March 22, 2016

A spring “stay-cation” allowed me to attend a mid-day yoga class. The meditation at the end was encouragement to “Open and receive.” To be open to small kindnesses and receive them graciously.

Not twenty minutes later, I was at the grocery store. An elderly gentleman and I approached the lined-up row of carts at approximately the same time. He pulled one out as I stepped to the side.

“Here you go, miss.”

“Thank you so much.”

I felt happy inside while I shopped although grocery shopping has become something of a drudgery for me in recent years. It’s amazing how a small thing like being aware to open and receive made such a difference in my experience today.

What other kindnesses might come my way? What could I do to allow others to open and receive?

 

March 21, 2016

That summer night was different from most. Instead of playing SPUD in the cul-de-sac, I was sitting on a blanket next to my mom behind the backstop at Washington-Lee High School. My mother didn’t leave her chores easily then. She rarely stopped working. I don’t remember her coming outside much, so this was an occasion.

I played on the blanket the way 5-year olds did back then. Grass and clover could become playthings. You just played with whatever was there. My mother, wearing her nice cotton house dress, sat like a lady on the blanket with her legs tucked neatly to the side.

We sat up straighter when my brother approached the plate. He took a moment to walk to the backstop and said, “This one’s for you, Mom.” I think my mother stopped breathing. The next thing I knew there was the crack of wood bat on ball, and he was running. I jumped up and started yelling, actually knowing very little of the game that took my brother out every night of the week that summer.

My mother still sat with gleaming eyes and a look on her face reserved for David. He was her boy. To me, he was legendary.

 

March 20, 2016

The year my 4th child, Jane, was a senior in high school is now somewhat of a blur to me except for the fact that I know she was asserting her independence and I know she was in love. Jane and Stephen were always together. They enjoyed riding in his 1968 cobalt blue Mustang and playing fiercely competitive card games. They never cheated at card games. That would have been an unforgivable sin for a true competitor. They could also be quiet while listening to music, playing guitar, or just talking for hours. They loved the Beatles, walking in the snow, and watching movies. They perhaps spent too many hours playing “World of Warcraft,” but I won’t hold that against them now. Theirs was a deep friendship and an innocently blossoming romance.

Stephen was brilliant in so many subjects, but especially math. He decided that year to learn the “Moonlight Sonata” by Beethoven even though he had never had piano lessons. He did learn it, by heart. He taught himself music theory and could, by the end of the year, write the harmony (chords) of a Bach chorale. Calculus came fairly easy to him. He also had a wonderful English teacher his senior year who introduced him to the pleasures of writing and reading deeply. He kept a writers notebook even though it was never assigned. He worked a long time to read Les Miserables. And, Stephen kept a secret from me that year.

Part of Jane’s new independence was that she no longer wanted my company at her cello lessons. She had been studying cello since age 5 with the Suzuki method. In that method, mom is expected to come and learn, take notes of the lesson, so that the student would know how and what to practice during the week. We had a few hurdles over the years–you know, the age 12, “WHY DO I HAVE TO PLAY THE CELLO?” or whatever other instrument mom had picked. But around age 15, Jane began to really own her cello, and it became a vehicle for expressing her emotions and her identity.

The secret Stephen kept was revealed at Jane’s Spring Recital. I’ll never forget it. I thought I had still been fairly in touch with her music, but Jane often practiced before I got home from work. When she sat down at the recital to present her piece, I was not prepared for what I heard. Suddenly, before my eyes, my young daughter became a mature musician–one with her cello. She played the 3rd movement of Rachmaninoff’s Cello Sonata in g minor. It is a haunting, lyrical, intensely emotional piece of music. Jane had mastered it. I sat by Stephen as tears rolled down both our faces. She put all her heart and love into that music.

When Stephen died of cancer 3 years later, that music spoke her grief and her love. It will always be Jane’s piece to me.

Here is a link to this gorgeous piece of music:

 

March 19, 2016

Migraine comes unwanted.

Like Spring and Winter

In a tug-of-war

Migraine is the rope.

Like Past and Future

In a clash of wills.

Migraine numbs desire.

Like a blacksmith’s

fire and bellows

Migraine hammers the anvil.

Like the Ebb and Flow

of ocean waves

Migraine pounds 

And finally recedes.

 

March 18, 2016

I’m a day behind and a dollar short, as they say. But here’s the reason:

About 20 years ago, when my son was 18, we went on a “date” to a concert for his birthday and had so much fun that we decided to make it a tradition as often as we could. In the intervening years he has achieved a Doctor of Physical Therapy degree, married, and had 5 children. We haven’t always been able to make that “date” happen. Sometimes we heard bluegrass music, sometimes jazz, sometimes folk, sometimes classical.This year, we were determined to make time for mom and son. Danny sent me links to five or six concerts he was interested in. I got tickets for us.

Last night we heard Joshua Bell and the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields perform at the Strathmore in Rockville, MD. If I knew the words that could convey the beauty of the performance, I would use them. I promise I would. But there really aren’t words that I know that go that wide and deep.

The Academy of St. Martin in the Fields (don’t you just love that name?) is a chamber orchestra, and traditionally they play without a conductor. The principal violin is the leader as he/she plays.  It takes a great deal of listening, practice, knowing each other, and reading body language for such an ensemble to be successful. They were beyond successful. Every shade of dynamic; every nuance of phrasing; every motif passed from violin to clarinet to flute to cello was seamlessly elegant. I’ve never heard a live performance with such precision and attention to making every phrase lovely. Joshua Bell is young, but so musically mature. He plays a Stradivarius that is more than 300 years old. Hearing Mozart on a violin that was made during his era was magical.

A sweet bonus to the evening was finding that there is a picture book of the time Joshua Bell played his Stradivarius in the Metro in Washington DC (true story). It tells of a child who wanted to stop and listen, but was disappointed when the adults kept rushing by and didn’t stop. There are many lessons, comparable to close reading, in this sweet story.

Also, if you love Bach, Joshua Bell has just released a new CD that is all Bach. A bit of heaven.  I’m so glad I could spend the evening with my son.

March 17, 2016

Return.

Such a simple word.

Turn again.

Turn again to home.

Turn again to work.

Turn again to writing.

Revise.

Another simple word.

See again.

Return again to see anew.

True in writing.

True in my life.

 

March 16, 2016

 

I’m in Denver visiting my brother. I am the youngest in the family and he is the oldest. He left home for college when I was only 4 1/2, and we’ve lived our adult lives 2000 miles apart. Being busy raising our own families and not having too many shared memories has made it a challenge (at least for me) to have the closeness that I always wanted to have with him.

My memories with my brother up to my becoming an adult consist of:

  • the time we played cards and he thought I cheated (I didn’t.)
  • the time he surprised us by coming home from college for a weekend visit
  • the time he said, “This one’s for you, Mom.” and hit a home run
  • the time he came home from a game with his arm all bloody (Someone cleated him.)
  • the summer before he got married when he worked construction all day and waited tables at night and had to wear a suit and cumberbund
  • his wedding reception where I got embarrassed and cried (I was 8.)
  • a late night Yahtzee match
  • a day in the mountains fishing (We caught no fish, but the wildflowers were amazing)
  • the time he and his wife dressed up in red and white flannel nightshirts and put black licorice on their teeth and sang “All I Want for Christmas is My Two Front Teeth”

Those are some memories that stand out, but I always wished there were more.

So I decided to come to Denver for a quick trip, just 2 days really, to hear him perform in an Easter choral concert at the University of Denver Newman Center. The music made me cry. (“Lamb of God” by Rob Gardner). I went both nights; both were incredible.

When I was 4 1/2 I knew my brother as a baseball wonder. Now I’m seeing him as a musician. He is a bass–basses are the foundation of the choir. Both baseball and music define much of the culture of my family’s experiences. You might think it is a strange combination, but both give access to expressing passion and both reward diligent practice. There are probably more connections, but I’ll save that for another time.

Today, my big brother took me to the Estes Park in Colorado for my first experience snowshoeing. As we drove up into the mountains, he said he had never seen the mountains so dry at this time of year. We didn’t see any snow at first, but we did see a pretty scraggly herd of elk and a small herd of mule deer with their big ears. As we drove up, the flurries started and I felt excited as if I were a child again. It started to snow harder and harder the more we climbed. We arrived at Bear Lake. There was a foot of fresh, soft, Rocky Mountain powder. It was windy and cold, but so still and quiet at the same time.

We put on our snowshoes and began the hike around the lake which was frozen and covered with snow. I had to trust him that there really was a lake there. I have a new sport to love. Snowshoeing was so much fun! I loved the feel of walking on top of deep snow, the pure white powder, the tall pines and huge boulders. But mostly, I loved being with my brother. He is so kind, supportive, and full of stories. Sometimes it’s hard to get him started, but he is a born storyteller. I’m glad he’s part of my story.

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