Music of Angels

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I was more than excited about having tickets to see Hans Zimmer in concert. I have enjoyed his soundtracks for years. I purchased the first one after watching the movie Greencard. Since then I’ve added The Last Samurai, Blackhawk Down, Sherlock and so many others to my collection of his works. Each of them is unique and captures the essence of the movie in which it was featured. Since I was going to attend the musical event in the company of my husband, daughter and two grandsons, I was even more excited about the evening, especially since my husband had suffered from a stroke after I had purchased the tickets. I thought it would be a grand way to celebrate life, but I expected to sit in the audience listening politely to some of my favorite music with perhaps a film clip or two to go along with the hits. I had no idea how much more wonderful the experience would actually be.

The concert began with Hans Zimmer entering the stage under a lone spotlight. He sat down at an upright piano and began playing. Slowly other musicians began to join him, adding a bit more interest to the tune. One by one they entered and the depth of the music increased until there was a full orchestra and a choir with the entire stage lit in cadence with the amazing sounds. It was one of the most musically exciting things that I have ever witnessed. It demonstrated the power of a single melody to expand with the help of multiple instruments and intricate arrangements. It was like a lesson in the development of a soundtrack or a symphony. I found myself almost imagining the workings of Mr. Zimmer’s mind as he develops the wondrous music that enhances so many movies. He manipulated our interest and our mood with the help of remarkably talented individuals who have worked joyfully with him for decades.

I was particularly taken by his use of amplified instruments to enhance the normal orchestral implements. There were guitars, violins and cellos all amped up and making the most incredible sounds. To use a terrible pun it was quite electrifying. I was particularly enchanted by an Asian woman playing an electric cello. She was wildly enjoying her work so much so that I was enchanted by her. The audience would learn that she has been playing since the age of three and that she practices for eight hours every day. Such dedication to a craft is almost unimaginable but it has paid off for her.

The concert featured some of Hans Zimmer’s most popular works including music from The Dark Knight, Man of Steel, Angels and Demons, Interstellar, Inception, Driving Miss Daisy and many more. With lighting designed to operate in time with the music it was a very interactive evening, and I was thrilled beyond anything that I hoped to see and hear. I swear that I actually felt the music on my skin and I’m certain that my seat was vibrating from the sounds. I know that there were moments when I became so emotionally involved with the music that I felt almost breathless. I even joked that some of the music was of the type that I imagined I might hear as I enter heaven one day. At least I hope that it will be that lovely!

After the concert I read an interview with Hans Zimmer in our local newspaper. He mentioned that he was concerned that so many orchestras worldwide are losing money and audiences. He fears that we may one day see the demise of such local musical troupes because they have failed to capture the interest of younger audiences. They struggle just to keep the older folks in the seats. He suggested that the orchestras employ more fun and innovation in their presentations, and he believes that the people will then come. He noted that the composers of the past were often way ahead of their time. They experimented with music and created new forms. It was the excitement of their compositions that made them famous. Now we seem to simply offer stale copies of their inventiveness. He urged musicians to instead be more daring as he has tried to be.

I completely agree with his analysis because I found his presentation to be so stunningly exciting that I would have stayed for hours more if only his musicians had continued to play. The concert hall was filled with people of every age group and everyone appeared to be enchanted. My grandsons who are college age were as taken by the concert as my husband and I who are in our sixties. The affair spoke to the genius of humans and their ability to create sounds that both please and tell a story. The level of brilliance and musicianship was astounding and mesmerizing.

As people we have incredible creative talents. What we have achieved scientifically and medically is a testament to our intelligence. It is in the arts, however, that we truly demonstrate an aspect of our essence that goes beyond utility. We enjoy art for arts sake, for our pleasure. Our ability to fill our environment with sights and sounds that elevate the human spirit is what truly makes us different from the animals. We take words and string them together in beautiful combinations. We draw lines and curves to create visions from our souls. We use sounds blended together to intensify our stories and our moods. We use our voices and play instruments crafted out of wood and metal and strings. What we have done is so amazing if we really stop to think about it.

I can’t imagine living in a time in which there were few opportunities to hear the best music from the finest composers. Because of our inventiveness anyone has the opportunity to listen to the sounds of angels wherever they may be. It is a gift that I enjoy and cherish every single day. I wonder that we don’t seem to fully appreciate such miracles born of our creativity.

Some seem to believe that we are teetering on a precipice as people. I happen to think that as long as we continue to celebrate and enjoy music and art in its many forms we will maintain our humanity. Music is universal. It brings us together without a need for translation. It speaks to each of us and burrows into our very souls.

As a new school year approaches I find myself thinking of a child will picking up a cello and brimming with excitement upon plunking the strings and creating music for the first time. Perhaps that youngster will one day be entertaining all of us. I can’t wait to hear from him/her. We so badly need such souls in our midst, so I hope we will be careful when making cuts to education. I can’t imagine anything more thoughtless than using arts programs as a way of saving money. We truly need our most creative individuals to keep us centered. It is in our natures to desire enrichment of our imaginations. Bravo to the musicians, singers, dancers, artists, and actors who make our world all the more beautiful with their gifts. Like Hans Zimmer I truly hope that we don’t lose any of them.

Shall We Begin?

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There was a time when the world was a quieter place. There were fewer sounds, no cars, planes, trains, televisions, radios, telephones, complex machines. People heard each other, the calls of animals, the wind, the rustling of water. Life was stiller, slower and in most ways more difficult. The very things that so often annoy us, cause us to feel stressed and steal the silence that we often desire also make our lives easier than those of our ancestors. The conundrum that we face in the modern world is how to keep a balance between simplicity and over consumption. It is the tightrope that we walk in our pursuit of happiness and comfort.

I live in a southern climate. I might be happy to eschew using a great deal of energy in the winter because the days are mostly mild and even on an abnormally cold day a heavy coat and a pile of blankets make the chill go away. The summer presents me with a far greater challenge when temperatures linger in the mid nineties for weeks at a time. It is so hot that I take refuge in my air conditioned home and car during the middle of the day. The thought of being without the cool air is almost untenable and yet there was a time in the not so distant past when I lived through nineteen summers without air conditioning and never felt beset upon.

It was a normal and accepted way of life back then. We simply adjusted to our circumstances and carried on the way people had done for thousands of years before us. We led simpler lives that were still more modern than those that our grandparents had known. It never occurred to us that we may have been disadvantaged. We coped with what we had.

Somehow in spite of the multitude of improvements in American life our society seems to be more dissatisfied than ever. We tend to believe that we should all have more and more and more when just maybe we have reached a tipping point at which we should consider cutting back on some of the things that we do and take for granted. We often argue that each successive generation should do better than the last but what if that idea is flawed? What if our real goal should be to find ways to enjoy the best of our modern inventiveness without being so obsessed with accumulating wealth and things? Is it possible to live the good life while also being more frugal in our use of resources and capital? These are our modern day questions. Our dilemma is in finding the answers that will benefit the most people in the world, a gargantuan task at the very least.

I believe in the concept of liberty and as such I mostly disdain the idea of forcing a particular lifestyle on people. I prefer that we each decide on our own how to partake of the world’s benefits. Still I would like to encourage everyone to find their own personal ways of stepping back just a bit and considering how they might simplify and thereby save for the future. By that I mean in terms of both money and our precious resources. Small measures taken collectively often lead to great gains. Our ancestors knew this well and they pulled themselves out of a major depression and two world wars with determined effort and a great deal of patience.

When I describe the world of my youth it sounds absolutely antiquated. My family had one car, one phone, one television. Computers and cell phones were but dreams of inventive souls. Travel was by car for most people other than the wealthiest among us who had the means to fly from place to place. Eating out was a rare luxury. The books that we read mostly came from the library. I only knew one person who had a swimming pool in her backyard. The rest of us went to the city pool on hot afternoons. Air conditioning was a luxury that was only beginning to come into vogue and even then it was in the form of a unit set in a window. Homes usually had a single bathroom often shared by as many as six or seven people. Children bunked together in rooms. Most of us had two pairs of shoes, one for special occasions and the other to be worn for daily activities. We exercised by running and walking and riding our bicycles. It was a happy time and it never occurred to us that one day people would look back on how we lived and think it quaint and wonder how we were able to endure such seeming want.

The average household of old would appear to be more like a state of poverty today. We have improved things considerably but what have we lost in the process? Our desires seem almost insatiable. Our complaints would confound those who lived in another era. They would wonder at the luxuries of even an average person and ask why we still feel as though we need even more.

We argue over the state of our planet ad infinitum. Why would we risk being wrong? The simple answer is to always think about the consequences of our actions. Our golden rule should be to leave every place better than we found it. If that means recycling, planting trees, composting garbage, picking up trash, adjusting our thermostats, buying only what we really need, turning off lights, or finding our own ways of using less energy why would we complain? These are actions that our ancestors took for granted. It doesn’t matter who is wrong or right when it comes to climate change. We should all still want to be kinder to our world.

We probably will never receive the entire cake of benefits but we are certainly capable of sharing pieces of it with our fellow men and women. We will never be able to achieve perfection but surely we will find more contentment in working together just as our ancestors once did. They raised barns as a community and made certain that people experiencing hard times were cared for. My grandfather told countless stories of people coming together to insure that all members of the community were safe and secure and happy. It was understood that this was behavior expected of everyone. They had so much less than we have today but they willingly gave whatever they were able in times of need.

Sometimes it seems as though we have closed ourselves off inside our modern day castles. We have everything that we need inside and we may have anything that we want delivered to our front doors. We isolate and insulate ourselves from the problems outside our domains, often not even knowing the names of our neighbors or what challenges they are enduring. We come and go and rarely think of the difficulties that are ongoing all around us. We turn off bad news and idealize existence and quibble over issues that should have compromised solutions. We have lost our way on so many levels when we need look no farther than the examples of the past to know what to do.

Thoreau admonished us to simplify, simplify, simplify. Mother Theresa showed us how to share. Our grandparents demonstrated courage and a willingness to adapt to changing situations. Marshall rightly urged us to help our struggling European neighbors after World War II. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. taught us how to open our hearts to differences. The lessons to be learned tell us how to live without the worry and strife that exists in so many corners of our world today. If each person were to change just one way of doing things for the better perhaps we might all wake up to brighter days. It’s time to cease all of the grumbling and work together. Shall we begin?

Embracing Life

Come-to-Your-Senses-940x627When my daughter was in the first grade her teacher noticed that she appeared to be reading lips rather than listening with her ears. After a visit to the nurse it became clear that my little girl had lost over forty percent of her hearing. We took her to see a specialist who eventually performed surgery on her ears. As we were leaving the hospital she quite suddenly gasped and asked us what all of the noise was. Her eyes were as big as saucers as she heard normally for the very first time. For her it was a grand experience that she rewarded with a great big smile.

All too often we take so much in our world for granted that we miss some of the most remarkable pleasures. We rush from here to there with our heads full of thoughts about what we need to accomplish. We don’t even notice the hue of the sky or the singing of the birds. We fail to see the tiny gecko skittering across the yard or pay attention to the laughter of children in someone’s backyard. Our eyes don’t even see the beautiful white texture of the milk that we pour on our cereal. We don’t smell the aroma of the coffee as it brews. We are far too busy to stop long enough to allow our brains to appreciate the wonderfully simple miracles that are happening all around us, that is until something forces us to consider the most basic aspects of our lives. Then it is as though we have received a new pair of spectacles or a special hearing aide that allows us to fully experience the world as never before.

Those moments when we pause long enough to appreciate what we have refresh and renew us. They remind us that in most cases our blessings far outweigh our difficulties. We realize that the vast majority of the people we encounter are smiling and friendly. We feel the love and affection that comes our way and see that we are never really alone. We begin to fully understand the importance of the many tasks that people are performing to help us, sometimes so quietly that we hardly notice that they are there. In taking nothing for granted we are filled to the brim with optimism and gratefulness.

I pass the medical center of Houston all of the time without actually thinking about the people inside all of those hospitals. At any given moment there are so many people in distress who are being assisted by kind, caring and well trained medical personnel who are there ready to hep even on a big holiday. They do their work day in and day out with little fanfare simply because it is what they do.

I hear the sirens of passing fire trucks and ambulances rushing along the streets of my neighborhood and quickly return to whatever I was doing without considering how those noises signal that help is on the way. The men and women who rise from their sleep in the middle of the night are good Samaritans in every sense of the word. Their work is critical to us and yet we don’t even think of them until they are coming to our own personal aide.

We complain about our teachers and joke that they may not be the brightest bulbs in the pack even as we have to acknowledge that our entire workforce is built upon the foundation of the knowledge that they provide. Somehow in spite of our constant criticism they carry on with their duties, faithfully striving to help our young to learn. Neither salary nor respect matter as much to them as enriching a child’s mind.

Who ever considers the enormous contributions of engineers who anonymously advance our world? We use their inventions and products with little thought of the effort, inspiration and intelligence needed to build them. We travel down roads and cross bridges as though they somehow just miraculously appeared.

Our garbage disappears because of people who toil in the heat and the cold. Our homes are comfortable because workers built them to be solid and safe. We enjoy an abundance of food because of farmers working in fields hundreds and even thousands of miles away. Every single aspect of our lives is affected by the hard work of countless individuals who use their skills and hard work not just to earn a living but to make the world a better place. Even that ketchup bottle filled with a homespun kind of sauce is a miracle of sorts that we should never think of as just being ordinary.

We should all be like my child who rejoiced in the simple gift of hearing. The world is filled with the voices of those who would make us better. It is a repository for the music of nature and of composers who use instruments to bring us so much pleasure. It is but one of the incredible senses that we should never fail to enjoy. Even the feel of the clothing on our backs should fill us with joy and thankfulness.

Perhaps I have been reminded of late that it is a most unfortunate attitude to ignore the wonder of the people and things that are right under our noses. While a trip to an extraordinary place is a special adventure, our own backyards are also filled with treasures that we need to embrace. Rejoice that the sun rises and sets. Feel the rain as it falls. Enjoy life in every moment. The pleasure and happiness that you seek is already right in front of you. Embrace it with gusto.

This Day

_80896621_159150619We’ve all played the parlor games that go something like this,”What if you were able to go back in time? Where would you go? Whom would you want to see?” Aside from the fact that at least for now it’s impossible to travel back into history, it’s fun to imagine sitting across from a host of interesting characters. It’s often difficult to narrow down the possible choices and to decide what to say when you get there. Do you just take in the times as they were, or do you warn individuals of events that are yet to come? Would it be proper to tell Abraham Lincoln not to go the theater on the night of his assassination? Of course even the smallest hint about the future would have the potential of changing everything, so there would be a certain danger in revealing all that we know. Still, the possibilities are so tempting, making it even more difficult to choose where to go and whom to visit.

On a personal level there is a temptation to go find a favorite loved one or some long lost and mysterious relatives, but then the very idea of being present at the signing of the Declaration of Independence or hearing Jesus give the sermon on the mount is breathtaking. Being an eye witness to history has a dramatic appeal as does actually speaking with heroes from the past. It’s a challenge to choose just one time, place or individual.

I saw a program on PBS in which Stephen Hawking explained that theoretically it might be possible to go back in time, but the real problem lies in getting back home. He explained that the laws of physics appear to preclude advancing into the future, so anyone who went backward in time would find themselves stuck in a cosmic wrinkle. I can’t pretend that I understood a word that he said in describing this phenomenon, but it tells me that we probably won’t have too many takers even if we ever do find a way to travel into the past. Who would be willing to be stuck in a foreign environment until death?

I used to have a very strange theory that Jesus came from an advanced civilization far in the future that is so nearly perfect that it is akin to heaven. Knowing what we would do to ourselves as humans He agreed to go back in time to teach us how we should live. Of course He had no way of returning from whence He had come, so He had to stay here on earth being ultimately tortured and put to death. My theory falls apart upon His death because He rose from leaving an empty tomb. Maybe somebody had finally found a way to get back home by the time of His existence in a world far away in time and place. (My apologies to those who might find my curious thoughts to be a form of blasphemy. I just like to dabble in unusual thinking from time to time. I actually do believe in God but I have always felt that we have never completely figured Him out. Thus I propose strange ideas now and again.)

We humans are so fascinated by the past, but I truly wonder how many of us would be able to survive in days gone by. We tend to fantasize about what things were like, forgetting how difficult daily living was little more than a hundred years ago and all the way back to the beginning of time. Walking with Jesus would be hot and dusty and devoid of any of the conveniences that we take for granted. The dangers that our Founding Fathers faced from being tried and found guilty of treason might overwhelm us. Our romantic visions of ancient Greece would become dashed with the realities of lives quite different and far more brutal from those of our imaginations. I suspect that the truth is that there is no turning back once we have moved forward. I doubt that most of us would even want to retreat to a time as recently as the nineteen fifties.

Our longing for the good old days is most often misplaced. Our advances since bygone days are so spectacular that we would be misfits even in a culture that many of us actually experienced. In the fifties, for example, we’d be looking for our cell phones and wondering why our televisions only had three channels, all in black and white. We would be stunned by overt racism and segregation. We would witness people dying from illnesses for which there are now cures. All in all I suspect that we would be more than ready to return to the present.

I don’t suppose that time travel will ever become a reality and I’m rather certain that it wouldn’t be a good thing even if we somehow found the capability. As humans we slowly but surely evolve and progress. Nothing ever stays exactly the same and that is a good thing. We sometimes feel the rush of change happening too quickly for our taste and the sting of regret creates a desire for second changes, but all in all we are better off looking to the future than clinging to the past. It’s a beautiful thing to know that on the whole we have a tendency to get better and better as time goes by. 

We can learn from our history but there is little need to relive it. Instead our goal should be to make the most of our here and now. It is in how we handle today that our tomorrows may be brighter. Carpe diem is one of the best piece of wisdom by which we may lead our lives. The past may be fascinating but this day is where we become whatever we were meant to be.

A Nation of Hermits

Hermit-crab-GettyImages-597303469-58b66f6f5f9b586046c36d9e.jpgI have been told that my grandfather went shopping every Friday after work. He visited a bookstore and purchased a new volume to read during the coming week and then bought a few groceries which he carried home in a reusable mesh bag. (He was obviously way ahead of his time.) It was an outing that he enjoyed. As a child I accompanied my mother on Saturday shopping excursions. Sometimes we rode the bus into the downtown retail district, but mostly we went to the malls that were just then becoming a new phenomenon all across America. I looked forward to those times with great anticipation because they meant that I would receive a quarter to spend in any way that I chose. When I became an adult I kept the Saturday tradition going with my own daughters and I have warm memories of fun times together.

Eventually my girls left home and I enlisted my mother as a shopping partner once again. As she grew older I religiously visited her every Friday afternoon after work and our adventures always included dining out followed by an excursion to one of her favorite stores. She literally spent hours studying the items displayed in every aisle and buying only those offered for the best possible prices. She always appeared to be so happy just window shopping and I loved being with her talking about this and that as we went about our weekly routine. I suspect that I somehow developed a psychological connection between retail therapy and joyful memories of my mother, because to this very day I find wandering around my favorite stores to be calming.

I sometimes worry that the act of browsing inside boutiques and such will go the way of the dinosaur. I recently heard a news story in which an economist predicted that three fourths of all of the retail merchants that we now know will be gone within a couple of decades, replaced mostly by online giants and mega stores like Walmart. People are more and more often using existing brick and mortar establishments to see what products are like so that they might order the same things from Amazon for lower prices. More and more often we hear of stores closing their doors forever for lack of customers, and even those that appear to be doing well are struggling to keep up with the momentum of online shopping. It seems that people would rather spend their time on weekends enjoying family activities and traveling than perusing racks of clothing inside buildings. Furthermore the cost of renting space and paying for upkeep makes it difficult for traditional establishments to compete with the deals that online businesses are able to provide. The American shopping experience is rapidly changing.

Ironically we are in a sense returning to the old days of the catalog. In the early days of the twentieth century people who lived in more rural areas often shopped from a Sears or JC Penny catalog. Virtually anything that they might have wanted was available including kits for building homes. My father-in-law lives in a house in the Houston Heights that was made from designs sold in the early nineteen hundreds. It is a style that might be seen all across the country because it was a favorite of the catalog buying public during that era. Now we have online inventories from which we can choose most of the things that we use and have them delivered directly to our homes, often without having to pay shipping costs. With a few keystrokes we are able to order our medications, appliances, clothing, gifts and even groceries. There is little reason to get dressed up and venture out. It’s just so much easier to visit the electronic stores.

I have often believed that given enough reasons not to have to leave my home I would easily evolve into being a hermit of sorts. I wonder if today’s world is so fast paced and stressful that most of us are tempted by the idea of finding solace inside the walls of our homes as often as possible. We now have the capacity to enjoy movies, music and culinary experiences without ever venturing into crowded establishments. With Netflix and the like we are able to spend an evening watching great entertainment with all of the snacks we might desire for less than a third of the cost of going to a theater. Best of all we can do it in our pajamas and pause the action at will.

The world is always changing and those of us who cling to past memories may have to learn how to keep up. It appears that the big malls of yesteryear may become empty caverns of curiosity that our grandchildren and great grandchildren will view with wonder. They will marvel at the quaint idea of wandering from one shop to another as a form of entertainment. They will laugh at the impracticality of such ideas as they order their goods and receive them within hours from drones that drop them on their doorsteps.

In some ways the ever changing way of doing business is actually quite wonderful for seniors like me. As we become less and less able to get around we will still be able to procure the items that we need for comfortable and happy living. We will have little need to have a car or worry about transportation. With Uber as our chauffeur and Amazon as our marketplace we will be able to be independent far longer than previous generations. The only thing that worries me is that as we as a society spend more and more of our time inside our homes we run the risk of becoming isolated. Unless we couple the convenience of home shopping with concerted efforts to stay connected with other people we will fall prey to some very unhealthy habits.

It will be quite interesting to see what actually happens in the coming years. The stores that I frequent are still quite busy and I find it difficult to believe that everyone will be accepting of the idea of reinventing the ways of commerce and abandoning the brick and mortar experiences. Nonetheless I have been proven wrong many times before. I laughed at the idea of recording television programs for future viewing. I never dreamed that Blockbuster Video would become a memory of the past. I believed that Amazon was only a phase along with home computers and smart phones. There is no telling what actually lies ahead.

I now have devices in my home that turn on lights and monitor the area while I am gone, ready to alert the police in the event of trouble. I can view the rooms from hundreds of miles away. I receive my medication at my doorstep and purchase all of my Christmas gifts each year without ever having to search for parking spaces at a mall. I watch programs at my own leisure and truly believe that one day I will not have to drive my car because it will be programmed to get me from place to place on its own. I have a robot that cleans my floors just like Rosie in the Jetsons. I eat meals that only require a few minutes of heating time in the microwave. I am as automated as a science fiction story of old and there is definitely going to be more to come. I only hope that in our quest to make our homes all providing castles we do not fall into the trap of becoming a nation of hermits. The temptation is there. We will have to make certain that we find other ways of interacting with our fellow humans. I’m sure that someone already has ideas about how to accomplish that.