Music appears to be ubiquitous in the human world. People everywhere sing, play instruments and dance. And this has been true since early humans on Earth. Musical instruments have been found in archaeological digs all around the world. Music accompanies us in our solitude. In days gone by, , men (rarely women, I think) would walk down the street whistling. Today, one cannot walk down the street without hearing the blare of a boombox from a passing car or seeing a passerby focussed on the music in their earbuds to the exclusion of the outside world.And how many people have music playing while they work? Music accompanies our social lives. Jazz background music in a café, going to a concert with friends, even jam sessions or sing-alongs with like-minded people. Music is the language of love. How many songs have been written to love, both in joy and in heartbreak. Ask anyone about love songs and they will begin singing their favorite song. Music is ubiquitous. It is featured at weddings, birthdays, funerals, at just about any special event. It is soothing. Lullabies put many a baby to sleep. It is solace. For any heartbreak, loneliness, sorrow, there has been at least one song written. It is joy. When happy, we spontaneously break into song. It is togetherness. All leaders know that a rousing song will bring the troops together, whether it be a protest song, a patriotic march, or a rowdy drinking song. Music is featured in schools (though not nearly enough anymore in this writer’s opinion) and in churches. Music is of all types: catchy ditties, folk songs , Lieder, chorales, dance music from minuet to the Bunny Hop, sonatas, symphonies, operatic arias, masses and oratorios. It is for babies, children, adults and ancients alike. It is a way to bring generations and cultures together. Music is eminently memorable. Advertisers know and exploit this. Ask anyone from age three to eighty about an ad about some common product from their childhood and they will be able to sing the jingle from that ad. Ditto with a television show’s theme song. Or a popular song from a movie or musical. Music pervades our lives and makes them much richer for it. How dull would be a life and a world with no music! Luckily, we will always have our voices and thus music will accompany us wherever and whenever we are.
♩ ♩ ♩ ♩ ♩ ♩ ♩ ♩ ♩ ♩ ♩ ♩ ♩. ♪ ♩ :]
What is music but sound that is the panacea of panaceas, the opiate of opiates, the analgesic of analgesics, the attraction of attractions, the purgative of purgatives, the aphrodisiac of aphrodisiacs, the gift of gifts, the food of foods, our timeless and universal elixir!
Traditionally, creativity was commonly deemed a wondrous God-given gift or but a chance unique talent. These yesteryear assumptions prevailed until the advent of modern-day psychology. With Freud, attention began to shift from these suspect sources of creativity to the very complex psychology of creativity. The road from creative potentiality to the creative process now became progressively more intricately psychological. Creative potentiality, necessary intelligence and imagination can vary dramatically from person to person. A modicum of inherent possibility to create demands a good deal of effort for fruition, an abundance correspondingly less. To wit, some trying honing--sweat and grief--is always necessary if potentiality is to become a creative skill. Creative potential would lie fallow but for some compelling motivation. Need and want seem to be the major motivating thrust in every kind of creativity; a need to counter the pain of wanting self-esteem and/or the low regard of others. Creativity can therefore serve multiple purposes and can be twice rewarding: a blessing for the creator and a gratuitous gift for the public. Creativity is thus essentially a catharsis, a wondrous therapeutic exercise, and this is true both of the genial and of the run-of-the-mill creators. Unfortunately, most blighted and blessed creative individuals are compelled to return to the well again and again, for the psychological benefits of creativity are more or less short-lived. The creative process itself is no pleasant saunter in a groomed grove, but an arduous crawl through taxing jungle thickets: torment that may end with a blissful heurēka.
An die Musik
Du holde Kunst, in wieviel grauen Stunden, Wo mich des Lebens wilder Kreis umstrickt, Hast du mein Herz zu warmer Lieb entzunden, Hast mich in eine beßre Welt entrückt, In eine beßre Welt entrückt!
Oft hat ein Seufzer, deiner Harf entflossen, Ein süßer, heiliger Akkord von dir Den Himmel beßrer Zeiten mir erschlossen, Du holde Kunst, ich danke dir dafür, Du holde Kunst, ich danke dir dafür!
You, noble Art, in how many grey hours, When life's wild circle entangles me, Have you kindled my heart to warm love, Have you transported me into a better world, Transported into a better world!
Often has a sigh flowing out from your harp, A sweet, divine harmony from you Unlocked to me the heaven of better times, You, noble Art, I thank you for it, You, noble Art, I thank you!
The power of music is apparent in nursing homes. I have not seen any activity that arouses all residents, from lively, active ones to dozing, half-aware ones, so much. At my mother's nursing home, a music therapist came one a week. One new man, who appeared to be non-English speaking, sat dully until the music teacher brought him a drum. After that, he smiled and entusiastically played the drum. Another French woman who sat without speaking suddenly began singing when she heard a song she knew. I could just mention the Marseillaise and she would belt it out. And here is a video of my mother not long before she died, enjoying the music, one of her last pleasures in life.
Lior Tsarfaty goes to senior facilities around the Bay Area to sing with residents. H also offers a course on his best practices. See his website www.villagesong.com
It turns out that birds learn language much as we do, only they learn in song. Imagine if humans all sang instead of talking. Maybe we would get along better! Some birds, among them song birds, have an amazing ability to sing. They have a syrinx composed of two membranes that can vibrate rapidly and separately, thus allowing a bird to sing a duet with itself. Without modern technology. They also have the ability, along with whales, dolphins, bats and humans, to learn song/ language from others. And they can sing as many as thirty-six notes per second. Molto allegro. The chick learns much as a human child does. First it produces imperfect sounds, trying to imitate its parent (usually the father). As it practices, it learns and refines its song. Then it begins to imitate the sounds around it. As it does so, its brain develops more neurons. It is learning. It practices and plays with song, self-correcting. Mockingbirds, of course, are masters at this. Listening to a mockingbird, one can hear various local bird songs, as well as car alarms and cell phones. A mockingbird may imitate as many as two hundred different songs. Birds use chirps and other sounds to communicate. The crow has many different calls. But it doesn't sing. The drive to sing may come from the dopamine and opioids produced when singing. But the best song emerges when a female is around. This is when the male bird lets loose with his own composed love song. Which begs some questions: Do females sing as well? Why do female humans sing? Did early man sing and play instruments and not the females? And did humans learn to sing from listening to birds? A fascinating topic. But while pondering these questions, open your window and listen to the mockingbird, just breathing in the song, sharing in the pure joy of song.
Information gathered from The Genius of Birds by Jennifer Ackerman, a delightful read.
We are not mirrors of those we love, but prisms, reflecting and refracting in myriad ways.
Sound and Light
Sound and Light were friends. Sound worked hard. There was so much noise in the world. He was kept busy sorting the noise from the music and trying to create new songs from the random noises around him. Sometimes, Sound despaired that he would ever achieve real harmony. Light, on the other hand, had only to shine then all was clear. Sound loved Light. She seemed so serene and at peace. She was pure. But one day, Sound saw something new, a rainbow of many colors that lined up and danced in the sky. It was beautiful, Sound thought, but it wasn’t pure. It wasn’t Light as he knew her. He called to Light. “Light, I like your rainbow. But now, could you please become Pure Light again? I love your clarity, your purity, your Oneness.” Light looked at him through her rainbow prism. When she answered, her colors danced through her words. “Those colors are as much a part of me as the clear Light you usually see,” she told Sound. “I am made of many colors. There is red anger, green envy, blue sadness, purple pride, yellow happiness. All the colors are in me. Usually, I bring them all together into Oneness and then we are clear. But today, I want you, my friend, to see me in all my colors.” Sound listened with dismay. “But, but—“ “No buts, Sound. You too, are made of many notes. I listen to your beautiful tones, but also your discordant ones, knowing that you will bring them together into harmony. Then I listen to the symphony of sounds you have created, a beautiful whole.” Sound answered, “Yes, I do that. I try hard to make harmony out of discord, to bring all into one melody. But it is hard work.” “Do you think it is not just as hard for me?” Light asked quietly. “Only I make less noise about it.” Sound paused in uncharacteristic silence. “Watch,” Light continued. “Pause, take a full rest, and watch my symphony now. A symphony of light.” Sound did as she asked. He was still, very still, so that not a sound was heard that night on Earth. Meanwhile, Light played her show. Rainbows arced over the Equator, while Blue and Green Northern Lights danced at the Poles. Even the waves in the seas sparkled with color. Sound was breathless, silent, watching. And as he watched, he learned about Light. He watched her blues, her greens, her reds…and he began to understand her in a New Light. Not the Pure Clear Light he had adored, but a real colorful, multifaceted Light. And now he loved her even more. “Come join me,” Light called. Inspired, Sound did just that, taking the sounds of Earth, combining them in ways he never had before, until the colors Light had created were infused with harmonious chords, wonderful melodies, and an entire symphony of Sound and Light that we call Life.
Love is blind, or so it's said, But who, pray tell, needs eyes in bed.
Love is irrational, or so it's said, But who, in love, wants a clear head.
Love is short-lived, or so many say, But what, on earth, is here to stay.
Love may be blind, mad and fleeting, But a gift it's still, a treasured godsend, An awesome challenge and a rare pleasure That is best lived and not long pondered.
Accusations spawn recriminations, Recriminations attract vengeance, Vengeance invites revenge, Revenge breeds retribution, A lineage without end!
Praise nurtures well-being, Well-being spreads contentment, Contentment spawns kindness, Kindness stirs gratitude, A lineage without end!
Some opt for one, Some opt for the other Of these two paths. One breeds hate, The other love. The choice is yours, The rewards are yours!
If interaction is to be positive, Don't overwhelm, persuade, Talk less and listen more, Empathize, don't antagonize, Whisper, don't shout, Help rather than harm, Be neither arrogant nor servile, And tranquil rather than agitated. You will then be heeded and valued! And who wants more?
Epigrams by JM
Love adds to giver and recipient, hatred takes from both.
To appreciate is to elate, to deprecate is to sow hate.
It is not what is said, but what is heard, that counts.
Too muchI leaves too little room forwe.
What is it about a rainbow That delights us so? The fleeting unexpectedness That cannot be served Upon command or request But only when deserved.
Scientists will say the light Bends to make a rainbow. And that is true. But a rainbow can also Mean more, much more To me and you.
Unspoken, Love is a crystal: Pure white light. Lit by another, Rainbow delight.
Where is our love, Where can it be found? Look not here above, But deep in the ground.
Down where the bulbs lie In the rich fertile earth, Waiting for Sun's warmth To bring them to birth.
Look deep in the heart, Into lonely soul, Perhaps we'll find love That will make us whole.
Perhaps there we'll find The true love so deep We knew long ago, A love we swore to keep.
If you look deep and long, That true love you will find, Our first lovelorn song That us still does bind.
An everlasting bond, Here, today, and beyond.
My heartfelt thanks to the three members of the WWOC who helped me with the artwork and music. I could not do it without you. The WWOC rocks!
The footprints you leave in the sand may well be washed away, but you will still have made them.
Footprints in the Sand
The two Game Masters took their students down to the beach called Life. The waves of the Great Ocean roared in their ears. They gathered their students in a circle and spoke in unison. “You have been with us for many years to learn the game of Life. Most of you have done quite well. But you are not finished. Today is the not the end, the culmination, but the beginning. Now you must take what you have learned to set off on your own. Along the way, you will have to make decisions that will affect the rest of your journey. Choose wisely, using what you have learned. Listen to your inner self as well. You will leave footprints in the sands of Life. What footprints you leave is your choice.” One student dared to speak. "Oh, Great Masters, which footprints are the best? Which should we choose?" “No one footprint is better than the other,” replied the Masters. “It is your choice. But you must live with your decision, so choose your steps wisely. Think before you act, consider carefully what footprints you wish to leave, for you must live with them forever after.” The students hesitated, unwilling to leave their first footprint in the sand. Then a tall strapping lad stepped out boldly. “Good-by,” he said, his head held high. He strode off, leaving deep marks in the sand. Soon he was out of sight. Next, a rather ordinary looking boy stepped out, right into the footprints left by the other boy. He followed those footprints, although he had to lengthen his stride to do so. A serious looking girl stepped out. She walked lightly down to the ocean. There she turned and walked alongside the water in the wet sand. Soon her footsteps were covered by the waves. A slight lad with dark hair and dark eyes took a tentative first step. Then another and another, until he was walking down the beach as well. His footsteps were careful, measured and light. A jovial boy with an infectious grin, shot the Masters a mischievous look, as he jumped with two feet onto the sand. He hopped on one foot for three steps then on the other foot. Soon he was hopping, skipping and jumping down the beach, leaving a crazy quilt of footsteps. The Masters and the remaining students laughed as they watched. But the students then grew sober once more as they contemplated their own moves. A cheery looking girl now began to dance across the sand, leaving a beautiful pattern behind her. The remaining boy took one step then sat down. “I will just stay right here,” he stated, looking at the Masters defiantly. They shrugged and smiled. One young person was left, a child on the cusp of adulthood, neither boy nor girl, just a human. Who preferred the pronoun “ze.” Ze looked the Masters straight in the eyes, chin held high. “I will not leave footprints for I love the untrodden sand. But I will take the journey wherever it leads me. And I will leave a mark somewhere, somehow, some day.” The Masters watched the youth intently. Ze tiptoed down to the water, trying to leave no marks on the sand. Then ze dove into the water and began to swim in the ocean alongside the beach. The Masters watched their students, as each followed their individual path. They looked at each other and smiled, then turned to go back home. For their own journey was now at an end.
When you start the path of life, What footprints will you choose? Will you follow your own path Or step in others’ shoes?
Chorus: Whatever you choose to do, Do it your own way. To thine own self be true, No matter what they say.
Will you bold and strong step out Or tread a well worn way? What will your life be about, Small path or highway?
Will you with light footsteps tread. Leave no print on the land? Or will you with heavy tread Sink deep in the sand?
Will you have a goal in mind, Walk quickly on the road? When you new treasures find, Gladly take the load?
Will you with another soul Walk with hand in hand, Making each other's heart whole, As you walk life's strand?
Will you wander here and there, Delight in the view? Every day a new somewhere, Trying something new?
Will you maybe dance with joy, Leaping in the air? Play with life as with a toy, Happy to be there?
Or will you just contemplate, Sitting on the beach? No worry ‘bout being too late, No goal for you to reach?
Chorus: Whatever you choose to do, Do it your own way. To thine own self be true, No matter what they say.
By far too many just exist, They are, but not what they could be. They eat and sleep and have a job, They know too little and rarely think, They come and go and leave no trace But progeny of the same ilk. What a loss and what a pity!
We are What we do and what we do not do, What we say and do not say, What we think and do not think, What we feel and do not feel, What we want and do not want, What we imagine and do not imagine, Plus the physical selves we are.
Most work to live, A need. Some live to work, A Passion. Few just exist. A pity.
Wise it is to think, Wise it is to do, And 'tis ever wiser To interplay the two.
We are what we...
Many are clearly what they do, Some are obviously what they wear, Others are tellingly what they eat.
Some are distinctly what they know, Others are no less what they feel, Still others are what they think and say.
And then there are the nondescripts, The man bland and shadowless, Who simply are the nothing they are.
We betray ourselves to an alarming degree, Wittingly and otherwise, But then, who perceives or cares?
Thoughts for the Month by JM
To do less is often to achieve more.
We are what we choose to be.
Choice is privilege and responsibility.
It is the different who make a difference.
Some can and do, others can and won't and then there are those who simply can't.
Dear Friends: The other day I walked by a woman whose T-shirt read: It is in our hands. This resonated with me and seemed to perfectly reflect the following "legend" I had written about the sand dollar. In troubled times, it is up to us to find the good and true in life, to seek solace in each other's company, to show compassion and goodwill. In short, to set an example that others will hopefully then follow. It is tempting, when another motorist cuts you off, to snarl or to respond in kind, it is hard not to frown when a shopper jostles you in her hurry to reach the eggs. But I have been trying hard to keep the holiday spirit and to try to see the other point of view. Maybe that shopper and driver are in a hurry or preoccupied, and their actions do not reflect their true character. I also seek refuge in those people I know who are kind, thoughtful and make my spirits bright and I hope that I make their day a bit brighter as well. May we all seek hope and goodwill this Christmas and in the year to come. And may we try to sow the seeds of kindness and caring wherever we go. Maybe then, those seeds will start to grow and will sprout new attitudes among all. One can always hope!
photo by MW
The Legend of the Sand Dollar
Once in a land to the West, bordering the vast ocean, there was a community of caring, intelligent people. These people were peace-loving and welcomed all. But many of their fellow citizens to the South and East were not of like mind. And these other people, who had now found their voice, used it brashly and loudly. The people of the West became concerned, and soon their concern turned to anger and sadness. Some took to mimicking their opponents’ tactics, shouting and calling names. Others said this was not the course to take. “We must rise above the invective,” they said, “and show the path to a better way. We must strive to understand our fellow humans.” And so controversy grew. Soon, divisiveness was the law of the land and each person increasingly went their own lonely way, separated from family and friends, turning to artificial means of emotional sustenance. But a few still clung together. They met, they talked, and they agreed that there must be a better way. Summer gave way to Fall. The Autumn winds brought fire to the region. This year, the fires were fiercer than ever before and many homes and lives were lost. The people could construct new houses; rebuilding their lives would be more difficult. There were many heroes who saved lives, many who came from other communities to help; but even here dissent was sown. There was argument over the cause of the fires, there was blame to go around, leaders who said this would not have happened had they been in charge. The rains arrived, putting out the fires. But the divisions remained. The Winter holiday season crept in. A large decorated tree appeared in the center of the burned town, a gift from a neighboring community. Then a string of lights appeared. In the big city, the lights were lit on the largest buildings as always. The store windows glittered with holiday displays. People began to shop. Traffic grew worse. Many people embraced the holiday fully, shopping after work, decorating trees at home, singing along to carols. Some grumbled, as always, about the commercialism, about the hype. They stayed home. Others complained that the true meaning of the season had been lost. They went to church. Still others said the holiday had nothing to do with their religion. They celebrated their own holidays, in their own time, their own way. And more and more people argued against the entire season. Many of them went on long trips to sunny lands for the month of December. Amidst this confusion and discord, Winter Solstice arrived. After all, the planet Earth continued to orbit its star, the sun continued to shine, and the celestial calendar continued, untouched by humans on Earth. In their search for meaning in this new age full of technology, gadgets and dated beliefs, an increasingly large group of humans was turning to the natural world once again, as their long ago ancestors had done. It did not matter in what area of the Earth their ancestors had lived, all had celebrated the coming and going of the seasons that governed their lives. On the evening of the Solstice, a group of people convened at the beach. This was a spontaneous decision, driven by a conversation a number of them had had that morning over breakfast in the local diner. All were feeling discouraged by the state of the nation, the world, none were church-going and could not seek solace there, and they were tired of television and social media. They had no desire to celebrate the upcoming holiday in the usual way, but they all felt the need to mark the season somehow. So they had decided to meet at the beach that evening. They made no other plans. They would watch the sunset, that was all. And take comfort in each other’s company. So just before sundown, people began to appear on the beach by the large rock. There were couples with dogs, families with children, teenaged couples, older couples walking hand in hand. There were lone people too, young and old. One girl even carried a pet rabbit. As they appeared, they slowly drew closer to each other and soon a circle had formed. A shout down by the water disturbed their reflections. “Look!” A young girl held something up in her hand. A few people walked down to the water to see. “A sand dollar,” she said. “And not just one. There are so many. There must be at least a hundred.” “Don’t touch them,” one man warned. “They are living creatures and should be respected.” The girl looked down at the object in her hand with confusion and consternation. “It doesn’t look alive,” she said hesitantly, letting her hand drop to her side. “It’s not alive,” a woman answered. “It is white; it is just the shell.” “Even so, it should be left alone,” the man insisted. By now, most of the people had come down to the water. A ranger in uniform, who had seen the group from her truck and come down to see what was going on, spoke. It is Solstice,” she said. “A special occasion. And yes, the sand dollars are dead. Those are the skeletons only. So I think if you wish to pick one up and observe it carefully, that is fine, as long as you replace it when you are done.” She smiled at the young girl, who returned the smile and held her treasure up once more. In unison, the others now searched for a sand dollar of their own, then in silent agreement, they formed a circle. As the sun began to set, each person contemplated their sand dollar. The girl, now emboldened, said in a strong voice, “See the five petals. It is like a flower- or a star. And I think each represents something. The large one on top, I think that is peace.” Many nodded. Then a man’s voice said, “And the one on the left is goodwill.” “The one below it is kindness,” said a woman’s voice. “The one on the right is thoughtfulness,” said a quiet male voice with a university accent. “And below it is caring,” said the slightly quavering voice of an older woman. Each looked at their sand dollar in quiet reflection. A collective breath seemed to emanate from the circle. The people turned to the sun, a red ball of fire flattening on the horizon. There was a flash of light just before it disappeared, then darkness quickly descended. The young girl held her sand dollar high above her head. The others followed suit, though they did not know why. It just seemed the right thing to do. And as each person thought a silent prayer of their own making, the sand dollars began to glow then rise slowly from each person’s hand. The people watched in solemn silence as the shells rose higher and higher. And t they fancied that they could see a large celestial sand dollar, made of stars, high in the night sky. And now, one voice, that of the ranger, spoke aloud. “May the sand dollar bring peace to you this year. And always.” The mood was broken. The people now looked at their empty hands and wondered. A man turned to the ranger to say, laughing, “We cannot return the shells to the beach, Ranger. Nor can we take them with us.” She smiled. “No. But you can take the lesson of the sand dollar with you wherever you go.” Now the others all began to talk, to share, to shake hands and hug. The spirit of community that had begun in the diner that morning was now complete. Despite different politics, different religions, different ways of life, they now all shared a common philosophy. And when, much later, they went back to their homes, each carried 5 principles etched on their heart.
MW Christmas 2018
Best Wishes for a Merry Christmas and a Joyful, Peaceful New Year 2019
In the Bleak Midwinter
poem by Christina Rossetti, 1872 (2nd verse by MW) melody by Gustav Holst 1906
In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan, Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone, Snow had fallen, snow on snow Snow on snow on snow, In the bleak midwinter, long ago.
What can we do now, with our world as it is? What is to be our part in all of this? We can show each other love, We can show we care. We can seek light from above, Seek peace everywhere.
It was wartime and life was hard all over Holland. For the Breck family, who owned a nursery, life was especially difficult. Little Johan knew nothing of the politics of war. He only knew that instead of playing with his friends after school, he now raced home, took up a heavy sack and went door to door selling bulbs until the street lights came on at dusk. At first, he was able to sell enough bulbs to bring money home to help his family. He would even receive a groschen for his efforts that he could use any way he wished. But as winter set in, fewer and fewer people were buying.
"We have already planted our tulips," they would say. "Besides, we have no money. We do not even have coal to heat our house today." And they would shake their heads sadly. Little Johan was still young enough to have hope. He would say to himself, "Perhaps tomorrow I will knock on the door of a rich family and they will buy my entire bag." When it did not happen, he would begin to hope anew the following day. In this way, he was able to continue peddling his wares day after day, week after week, despite the cold. For hope creates a warmth as real as fire.
But soon the money those bulbs brought in was gone, gone to a few pieces of coal and a meager sack of potatoes that must last them until Christmas. Johan's father had no more tulip bulbs to sell, but he had an idea. He had discovered a new bulb, one that could be planted inside. He would call them Christmas Amaryllis and teach customers how to plant them in a pot indoors to have them bloom during the holidays. Excited, he showed the bulbs to Johan and told him he might begin selling them right away.
The next day, when Johan came home from school, he immediately went out to sell the new bulbs. A few people were interested and bought them, but the rest said as usual that they had no money for food, let alone decorations. "What good are these bulbs," they said, "if they cannot be eaten?"
Finally, it was Nicklaas Eve. Johan put out his wooden shoe and filled it with hay. "I know my parents have no money and cannot buy me toys or even sweets," he said. "But surely Sinterklaas will remember me, for I have been a good boy this year.” So saying, he went to bed happy, unaware of the sad look that passed between his parents.
The next day, Johan indeed found a few candies, a precious orange, and some nuts in his shoe. What pleased him even more was that the hay was gone, proving that Niklaas had come on his white steed. Johan went out early to sell his wares. It was a lucky day, for he sold enough Amaryllis bulbs that day to allow his mother to buy a special dinner for their Niklaas Day meal.
But the next day, Johan sold no bulbs, even though he worked long past sundown and went farther than ever. The next day was the same and the next day after that. Each day he came home with a sack full of bulbs and no coins in his pocket.
Finally one day, he dared to climb the steep hill to the manor. This manor belonged to a man said to be very rich but also rather mean. Johan knocked timidly on the door. He was rebuffed by a curt "No" and a door slammed in his face. For the first time, Johan began to lose hope. "Will there never be an end to this silly war?" he thought. 'Why must the adults fight when we children are starving?"
One especially cold day Johan came home to find his father in a real temper. "Why is there nothing but potato soup on the table," he scolded his wife." And you," he said, pointing at Johan, who had shrugged as he entered to show he had no money, " what have you to say for yourself, you worthless son? Why can you not sell a single bulb? Why do you even bother coming home? Here, take these and throw them into the canal, for they are no good to me." And he threw the sack of bulbs back at Johan.
Johan fled with the sack, heedless of the calls of his mother. Under the cold, moonlit sky, he went to the field next to the canal and got ready to throw the sack into the water. But as he hefted the heavy load onto his shoulder, he paused. "These bulbs are not worthless," he said to himself. "Nor am I. My father does not mean what he says. It is the hunger and worry speaking. Neither I nor the bulbs have done anything wrong. We are not the ones fighting wars. No, I will not throw the bulbs away, for that would be akin to throwing myself into the canal."
He knelt down, found a sharp stick and dug a hole into the ground. Then he dropped a bulb into the hole. And another. And another. All that cold night, he dug with bare hands, and planted bulbs. He barely felt the cold or his hunger. Finally, just as the sun was rising, he finished and slowly walked home, knowing that he must return to his house, no matter what he might find.
When he entered, his father was nowhere to be seen. His mother embraced him amid sobs. "I thought I had lost you, my son," she cried. "I feared that you had thrown yourself into the canal as well, or that you had fallen while heaving the heavy sack." "No, mother, I am here now and all is well," he answered. "Only where is father?"
"He ran out after realizing what he had said," she replied. "Oh Johan, he didn't mean it, you know. It is just that he feels so bad that he cannot help his family." "I know, mother," Johan said. "And because I knew that, I did not throw myself in the canal, nor the bulbs." "Then what did you do with them? And where did you spend the night?" "For now, that is my secret," he said. "For I have an idea. But right now, mother, could you not heat me some potato soup and warm some bricks to put by my feet, for I have spent a very cold night." .Johan did not go to school that day. Later in the morning, he said to his mother, "I must go out to find father. For, no matter what he has said, we are a family and must stay together. If we cannot do so, what hope have we for our nations?" He did not have to go far, for he found his father in the shed at the end of the property. "Father, come in from the cold," he said. "No, my son, for I have hurt you and your mother. And I have failed to provide for you. I am not worthy to be your father." "You are my father is what I know and all is forgiven," Johan said. "As for providing, we will find a way. But it will be easier to do so if we stay together and help each other."
For the next few weeks, the little family managed somehow. They were grateful that they at least had enough firewood to warm their house and the potatoes lasted so that they might at least have soup for supper. Johan would disappear for an hour or so every day and would not tell his parents where he had been. They let him be, for after all, he was now almost a man.
Then it was Christmas Eve. Along with the other townspeople, the little family dressed warmly and walked to church. It was a clear, crisp evening, with the stars glistening in the sky. All was hushed as the village walked in unison to their little church. As the pastor began to talk, a tall, well-dressed man entered and sat in the back. A few turned and stared, but most just let him be.
The church was warm and well-lit with candles. The congregation prayed fervently for peace and all felt a renewed hope as they left the church. Johan walked a bit ahead of the others, lost in his own thoughts. When he reached the fork in the road, he took the path to the left. "No, Johan, " a man shouted. "That is the way to the canal. You need to go right." "Go right if you wish," Johan answered. "I have something to see. Come with me if you wish to see it as well."
Well of course they were curious, so they followed him. As they neared the field by the canal, they saw a red glow in the air. At the edge of the field, they all stopped in wonder. For there before them was a field full of flowers. And these were no ordinary flowers. Tall stalks rose from the ground topped by large blossoms, four to a stalk. Some of the flowers were dark red, others pure white, and still others striped red and white. One woman recognized the flowers, for she was one of the few to have bought a bulb from Johan. "These are Amaryllis, the Christmas bulb," she exclaimed. 'But how did they come to be here?"
Johan stepped forward. "I planted them," he said. "No one would-or could- buy them, so they are my Christmas gift to you." "But this is my property," a deep voice said from the shadows. A man stepped forward. It was the tall well-dressed man, the man from the manor. Johan felt his heart fall. He had not thought of whose property this might be. He had only wanted to plant bulbs. Would he be arrested? The man continued. "One night, I could not sleep," he said. "So I walked down by the canal. I saw someone digging in the ground. I came back the next day and saw him checking the holes. And every day since, this young lad has come here to check on his bulbs. Tonight, I came here to see, and behold, the flowers had all bloomed in unison. So I came to church with you. And am with you now. Come here, boy. "
He beckoned to Johan and hugged him tightly. "Will you forgive me for slamming the door in your face?" he asked. "I could not bear the sight of another man's son. For my son and wife died a year ago. They are buried here." He pointed to a small grave marker at the other end of the field. "I came here that night to be near them. And saw you instead. But you came to make something beautiful. You have given them- and me- and all of us the finest Christmas we could have imagined. For that I thank you. What can I do for you in return?"
"There is nothing to forgive," Johan answered, in a strong voice, for he was now a man and not afraid of others. "And I ask nothing for myself in return. But I do ask for the others. These people are of your village. Many have too little to eat and their houses are cold. Help those in most need. The rest of us will manage on our own."
"But of course," the rich man answered. "I will provide. For you have shown me that a community must stick together, just as the flowers bloom in unison. Tomorrow, all of you are invited to my house for Christmas dinner. After that, I will see to your needs." Well, what a hue and cry ensued. The townspeople surrounded the rich man, men slapping him on the back, women kissing him, and children surrounding him as though he were Sinterklaas himself.
The next day, all climbed the hill to his house where they celebrated Christmas as they never had before. Despite wartime rationing, there was plenty of meat for all, platters of vegetables, cakes and pies, and hearty ale. But best of all, for the children, there was Sinterklaas, regal and tall, asking them if they had been good and handing out gifts to all. Yes, Sinterklaas came twice that year, for he said they had all been extra good.
As for Johan, when the war ended, he left town to study botany. But he returned after that, for he missed his family and his town, and he joined his father in the business. It became a successful nursery once more, sending bulbs not only to Europe, but around the world. And at Christmas, it always featured the Amaryllis, which became one of its most popular items.
This story is based on a notice I read in the Breck Bulb catalogue about hard times in Holland and the development of the Amaryllis Christmas bulb.
Once long ago, or perhaps not so long ago, a man named Ifshin had a violin shop. Ifshin was well-known for his fine repairs of violins, violas, cellos and basses. String players from miles around came to him to have their instruments repaired.
But his real love was to make the instruments. He loved crafting from scratch, choosing the finest wood, sculpting the parts with love and care, and tailoring each instrument to its owner's individual needs. He would meet each person and talk to them, getting to know their personality and musical style, so that he could craft an instrument that fit that person and no one else. "An instrument should fit its player like a glove fits the hand," he would say.
Unfortunately, times were hard and there were few demands for hand-crafted instruments. Not even the musicians from the large orchestras had the money to pay for an instrument such as these. So Ifshin contented himself with repairs, which brought in just enough money to feed himself and his small family.
But then times became even harder. One summer, the weather was unusually cold and the crops in the Autumn were poor. People had scarce enough money to buy food and clothing, let alone to pay for repairs to musical instruments. So they continued to play their old instruments and when the instruments broke, the people put them away and worked longer hours instead. Indeed, no one was really in the mood for song and dance.
Ifshin, his wife and young son fell on hard times indeed, until one day in November he said to his wife, "If the holiday season does not bring in more work, I will have to close the shop and seek other employment." "But this is your passion," she answered. "You love this work. How could you give it up to take on an ordinary job?" "My first responsibility is to my family," he replied. "If that means doing a job I do not enjoy, so be it. I must take care of you and Jacob and the new one to come." He patted his son on the head and rubbed his wife's belly.
A week passed and still no work. Then the last day of November, the bell on the shop jangled and in walked a tall gray-haired man, dressed impeccably in a fine suit. "My name is Mr. Ma," he said. "I play first cello in the city symphony. I have heard that you are the finest repair shop in the entire region. I have traveled miles to find you and ask you a favor. My cello is lost and I need a new one very soon. I am to play in an important concert on the last night of Chanukah and need a cello as fine as the one I have lost. You are my last hope. Can you make me a cello by then?"
"I will see what I can do," Ifshin replied. He made a pot of tea and invited the man to sit awhile so that he could get to know him better. Many hours later, the cellist left and Ifshin, though the hour was late, began work on the cello. It was lucky for him that he had the right wood on hand and could begin right away crafting the instrument. As night fell, his wife came looking for him and he explained what he was doing.
"I must work night and day," he told her, "for if I can finish this instrument in time, the man will pay well and our problems will be solved for awhile anyway." Secretly, he did not see how he could make such an instrument so quickly, but he would do his best. For his family depended on it.
All that week and into the next, he worked, stopping only to quickly eat the meals his wife brought to him and to sleep a few hours. He scarcely saw his wife and young son. On the first night of Chanukah, he laid out all of the finished pieces, ready to assemble.
His wife came to him and said, "You must take a few hours to be with us, for it is the first night and we must say the prayers." So he said the prayers and lit the candle with his family, then he ate with them and even played a bit of dreidl with his son. When his wife and son went to bed, he returned to the shop to keep working. But he was worried. It had seemed to him that his wife was not well.
Early in the morning, he went to bed and slept until dawn. He looked at his wife as she lay sleeping. No, something was not right. He called the midwife to come and then he sat with his wife, bringing her tea and wiping her face with a damp cloth.
The midwife came and said the baby was ready to come but could not. All they could do was wait and pray. So Ifshin sat all that day and night with his wife, helping as he could and taking care of their son at the same time. The halfmade cello was forgotten. The next morning, his wife seemed a bit better. So as she slept, he crept into the shop to try to finish the instrument. He stood still in wonder. For there lay the cello, already half-assembled. Had he done it in his sleep?
But Ifshin had no time to wonder, for his son was calling him. He ran back to the house to help his wife, who was hurting once more. And again he forgot the cello. For five days, he sat by his wife, again forgetting all but his family. He tended to her, took care of their son, and every night lit the Chanukah candles.
On the seventh day of Chanukah, a knock came at the door. The cellist stood there expectantly. "I have come to see if my cello is ready," he said. "For I must have it tomorrow. The concert is in the evening and I must get to know the instrument first."
"Come out to the shop," Ifshin told the man, thinking that he would confess to him there, out of hearing of his wife and son. But when they came into the shop, the cello lay there all finished. Ifshin did not know what to think. He could not bear to disappoint the man now. "All is finished except the bow," he said. "Come back tomorrow and I will try to have it ready as well. If not, you may withhold the pay."
The cellist agreed, saying he would come early the next day. Ifshin wanted to start working on the bow right then and there, but he dared not leave his wife. Instead, he ran back to the house, where she lay groaning in pain. It was a hard night. The midwife spent the entire night trying to get the baby to come out. And finally, just after midnight, the baby was born. She was a healthy baby after all. And Ifshin's wife, although very tired, was sure to recover, the midwife said.
Early in the morning, Ifshin took his son to the shop, stopping to give thanks for his family's health. Maybe he could still finish the bow. When he unlocked the door to the shop, his son said, "Father, listen!"
From the door of the dark shop they heard a giggling then a voice said, "We must leave now. For Ifshin will be coming in and he must not see us. Happy Chanukah!" Then all was silent. Ifshin turned on the light. There lay the cello on his work table, along with a fine bow. The bow was strung and the cello's strings already placed. "Who was it?" his son asked. "I do not know, Jacob," he answered. "But they have done us a great favor. And for that, I will always be grateful."
Just then there was a knock on the door and the cellist entered. He was dressed in his concert clothes. "Pray do you have the cello ready?" he asked. "I will take it without the bow. I can borrow a bow, but I need the cello. I must travel to the city within the hour."
"Here it is, the bow as well," Ifshin said. "I am sorry to have taken so long but all's well that ends well, no?" "Oh thank you," the cellist exclaimed. He pressed a wad of bills into Ifshin's hands. "Perhaps some day you can come hear the orchestra," he said. "You will be my guest. Or if you are unable to come, I will bring the cello and play for you alone."
The cellist left. Ifshin placed some coins on the table with a note. "To my helpers," it said. "With my eternal thanks." Then he and his son returned to the house.
That night, Ifshin and his family celebrated the best night of Chaunkah they had ever had. There was plenty of hearty chicken soup to strengthen his wife, latkes to fill his son's stomach, and laughter all around.
That night, after all had gone to bed, Ifshin crept once more into his shop. Again he heard voices. "Look," one said. "He left us money." "Well, isn't that nice," the other said. "But you know what I would really like? A violin just my size. Why should the people have all the fun? If we can make a cello, we could play one too." "Oh yes, a violin for you and a cello for me!"
"I will do it," Ifshin called into the dark. "But I need to know more about you. Leave me a bit of yourselves and I will try to make instruments to fit you." He heard a scrambling. "Oh no, he heard us. We must go! Wait, he said to leave something. Well, here, take off your coat. And my shoes. And our gloves. That should do it. Good-bye, Ifshin! We'll return on Purim for our reward!" "Good bye," Ifshin replied. "And thank you, whoever you are!"
Ifshin was true to his word. He carefully crafted a little violin and cello, sized to fit the clothes he found. On Purim, he put them in his shop and the next day they were gone. He never heard from the helpers again, but it seemed to him sometimes when he worked late in his shop that he heard the music of two little instruments. Then he would smile to himself and hum along.
His wife recovered, his baby daughter grew into a fine little girl, her brother became a great helper to his father, and the shop thrived as the cellist from the city sent all of his colleagues to Ifshin.
The cellist himself became a good friend and would always come stay with the family at Chanukah, bringing his cello with him.
Simple Gifts played by YoYo Ma on YouTube. (Short clips, not for profit, are allowed for use).
The holiday season is upon us once again. More and more, I meet people who wish the season would just vanish, people who seek to escape by travelling or going to the beach or mountains. Others observe the trappings but ignore the deeper meanings. As our culture enters its twilight era, beliefs once common to the culture have broken apart, its citizens follow their individual paths and the common ground has become but a commercial enticement. I, however, have loved this season since I was a child. For me, it has always represented family and home, light and music, and hope. As I have aged, I have turned more and more to the natural world’s representation of this hope, Winter Solstice. The eternal (eternal to us mortals, at least) pattern of the seasons, the flight of our Earth around our life-giving star we call the Sun. Long before Judaism, Christianity and other religions, humans celebrated the return of the sun and longer days, with ceremonies involving light and music. This year, I have decided to post once a week during this season. Some stories and poems were written at another date, but are some of my favorites and still timely, others were written for this year. It is a bleak year in many ways, but hope is always there, if we only seek it. Goodwill can be found if we practice it ourselves. I begin with the long view. We humans are but a speck in the Universe, we are not as important as we think we are. We may perish, by our own hands or astrological events, the Earth may even disappear with us, but there are many stars in the sky, many other suns with planets revolving around them, even many Universes perhaps. And life surely exists elsewhere in that vast expanse. We are but a blip on the time/space continuum. So I urge you not to see this post as negative but as representing the ultimate in hope and optimism. And I promise, later posts this month will represent hope and peace closer to home. So…
..... there was a star. Around this star revolved eight large planets, and some smaller ones. The planets that were the farthest away were icy, with barren terrains. The closest ones were fiery hot But one planet, the third from the sun, was different. It was a beautiful blue and green, for it had oxygen, water on the surface, and it sustained life. And this planet was called Earth. After a long time, that life evolved into many different forms, called plants and animals. And those animals became more and more diverse, until one day a mammal called a human emerged. This human was one of the more intelligent animals on Earth and soon the humans dominated. They began to live together in mutual assistance. They hunted and gathered their food, then they began to grow it. They built dwellings in which to live. They not only lived, they watched themselves live. And with their intelligent, creative minds, they became scientists, historians, artists and musicians. They developed philosophies and religions. With all of these pursuits, the humans made an imprint on the land. Cities were built. Beautiful castles and magnificent cathedrals were created. But cities created problems too. The dirt streets became filthy with sewage and disease was rampant. The humans solved these problems with ingenious designs. They developed sewer systems, water systems, they harnessed electricity for light and energy. Humans even figured out ways to quickly travel long distances. But to do so, they extracted oil from the Earth. Then they invented solutions to deal with the dirty air that ensued. They paved roads to make travel easier. But this pavement increased the temperature, so the humans had to invent ways to deal with the increased heat. As the humans conquered disease and death from childbirth or accidents, their population increased, putting more pressure on the land and water of Earth. But the ever ingenious humans worked tirelessly to counter these effects. Finally, however, the effects became too fast and frequent for the humans to keep up. They watched helplessly as their hard efforts had little result. Divisions grew among the people, wars broke out, and more and more, they were in despair. Some turned to religion, others just tried harder, more finally gave up, and a few planned their escape. But all was to no avail. The sun burned brighter and hotter than ever. It blazed so hot that no human invention could cool the air. Day after day, the humans watched with increasing fear and despair. There was nothing more they could do. All work halted, children stopped playing, all simply stood and looked at the unearthly sky. The few climbed into their spaceship in a vain attempt to find another home elsewhere in the solar system. Finally, one evening, it was clear the end was nigh. And the humans knelt to pray or embraced in despair. But just as the sun sent a large flare that would wipe out all surface life on Earth, the humans looked into the darkening sky and saw a star. A star they had never seen before. And then they knew. During their demise, despite the scorching of their beloved planet Earth, a new star had been born. A new star, soon to have its own planets. And one of those planets would have just the right temperature and elements to create new life. From that life would grow a new world. And hope would be renewed.
Never lose hope, for the flower blooms and dies, but before it falls to the ground, it scatters its seeds far and wide. The plant itself decays and feeds the soil for new life to emerge. Nothing is for naught.
Ring Out Wild Bells
The flying cloud, the frosty light: The year is dying in the night; Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.
Ring out the old, ring in the new, Ring, happy bells, across the snow; The year is going, let him go, Ring out the false, ring in the true.
Ring out the grief that saps the mind For those that here we see no more; Ring out the feud of rich and poor, Ring in redress to all mankind.
Ring out a slowly dying cause, And ancient forms of party strife; Ring in the nobler modes of life, With sweeter manners, purer laws.
Ring out the want, the care, the sin, The faithless coldness of the times; Ring out, ring out my mournful rhymes But ring the fuller minstrel in.
Ring out false pride in place and blood, The civic slander and the spite; Ring in the love of truth and right, Ring in the common love of good.
Ring out old shapes of foul disease; Ring out the narrowing lust of gold; Ring out the thousand wars of old, Ring in the thousand years of peace.
Ring in the valiant man and free, The larger heart, the kindlier hand; Ring out the darkness of the land, Ring in the Christ that is to be.
Alfred Lord Tennyson. 1850
I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day
I heard the bells on Christmas Day Their old, familiar carols play, And wild and sweet The words repeat Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
And thought how, as the day had come, The belfries of all Christendom Had rolled along The unbroken song Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
Till ringing, singing on its way, The world revolved from night to day, A voice, a chime, A chant sublime Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
Then from each black, accursed mouth The cannon thundered in the South, And with the sound The carols drowned Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
It was as if an earthquake rent The hearth-stones of a continent, And made forlorn The households born Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
And in despair I bowed my head; "There is no peace on earth," I said; "For hate is strong, And mocks the song Of peace on earth, good-will to men!"
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep: "God is not dead, nor doth He sleep; The Wrong shall fail, The Right prevail, With peace on earth, good-will to men."
Interfaces, relationships. Seeking common bonds, weaving cords across the division. My torn intercostal muscles have to knit, with just enough exercise, not too much, steady, listening for hurt, and heeding, easing off for a while, then resuming. So too, with relationships. Exercise, keep trying, weave common bonds, don’t overdo it but don’t coddle either. Listen, find just the right push. Then repeat it all again on the morrow. Until the knit is complete. And too, with humans and nature. Many have learned not to trample, to respect, to form bonds with the natural world, but we are ever learning how we unknowingly do damage. We keep trying to build a web from us to them, but must constantly repair the breaks in that web. And there will always remain a small sensitive place, where the heal will never be complete.
Cannon Beach, Oregon
After a night in luxurious bed, All amenities provided, Well-partied wedding guests Sleep it off late.
I descend steep wooden stairs To the sandy beach. People, coffee cup in hand, Walk their dogs.
I head for the ocean, Focus on the waves' steady roar. Cold water laps at my bare feet, I can see to the horizon.
Focus on the seaweed, Washed ashore, the crab shells, A half sand dollar, jellies, Waiting for the next big wave.
The dogs are well-behaved, The people quiet and unobtrusive, But I can’t help noticing how The birds fly when they come.
How the people are focused On themselves, their companions, Better, I think, than on their phones, But do they notice? do they see?
And I walk farther, to the end, To an isolated sandbar, covered With gulls secure from dogs, Where the people are scarce.
One young gull is on my side, Apathetic, it lets me walk Right by, take a photo or two, But flies when a dog arrives.
And the gulls on the other side All scatter when a dog and its people Cross the shallow water To the previously isolated sandbar.
I sit at the edge of the stream That runs into the ocean, Silently commune with a heron, That sedately watches, wades.
And I wonder, to whom Does the beach belong? To the animals or the people, To all-- or to none?
I walk back along the beach, Leaving footprints in the sand, Which, when the tide is high, The ocean’s waves will erase.
Heron at Cannon Beach
Leave the trendy doughnut shop, The people, friendly. somehow grate on me, The road, where cars sedately snake along, Stuck in their metal-asphalt world.
Climb down the dirt path to the lagoon, Feel my senses change. Near silence, broken By bird song. Whiff of salty sea air. Soft, cool Ocean breeze, beckoning.
Look up to the East to see fancy Houses perched on the hill, To the West, six lanes of black asphalt, Cut into the steep wooded hillside.
Trail ends, can’t walk along the water, Ferry landing on one end, Prison fence on the other. So I return to my car.
But stop to talk to a gruff man, Scottish accent, taken aback but friendly, He tells me all about the trails he hikes. I see Mt. Tam serenely watching us.
Solitary gull at Cannon Beach
Symbiotic ties are ubiquities And can be good or bad, Of advantage to one but not the other, And best when needs and purposes Of both parts are fairly served. The unbalanced former is all too common, The balanced latter, sporadic occurrence.
Let Us Be Humans!
Different though we are, Let us appreciate one another, Let us respect one another, Let us help one another, Let us be humans!
Many though we are There's room for all of us, A place for each of us, Food for all of us, Let us be humans!
Anguished though we are, Suspicion, hatred and strife, With which the world is rife, Only diminish life. Let us be humans!
Every hurt leaves a scar, however invisible. -MW
Our world's civilizations will in due time perish, Scarred Nature will then heal and flourish. -JM
I am the uniter, sitting on the sofa between my two masters, reminding them that we are an inseparable family.
Bin die See, du das Land, Deutlich unterschiedlich. Aber an dem heissen Strand, Land und Wasser treffen sich.
I'm the sea, you the land, Different as can be. But on the hot, summer strand, Land and water meet.
And then there is a space Where the sand is wet, Footsteps remain in place Until they are wave-swept.
The rower is close to the water. She greets the dolphins at their level, plays hide and seek with the young seal, rides each wave, goes with the wind and the currents, and leaves little wake. The kayaker is even closer and the tule boat the closest. For the tule boat is built with natural materials from the Bay itself, will compost into the shore when it gets old, the paddler gets his food from the Bay, unpackaged, unprocessed. The tule boat glides silently among the rushes, one big bird among many. Just one strand in Nature's web.
A fugue is the musical version of weaving. Several voices running alongside each other, meeting in harmony, then veering off again, and ending in a final harmonic whole. The Toccata and Fugue by Johann Sebastian Bach is a master of this form.
Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D minor, Hannes Kästner organist, Thomaskirche, Leipzig, Germany. Posted on Youtube by MovieMongerH2 in 2010, in public domain.