on the instrument, itself. Piano was abhorred more for the preferable alternatives it displaced than for its intrinsic revulsion. I'll never forget -- and indeed I make this claim quite literally -- the weekly experience of leaving track workouts early in order to get to a piano lesson. I could feel the derisive stares of my teammates burning a piano shaped hole in the back of my head.
So it was in the context of this resistance that my Mother, hoping to mitigate the damage, offered to buy me whatever music I wanted, in the prescient hope that if I liked what I was playing...I would actually play. Caldwell Music Company downtown had a great pop music section, and every now and then I would find a way to get there -- of my own free will -- and browse the racks.
I was recalling these experiences again last night as we enjoyed our way through the Jackson Browne solo acoustic concert at the Civic Center -- because Jackson Browne music was a frequent purchase. I have by now lost count of how many times I have heard him in concert -- with a band numerous times; by himself, now, a couple. He has been at it so long, and has written so many memorable songs, that who can blame him that, as he mentioned at one point early in the show, that he doesn't really make a set list; he just plays what he feels like and what people want to hear. So, he would study his rack of 16 guitars and pull out one that apparently represented a given song and pick his way into the music; or discern a single title from the assault of requests shouted out from the audience and move in that direction; or sit down at the keyboard and plunk his way into another.
And as if it were yesterday I remember pounding out most of these same songs -- actually practicing them -- in the fantasy that one day, just maybe, Jackson Browne would be passing through the area and something like a guitar case would slam on his hands rendering him unable to play, and a cry would go up to the masses, "Is there anybody out there who can possibly perform these songs." And I would be ready. I always pictured it something like the Prophet Isaiah's response to the call in the Bible: "Here I am, send me."
And I was ready last night. Sure, I would have been a little rusty, but I could have pulled it off had the need arisen. Like riding a bicycle, you never quite lose the feel of Doctor My Eyes, Running on Empty, and The Pretender. And the audience -- virtually a full house of cheering, adoring and appreciative fans -- would have had my Mother to thank.
Monday, December 7, 2009
And suddenly, Friday night, in the second of a two-part final episode, and after successfully surviving yet another close brush with death that, before it was all over, managed to resolve all the unanswered mysteries that had provided much of the animating tension of the show through the years, the series faded to black. It's not, of course, like the show will actually go away. Monk will no doubt live on in perpetuity through syndication -- and in the videos of the seasons we have purchased and pop into the player from time to time. But somehow it's not the same. A bit like thumbing through old photo albums of trips you once took, it's nice but not quite the same as taking new ones.
Under the circumstances, it will have to do -- that, and noticing and enjoying the "inner Monk" coming out in friends and family, each other...
In the meantime,
"You better pay attention
Or this world we love so much
might just kill you
I could be wrong now,
but I don't think so
It's a jungle out there."
Saturday, December 5, 2009
As I mentioned, it wasn't the first time I had worked with a family with these presenting issues. In those other cases, however, all the cautionary prerequisite has really turned out to mean is that the family didn't want something crammed down their throats -- an altar call or hellfire and brimstone or some similar assault of religion at its most intrusive. "But sure," they would eventually suggest, and after I had apparently alleviated their concerns, "a prayer and some scripture would be nice."
Not this time. They were hardly militant about it -- excruciatingly kind, and almost apologetic, they were simply trying to be authentic to their life perspective and experience. Religion had played no significant part in their life together thus far; it seemed to them artificial to tack on a prayer here at the end. As I say, it was a choice born not out of animosity toward religion, but out of integrity with themselves, and since I, too, have some interest in integrity, I acquiescently -- if slowly -- set myself to work.
It was, however, precisely that matter of mutual integrity that created for me some problems. What, after all, is a preacher to say in a funeral that honors theirs while not abrogating mine? There is, after all, already too much syrupy inanity dished out in the name of comfort, and I had no interest in adding to such abundance. Precious little even of that, moreover, has any relevance in a context devoid of theological referents. Exactly what, for example, would the old chestnut, "she has gone to a better place", mean to a person without a concept of heaven? What, I wondered, is the secular equivalent of "God be with you?" And then beyond the funeral, itself, what is there to say at the graveside? How does one speak comfort and completion and ultimately farewell outside the promises of faith? Even the familiar benediction -- "The Lord bless you and keep you..." -- suddenly sounded like a party crasher.
The more I thought about it, the more I realized how theologically ordered I am -- how many of the framing 2 X 4's in my interpretive structure of reality are religious principle and tenet and belief. Withdrawing each one discovered in the process of writing the funeral felt, in a way, like the old game of "Pick Up Sticks" -- wondering, with every one, which would send the whole structure crashing.
An interesting and stretching challenge, then. And so it was that with no small measure of relief and apprehension I finally pressed "Print" and nervously gathered up the papers before hustling over to the funeral home where the family and a full house of guests were waiting.
Since funerals, at least by my calculation, are highly personal, very much in the present, and therefore not particularly portable, I'll spare you the details -- except to report that the family seemed happy, satisfied and appreciative that their wishes were honored and their loved one appropriately feted. One who had been less directly involved in the planning even pulled me aside afterward to clarify that in his own life he had come to a different place in his beliefs, and that he had appreciated the couple of places I had "slipped in" some references to the Divine. While it hadn't been my intent to be surreptitious, I'm glad that he, too, heard something that was helpful.
For my part, I drove away from the graveside grateful that I had been privileged to connect with another interesting family, humbled that I had managed in some way to serve them in a breathtakingly poignant moment, and appreciative of this opportunity that had stretched both them and me into more deliberate reflection and consideration on what is true in a way that is larger than ourselves; what is comforting and grounding and orienting for any circumstances, but especially such as these; and the many places where people of differing views can stand compassionately and supportively together.
For the record, though, when the time comes to plan my service, feel free to say whatever you need to say about me, but then move quickly on to read some scriptures -- maybe even sing a hymn or two -- and above all, pray, knowing that the practice would mean something to me and, more importantly according to my belief system, to the one who first sent me out and is even at that moment welcoming me home.