Monday, September 28, 2015

Taken by the music and the smiles

I was taken by the smiles.  

We had gathered at the Norfolk Music Center in Norfolk, Connecticut; disparate threads to be woven into a tapestry of celebration by the shared affection for two friends who were exchanging vows and rings.  Having travelled from New York and D.C., California and Oregon, Iowa and Canada and Turkey (just to name the ones I know about), convened by their love in this magnificent setting, we shared meals, cottages, a mansion, and a stage.  All that, plus of course common cause.  

And so we rehearsed -- first for the wedding and then for the celebratory concert that would follow it.  The former was easy compared to the latter, though emotions might have run higher practicing the procession and the vows even if the kiss came effortlessly enough.  For the concert there was the orchestra run through, followed by a second run through with the soloists, and always the sound checks and tweaks and maneuvering of the mics. There were cues and corrections and suggestions and replays.  There was glorious music, and laughter, hard work, and always those smiles... if we were having a ball.  I certainly can't speak for everybody, and it's always dangerously presumptuous to generalize from one's own experience, but I think I'm safe to say it:  we were.  Hard work?  Yes.  Important?  Breathtakingly so.  Exhilarating, inspiring, soaringly beautiful?  Absolutely. Fun?  Faces don't light up that way for any other reason.

But here is the wonder.  The officiant notwithstanding, the people assembled on that stage were stars -- Grammy award winners, YouTube sensations, chart-topping recording artists, leads from Broadway, London, the Met; veterans of Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall, Presidential Galas, movie soundtracks and more; vocalists, instrumentalists, tap dancers, composers, arrangers and a groom/conductor.  Yet there was a selfless collegiality that transcended the individual star power.  There was playful banter.  Breaks were filled with laughter.  And when the songs were being played, delight was in the faces.  The grins were everywhere as they played.  Soloists took their spotlight moments, and then effortlessly receded into harmony role or backup chorus as another took the lead.  No assemblage of peacocks, this was an artful community manifesting the homily's message that we need each other.  From the tinkling wind chimes to the piercing trumpet, from the lush strings to the haunting flute, the tapping feet to the Hammond B3, from the rhythm of the drums to the intoxicating voices, we need each other.  In this case we could hardly get enough of each other.

And as evidenced Saturday night, when we give the gifts we bring...

...we make music.  Goose-pimpling music.

And I suppose we just can't help it:  we smile.

Especially me.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Ride on Buckaroo

I've always been drawn to September.  Whatever the distinctive allures of the summer months, their overriding heat has long since leaned me longingly toward September’s moderating mercury.  Even as an adult, long out of the classroom, the resumption of school bells feels like an inner pitch fork recalibrating life back into tune.  All that, plus two marital births for which I am eternally grateful – my parents', on the 12th, and my own, on the 20th. 

And then, of course, there is my actual birthing – 59 years ago today.  Never mind the more recent negative connotations thrust upon September 11, I prefer not to associate my birthday with terrorism but with the raindrop’s  unspeakable gratitude for the privilege of joining the ocean.  While certain theological perspectives might take a different view, in a purely existential sense it is better to be than not.  So, here I continue to be – a sentient, reasonably intelligent, lovingly related, essentially healthy, purposefully and productively occupied and profoundly happy guy. 

It has been a pivotal decade, these 50’s now entering their final lap.  Raucously begun in a rented hall surrounded by family and friends and the celebratory music we exuberantly made, its midsection was marked by a vocational shift from preaching to farming, accompanied by a functional shift from work for which I had been technically trained and had practiced for decades to work about which I knew absolutely nothing, and the requisite residential shift from a townhouse in the city to 10-acres in the country.  Here, with my ear to the ground to listen for what the soil might teach me, I have toiled along with seeds and weeds, deep breaths and wide curiosities, chicken coops and the still-surprising harvests – cumulatively negating the reality of less money with the experience of greater wealth. 

All that, plus the intuitive sense that, as with our previous endeavors,  we are scratching around out here on something that is important.

Which is to say that I am blessed beyond merit and measure.  I am confessionally confident that I too-seldom inventory and acknowledge the real gifts that are my blessing’s raw materials – nurturing parents, a bolstering brother, a loving and sustaining wife, forgiving and inspiring kids, buoying mentors and colleagues and friends – but I am determined to get better at that.

In the meantime there is good work to do – seeds to sort, tomatoes to pick, compost to turn, chickens to feed and eggs to gather…

…59 years to celebrate and remember…

…and life still yet to live.

Happy birthday, me.  Blow out the candles and then giddy up, buckaroo.  Get back out on the trail.  Time's wasting and there are miles to ride before you sleep.