reason to hope

“I have decided to stick to love. . . Hate is too great a burden to bear.”  ~ Rev. Martin Luther King

There’s a neighbor up the road I’ve never met. I know his pick-up truck though, as I often find myself driving behind him as we come and go on our daily rounds. The truck is lifted, painted with camo, and festooned with decals and bumper stickers supporting the flag, the military, and the NRA. There’s one that defines gun control as “hitting your target.”

When I’m behind this man, I ease my foot off the gas and slow down, giving him space to roar off up the road and out of sight. Nevertheless, I’ve had ample opportunity over the years to absorb the slogans and messages plastered all over his vehicle, including this one on the center of his tailgate: “If you don’t like it here, you can go back to the shit-hole you came from.”

My heart clenches when I see those words. The angry bigotry, rooted in fear of the “other,” scares and saddens me. I’d never heard someone refer to another country as a shit-hole until I saw my neighbor’s bumper sticker.  I wouldn’t recognize the man behind the wheel if we met in line at Rite-Aid, and so I’ve been left to wonder: Who would think, let alone say, something so hateful? Now, of course, I know the answer to that question. We all do. [continue…]

a blessing for deeper knowing

“All life is interrelated. All persons are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be.”                                        ~  Rev. Martin Luther King

I spent a good part of Sunday flying from New Hampshire to Asheville, North Carolina, to visit my younger son Jack.  I love this kind of low-stress travel day, especially when what’s waiting at the end of the journey is not a professional obligation, but simply a change of scene and a son to wrap my arms around.

En route, I buried myself in a book. But a lay-over in Newark gave me an opportunity for people watching. It’s been a while since I passed through a state-of-the-art airport, so I was unnerved to see electronic tablets attached to the top of every flat surface. The restaurant tables all feature a pair of devices set up back to back, so that people sitting across from one another will find themselves gazing at hi-def photos rather than into each other’s eyes.  Any hope of leaning in and conversing with a friend or loved one while sharing a meal is extinguished by an electronic barrier of flashing pixels.

I stood for a while at one cafe where adults and children alike were intently focused on the technology, heads bent, leaning toward their personal screens as if magnetized. Couples and families occupying the same tables were clearly inhabiting different online universes. Everyone was staring and tapping and swiping and typing. No one was paying attention to the person across from them. No one was talking. No one seemed to be really “there.” [continue…]

Scatter darkness

If you’re lucky, life affords you a few moments when you feel as if you are exactly where you are meant to be, doing exactly what you are meant to be doing. Once in a while, such a moment coincides with one of your children having that very same experience, at the very same time.  So it was yesterday afternoon, as the lights dimmed for the final St. Olaf Christmas Festival concert of this year.  My husband and I had flown from New Hampshire to Minnesota for this Sunday afternoon performance.  As the audience hushed and the orchestra musicians finished tuning, the vast gymnasium grew silent, reverent.  The five choirs filed in and took their places. I didn’t expect to cry, and yet, when the violin section’s first notes rang out, sudden tears rolled down my cheeks.  There is something about seeing and hearing over six hundred student musicians, all joined together in exquisite harmony, that can prompt an already full heart to, well, overflow.

A couple of hours earlier, we’d talked with Henry over lunch about the idea of him studying music abroad for a semester next year.  “Not in the fall,” he’d said definitively.  “There’s no way I’d miss Christmas Fest.”

Peering through the darkness to pick him out in the crowd — second row from the back on the long risers, dressed in a scarlet robe, eyes trained on the conductor — I understood.  Playing piano for a musical, performing in a jazz ensemble, rehearsing with singers, jamming with friends–these are all things my son loves to do.  But one discovery he’s made since he left home, went off to college, auditioned for a choir and began to take singing lessons, is that there is nothing that makes him feel more alive than to join his own voice with others.

Judging from the level of commitment and the talents of the St. Olaf singers, he is not alone in that.  For two breathtaking hours, those of us in the audience were swept along on a spiritual journey in song. Most of us had traveled some distance to be there; now, thanks to these gifted young musicians, we were truly transported.   In a world that too often seems bleak and overburdened, here was redemption, hope, and light.

“Scatter the darkness,” the words above the stage proclaimed.  Tiny white bulbs outlined the Christmas trees on each side of the stage and shone like stars above.  Voices soared.  Harmonies wove shimmering tapestries of sound.  Slowly, sumptuously, the hymns and carols gathered in strength and power.  My son sang.  We were there to hear.  How glad I was in that moment — for him, for us, and most of all, for passions discovered, claimed, and realized.