Can it be? It’s autumn in the northern hemisphere? Where did summer go? Heck, where did the year go? It has been a rather challenging year for almost everyone. With a scant three months before the page turns and 2020 becomes a memory, it is probably a good time to remember that the hardships and challenges we have endured are what life is about. It is not about jetting to some far off destination. Experiencing the delight of other places or tasting yet another new dish. Life is about living each day the best we can. To be kind and respectful. To watch and listen and learn. We don’t have to agree with what everyone says. Or what everyone does. We must do our part to not harm others. And this means respecting each other as if we are all borne of the same Father. That we are brothers and sisters in the most basic thing that defines each of us. Our DNA says so. Our RNA says so. Does our heart tell the same tale, or do we insist that enlightenment is only for the few? I tend to think it’s for the few. Oh. Check that. That kind of thinking, of allowing ourselves to think that we are better than the other only brings ruin to a community. If this pandemic wracked world has something left to teach us, let it be a simple reminder. A smile, even beneath a mask, still radiates warmth within. We cannot love everyone, but we can respect everyone. And in doing so, perhaps, that respect will become something greater. Something better. Perhaps.
I have been a fan of musical theater for decades now. I have seen shows in my hometown, in New York, in the movies and in television. The last five years gave the world at least two truly great musicals – Hamilton and Dear Evan Hansen. In the tumult of today, I often sit back and just listen to these shows. And many others.
I didn’t really listen to the whole Hamilton soundtrack until the show started streaming in Disney Plus. The first act was great. The acting, the songs, the story was just a treat. The second act, though, was incredible. And then there was this song, this moment in the show that made me realize that this is a show that all of us needs to see. Not just for the incredible cast, the incredible songs, the incredible performances. For me, this song is transcendent.
The beauty of this song is not just the melody or the voices that sing it. We all make mistakes and we all have regrets. And yet, in the midst of the sadness there was no recrimination. Instead, it talks about the loss, sacrifice, forgiveness and love. A beautiful tune and in the sadness of it all, hope and love.
Thank you Renee Elise Goldsberry. Thank you Philippa Soo. Thank you, Hamilton cast and singers. And thank you Lin-Manuel Miranda. Truly amazing.
No, I don’t mean you or me, in the midst of a room or a gathering, being the center of attention. I am taking about the quiet moments that we all spend by ourselves, thinking about the world going on around us. Sometimes, I delay the introspection by watching a video on youtube. Or catching another movie or show on Netflix or Amazon Prime. And then another. And then another. As if delay leads to forgetting, to putting aside for another day. Do we think so little of ourselves that we don’t want to spend the time understanding our thoughts, not listening to what our hearts and minds, in the silence of the moment, is trying to tell us?
A time out. A time for contemplation, perhaps even a prayer. Purposeful and deliberative pause and reflection. Do we always want to live a life reacting to everyday events with nary a though to what we are doing? Do we want to live a life planned out for us, by us? Or do we want to look at ourselves, maybe even at stolen moments, and try to see, to feel, to understand what we are doing, who we are, what matters most in our lives?
When we look within ourselves, we may find that what stands out is not what we think is important, or what the world deems is important, or what we want to be important. Take the time to stop and think. To listen, in the silence of the moment, for a voice that is always there, guiding our lives. Each of us, whatever the age, whatever faith we believe in, can take a moment to listen and to see what stands before us.
Broken or whole, we owe it to ourselves to pause for a moment. To see that colored leaf that glows in the sun. To find within ourselves the thing that stands out. To find that even in the silence, we are not alone. That all that we are, all that we can be, is not just about you or me. It is about us. The moments of our lives that truly matter are not full of I’s. It is in the we’s the we are made whole.
In the wee hours of the morning, after another restless and near sleepless evening, I started listening to music. The notes played on and then I suddenly realized that at that moment, I wasn’t really in the room. My mind had wandered back in time, remembering a time when family members who are but a memory were still breathing the same air that I breathed. And in that moment, I found myself wondering. What is really important in my life? And in nearly the same instant, I thought about the people who are forever part of me. I didn’t remember the clothes they wore. Or the places we have been. I thought about how much I was loved. And how this feeling that never goes away always brings balance back into my life.
I was taught so many things by a great many people. The most important lessons were not imparted with words, but through actions, through example. Kindness is not optional, even when it is difficult to give. Respect other people, even when you don’t agree with them. Be generous to others, for what you have, even if earned, is a gift given to you, not to be hoarded, but to be shared. Speak the truth always, but never harshly.
And then the present, or the near present, came back to me. Sometimes, just seeing and being with someone is enough. Your heart always finds a way to tell you what it feels. And in the music, joyful and hopeful as the dawning of a new day, I remembered the thing that gives life to a life. Love. A gift, a treasure. A memory? Sometimes. Transient? Not when it is true.
One look says it all.
To all the mothers in the world. May there be peace and love in your heart always. A love that knows no boundaries, in this life and the next.
The crescent moon shines brightly in the quickly darkening sky
Twilight receding, stars ascending and in front of me
Stands mighty Orion, with Rigel’s light blazing forth
And to one side sits Canopus, with the brightest star in the sky
Looking down on me as I gaze upward one more time
And see the beauty that only the sisters can bring
The seven forever chased by the hunter
And as the winter stars meet the horizon ever earlier
In a slowly changing dance, a sequence of moments, each a memory
Spring will come soon enough
The past will be past, but like the stars that circle the earth
They remain with us, reminding us
That what we treasure is not lost
For they will always shine brightly in our hearts
As long as love endures
After years of not paying attention to my record player (and the old LP recordings), a sense of nostalgia filled my life as 2018 was coming to a close. It was not a very good year for me, but I am not going to say that I had nothing to be thankful for. There are always so many things to be thankful for in one’s life. Lives end, but the experiences shared, the memories, the love remains. It was a time to realize that that old song from “Funny Girl” – “People” still mean the same thing to me now, several decades since I first heard it (and fell in love with the song). Life has ups and downs, but as long as there are people in your life that give it meaning, life is always worth living. Sorrow may linger, but joy always remains.
And so it was that I ended up putting a record on that old Denon record player, only to find out the stylus on the cartridge had snapped. A few days later, Amazon shipped me a new Ortofon cartridge. And what was dusty and forgotten was alive again. As the stylus fell on the vinyl, the past and the present became one. And the sound of music, long unheard, became part of my life again.
A little snippet from Alfred Brendel playing Mozart.
Another thing. Somehow, an old CD player that was supposed to have been donated years ago never made it out of the garage. After cleaning off the dust, it was time to play an old Carly Simon CD. Some things never get old.
A new year. Old things are new again. And new things, well, they’re always there to be discovered. “People. People who need people. Are the luckiest people in the world.” I am a lucky man.
My favorite episode of Star Trek is “The Inner Light.” Star Trek has always been a show about what it means to be human. Yes, it has a lot of flashing lights, special effects, green aliens, esoteric worlds, starship battles and journeys to countless planets and stars. And yet for all the glitter, the show, at its best, is a grand exposition of the human condition, the human experience. In “The Inner Light”, Captain Picard is thrust upon a life totally different from his own. Instead of commanding a starship, he was a man with a wife he didn’t know, on a planet slowly dying. He didn’t want to be there, but there was this woman he didn’t know who nevertheless tended to him, nurtured him, loved him. Slowly, the fantasy became a reality and in a scant twenty minutes, Picard experiences a life he had never known. A love he had never known. A wife who adored him, children who loved him, needed him and in the end, taught him that being a parent elicits emotions ranging from worry, consternation, disappointment, pride. All the by product of the most basic human emotion of all. The ability to feel and to give love.
It is a masterful story and when I need to find meaning in my own life, I watch this show again and remember that all that glitters is not gold. Kamin was not rich by any means. His family was but one of many families in a village being ravaged by drought. Yet the life he was living seemed so much more complete, so much more fulfilled than the life he lived as the dashing captain of a Federation flagship. And when the illusion ended, when he realized that what he had thought was his life was actually a mental recreation, he did something extraordinary. He took a flute, sat by a window, gazed at the stars, and he began to play.
We can go through life and be dazzled by the success that we are taught to go after. We can go through life looking for the next star, hardly stopping to even look at the world that we are in. We can go through life and experience ecstasy, the heights of fame, the allure of power, the spoils of wealth and yet feel empty, broken. When we look outside ourselves for validation, we allow others to judge us from their point of view; to tell us that in order to be happy or successful, we must follow someone else’s dream, live the life that someone else envisions. Is it such a surprise that a life that always looks outward misses the simple joys that life can bring. A fluttering butterfly. A cool breeze on a warm day. A sprinkle of rain blurring one’s view of the world, for an instant. So many small moments that can bring meaning to a life. Do we spend the time looking at the world in its own terms, feeling the infinitely small breezes of fluttering wings, feeling the hair on our forehead dance, just a little. Do we look inward and in our heart find that inner light, the one true beacon that can bring meaning to one’s existence?
It is like the nondescript houseplant pictured above. Green leaves on a pot. These leaves have a secret. They are the leaves that will bring sustenance to this plant, that will eventually provide the nourishment for flowers to bloom. These are the leaves of a sampaguita plant. Jasmine. Beautiful and sweet. A flower, that to many, symbolizes purity and humility. It is, in many ways, ethereal.
So as the year ends, I think of this special Star Trek episode. And of a beautiful flower. And look inward and see the beauty that the inner light reveals. It is within all of us. And when you find it, share it. Be kind. Be gentle. Be generous. In the grace that the beatitudes bring, we experience the greatness of all creation.
When I think about the things that happened this year, I want to go to a dark room and make everything go away. And just like the college campuses around the United States that deem it necessary to isolate people supposedly investing their time to learn new things, experience a world outside of what they have known, and learn that life is full of the unexpected, it seems that the temptation to only feel, hear and see the good things in life is the answer to a life that doesn’t always have answers to questions that come about. And yet, to shut the world out because it’s not what you want is to deny yourself the essence of what being human is all about.
Life is a series of events that in its eventuality is unstoppable, in its unpredictability predictable. This year has seen the death of someone very dear, the death of others that have filled my head with ideas and my heart with love. There was sadness all around. For the realization that some voices will never be heard again. Some smiles will never be seen again. That a warm touch, that warm hug will never be felt again. The mind senses that change has come. The heart knows that change has come. The spirit knows that while change has come, the world still beckons and that which are gone truly still live in our midst.
A Christian believes that the promise made by a loving Creator becomes manifest in the birth of a child. Whether that child was born in squalor matters not. What matters is that the God who created us all kept His promise to His people. That love, true and unerring, triumphed over disappointment. That forgiveness and mercy is more powerful than hate and betrayal. That in giving His people His son, knowing that He in turn will be betrayed by His creation, God showed us the possibility of what we all can become. If we let love reign in our hearts, we are capable of making the world we live in a world that all of us, whether we consider our self a child of Abraham, whether we follow the precepts of Buddha, whether we find solace in the spirits of the forest – all of us the can transcend the limitations we place upon ourselves. Respect one another. Care for one another. To see people not as impediments to our ambition but truly as a brother or a sister that we can nurture and love.
In the spirit of this season, we can find in the people around us, the world around us reason to be hopeful. To be inspired by those who do small things and seeing countless small things bring joy to those who give so wholly of themselves. I pray that today, we remember that salvation did not come with a proclamation of greatness. It came from a Father that loved us all, from a couple who devoted themselves to the care of a child entrusted to their love, and eventually, the willingness of this child to give Himself wholly for the people He and His father loved. In spite of the hatred and spitefulness heaped against Him, this Son of God and Son of Man gave Himself up to serve all of us. To purchase, with His sacrifice, our salvation.
Love, freely given. And today, we remember, if we so choose, that we are children of this same Father. That like His son who died for us, we are tasked to take care of the world around us. To be stewards of His creation. To love all of His creation. It is not always easy. There are disappointments. In the end, it is this selfless love that must inspire us to live a life of generosity. Of giving. Of sacrifice. Forgiveness. Charity.
Peace on Earth. It starts with each one of us. A small act of kindness, magnified a billion fold. May each of us be a reflection of the love that made life possible. And worth living.
As I gazed upon one year old twins, I think about my own youth. Once, I was the baby on the crib, nurtured by parents who provided for my needs, sheltered me from the elements, protected me from harm. As I grew older, they grew older and so it is with every person, of every generation. We are like the sun, first rising slowly, lighting a path on a dark planet. Slowly but surely it rises higher and higher, and soon enough it reaches its zenith. Then slowly it starts to sink towards the horizon and when the last light of twilight is extinguished, the world turns dark again.
And yet, I could not escape the thought the sun is but one star in the firmament. Each of us, as we grow older, as we climb higher in the horizon, begins to blot out other things in the sky. And yet, elsewhere in the heavens, other stars continue to shine. And I am heartened to think that each one of us, each of our ancestors, is a star. Even as our lives shine bright and we become the center of our universe and seemingly outshine other lights around us, the stars are always there. And so it is that I remember my father and mother, now gone. And grandparents. And uncles and aunts, and the many people who came before me, who came before them. In the evening, before I sleep, I look at the window and see the stars that are always there. They are never truly gone. And if we listen carefully, we can still hear the voices within them. They can still teach us. If we let them. In our dreams we are in some ways always children, always protected, always loved. Awake, we know that life and love are eternal, shining forever, in the heavens around us.