The World Is Thirsting

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Things were slower, less complicated when I was a child. The noises that I heard came mostly from the hum of daily living that wafted through the open windows of my home. There was a kind of routine on my street that rarely varied, even in the summertime when school was out for three full months. The world became relaxed in June, July and August, filled with precious time that I was able to use however I wished.

The cooler mornings always lead me outside to see if anyone else had ideas for new adventures, but by noon the heat often became too much for us to bear and so we retreated back inside our houses where we were sheltered from the burning rays of the sun, if not the humidity and heat. Most homes on my street had massive attic fans that pulled hot air in through the windows, creating a kind of artificial breeze that made our climate only slightly more bearable. Afternoons were a good time for quiet play and so we engaged in marathon card games or set up never ending boardgames like Monopoly.

Without a doubt reading was my favorite pastime when summer rolled around. I positioned myself on my bed in front of an open window and forgot all about the temperature or any of my worries as I escaped into worlds brought vividly to life with words that painted pictures in my mind. It mattered little what volume lay before me. I was willing to explore new authors, new genres. The excitement was in expanding my universe from the confines of my little house, my street, my neighborhood. Through those books I traveled all around the world and learned of people and cultures. I considered new ideas and felt as adventurous as if I had actually embarked on a junket to the far corners of the universe.

I guiltlessly indulged in the stories that expanded my horizons and taught me the beauty of language. Each summer I was mesmerized by the written word and its power to transport and transform me. I read voraciously like a starved soul, and mentally catalogued my favorite authors and titles. I little understood at the time how much more complicated my life and the world would eventually become, but as the years went by and I entered my adulthood, the luxury of spending hours reading for three months out of the year would become little more than a memory. My time became ever more filled with obligations that absconded with the minutes and hours. I found myself rushing from one thing to do to another. I was lucky to find a few minutes here and there to stoke my passion for reading. I had to steal moments from my always filled calendar, and somehow my favorite thing to do became that last thing that I would do, often reading long after everyone else in the house had gone to sleep. In the quiet of the night I escaped from my own complex world to those of others.

The list of books that I have read speaks to the change in my habits. I have enjoyed most of the classics but I am sadly unfamiliar with so many of the modern authors. I simply haven’t found as much time to discover them and yet so often when I do I am enthralled. I suspect that there is a whole new world of wonder just waiting for me if only I can talk myself into slowing down. I raced through my days for so long that even in retirement I don’t seem able or willing to return to the delightfully slow pace of my childhood. I have bought into the idea that I must somehow justify the merit of each day by ticking off my accomplishments. I am still trying to justify spending three or four hours reading everyday when so many other things need to be done.

Perhaps I must teach myself once again to be more like a child, open to letting each day unfold without plans or expectations. I need to release the stresses and guilts that we adults so often carry like baggage. I must accept that giving time to myself is as important as giving to others. I try to remember that it was in the innocence of childhood that I learned so much that made me who I am today, and those hours reading were invaluable in my development.

I’ve heard that people do not read as much today as they once did. Libraries don’t see as much traffic. Bookstores sell fewer volumes. Newspapers are struggling to sell subscriptions. I know folks who blithely admit that they haven’t read a book in years. We spend time that might be better used reading in the pursuit of other activities  like playing computer games or posting on Facebook or tweeting our thoughts. We feel as though we know more about what is happening in the world, but we rarely bother to read up on the facts behind the headlines. Our knowledge is often limited to the soundbites that we accept from our favorite politicians or celebrities. We believe without going into depth on any topic, learning the history and all of the background. We rush around and rely on others to keep us informed. We have incomplete pictures of the world because even with all of the global communication at our fingertips we still operate in tiny bubbles that rarely give us the big picture. We readily believe whatever lines up with our own thinking rather than challenging ourselves by seeking to delve more deeply 

Reading challenged me when I was in my formative years. It taught me about the history of mankind and the variety of personalities that comprise the human race. I learned to think and to see the difference between a fact and an opinion. Those hours spent feeding my mind that seemed so lazy and even a bit selfish were actually some of the most important moments of my life. There is little that I might have done that would have been more valuable and truly I suspect that it is more important than ever for me and the rest of the world to set aside time to learn lessons from the past and ways to move toward the future.

In spite of the nonstop flurry of headlines and commentaries our world is thirsting for knowledge and information. We are falling victim to propagandizing that is everywhere. Reading is the antidote for our malaise. Just as with exercise, the more we read the better our minds will be, particularly when we don’t limit ourselves to one point of view. I’m ready to begin a journey into the world of books once again. I have a fine list of suggested titles from a friend. I can’t wait to start reading.   

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Lion Kings

the-lion-king-disney-rebootThis year marks the twentieth anniversary of the Broadway musical The Lion King. On any given day the shows for each performance are sold out, and there is no indication that interest in the story has waned since it rocked the entertainment industry two decades ago. Aside from the stunning costumes and the enchanting music, its story of loss and love resonates with virtually everyone. We are all Simba, and have felt both the sting of death and the exhilaration of love and friendship as surely as he did.

As I think back on this past year I recall moments of great pain and sorrow that have been balanced by lovely times shared with family and friends. My journey through the past twelve months has been marked by more than enough dark days, but somehow those times were always followed by sunshine and loveliness so exceptional that they seemed to blot out the sorrow that I was experiencing. In the course of a full revolution of the earth around the sun I felt the circle of life with all of its ups and downs and like Simba I survived to stand at the mountain top and rejoice.

I’ve attended far too many funerals this year. I suppose that it is inevitable that such occasions have become more and more frequent given my age. Many of my elders who were blessed with long lives and were nearing the century mark succumbed to the inevitability of our existence. We all know that there is no infinity for any of us, but we push the envelope of our lives as far as we are able. Sometimes when someone lives a very long time we lose sight of the reality that we may not have them forever, so when they leave us we are almost as surprised as when a young person dies. It is always difficult to let go no matter how old someone may be.

I have also lost peers this year, people who have walked along beside me from the days when we were young and so full of dreams. My book of memories is overflowing with images of the fun and laughter that we shared. We grew up together and then we began to grow old together as well. Somehow our human tendency is to ignore the years and the images of ourselves that we see in the mirror. Instead we think that we are as young and spry as we were when we were in our twenties. It is shocking to us when someone from our own generation dies. Somehow it doesn’t seem right. It causes us to falter just a bit. It reminds us that our time here has an expiration date and we secretly wonder what our own will be.

In that moment when my husband lay helplessly on the floor of a bathroom after having a stroke I was filled with terror. While I understand that neither of us will live to any guaranteed age, I had not even considered the possibility that death might come so soon. Both my brain and my heart were jolted into reality in that split second and it was a painful and devastating experience. I still have flashbacks that remind me to cherish every single moment that I have with the man who has filled my days with so much happiness.

My life has changed during this year. I don’t take much for granted anymore. I somehow appreciate the breathtaking beauty of life far more than ever before. I love with a more open heart and I find particular joy in being with young people who still possess such a zest for living. I have been to weddings and graduations and birthday parties that have brought me incredible joy. Seeing love unfold before my eyes is like experiencing the most enchanting miracles that we ever enjoy. It reminds me that there is a season for everything and that I am a part of the glorious unfolding of the cycles that have repeated across the centuries.

I went to a wedding in Cancun in the summer with a group of very special friends. Two of the sweetest men that I have ever known pledged their unending love to each other. It was a beautiful ceremony wrought with so much emotion that we all cried tears of joy. I never imagined that I would be blessed to be part of something so wonderful, but there I was, and I felt so much renewed faith in mankind. I was surrounded by such an abundance of love and good feelings that it carried me through the tough times that I did not yet know lay ahead.

There have been other occasions that have kept my optimism flowing. Two of my former students were married this year and I rejoiced at the ceremonies that they invited me to share with them. I saw the expressions of devotion on their faces and thought of all the wonderful times that they would experience together just as my husband and I have. I sensed that their love is so pure and strong that they will even be able to endure tragedies and everyday problems. I felt so much happiness for them and wondered if they realized how much hope they gave me as well. Weddings allow us to come together in celebration of the most wonderful traditions of unity and commitment to one another, the joining of lives that has transcended history.

Recently my husband and I traveled out of town to a magical party at my niece and nephew’s home in Dallas. They feted us with good food, incredible generosity, and so much fun. I doubt that they realized that it was the first time that we had dared to venture so far away since the incident of the stroke. That trip meant so much to us and our family’s outpouring of love only made it all the better. It reminded us that we have never been alone and that we will be fine no matter what the future brings.

Simba the lion cub thought that all was lost when his father died. He saw his world coming to an end. He ran away from the reality of his situation and experienced the deep hopelessness that sometimes creeps into our lives. His world fell apart and he felt as though there would never again be a way of controlling it. He found small comfort in the generosity of strangers who ultimately became his friends and taught him lessons in taking what the world offers one day at a time. In the process of providing for one another the unlikely friends all changed for the better, so much so that Simba began to realize that his situation had not been as dire as he had imagined. He embraced love and his own destiny, and then found his way back home. In the end he understood that he was never truly alone in his battles and never would be. He also realized that as we travel in the circle of life we have to learn how to deal with both the good and the bad.

While 2017 might be viewed as a terrible year in so many ways, it has also been a year of discovery. Somehow when life appears to be at its worst, that is the very moment when we have the opportunity to see the best of our blessings. This year has taught me to love more deeply and to set my worries aside as much as possible. The future will unfold with or without us, and it will up to each of us to decide how we will accept its challenges and its blessings. If we open our eyes and our hearts we will surely know that the spirit of all of the people who have loved us lives forever inside our souls. We will be lions. We will be kings.    

Satisfaction

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Last year my high school Class of 1966 had its fiftieth reunion. It was fun seeing people who had dropped out of my life for so long. Since then I’ve tried to stay in touch with many of them via Facebook and the occasional lunches and such that our class leaders schedule. I’ve attended a few funerals as well where I have encountered the most faithful among us. Mostly those sad occasions have been for the parents of my school pals, but now and again we gather for one of our own. I have written blogs about many of those people in an effort to honor their memories and to thank them for the impact they had on my life. It’s particularly sad to see peers losing battles with disease. It is a reminder that all of us are headed in one direction, so we need to be certain that we are getting the most out of life while we have the opportunity.

Last week we received notification that yet another among us is now gone. Harry Butler did not attend our reunion which was rather in keeping with his general personality, but I often thought of him even though I never saw him again after our graduation day. Harry was in the same honors class in which I was. Since the school chose to send us from class to class as a group we were rather constant companions for four years, but I still didn’t know him as well as some of the others. Nonetheless I was fascinated with Harry because he was one of those individuals who insisted on marching to his own drumbeat. There was always something quite interesting about him. I always believed that he would have an exciting life.

It did not take long for all of us to realize that Harry was a gifted writer with an imagination and wit that was intriguing. As someone who longed to be a journalist or a story teller I watched Harry with great interest because I believed that I would learn much from him. It became sadly apparent to me that I would never be able to equal his talent. He had a way with words that set him apart from those of us who labored away at composing. He was an artist who painted stunning pictures with his sentences and paragraphs. He was able to make us all howl with uncontrollable laughter with his essays and newspaper articles. When he created much of the script for our annual Junior/Senior banquet one year the whole class saw how remarkable he truly was.

Harry went to St. Thomas University in Houston, Texas after graduation form high school and majored in English. I lost track of him except through friends who would encounter him from time to time. I learned that he eventually went to Los Angeles to try his hand at screenwriting. I heard rumors that he had actually done well out there and I often found myself scanning film and television credits to see if his name popped up. I really did expect to see him at an awards ceremony one day because I felt that he was that good at his craft. Of course I never saw such a thing but I never really forgot about him. When I traveled to that part of the country I found myself wondering where he lived and how he was doing. I tried to imagine whether or not he had worked with famous people and what scripts he may have created.

I learned from his obituary that he had been sick since January of this year. He had developed an infection of unknown origin that caused an embolism in his brain. This is how he died and it made me so very sad because he possessed a truly remarkable brain. I hoped and prayed that his final days and weeks had not been too painful and that he had been able to read the books that he always enjoyed and listen to the music that enchanted him.

Harry’s father had been a record distributor when we were in high school. Because of that Harry always seemed to have advance knowledge of what new music would be coming our way. He enjoyed regaling us with his insider information and I delighted in being privy to it.. Harry was a character in every sense of the word and his musical insights only added to an air of mystery that always seemed to surround him.

Harry was an exceptional debater, another talent of which I was a tiny bit jealous because Lord knows that I tried so very hard to master that skill. No matter how hard I worked at it I was unable to come close to being as exceptional as he was. Harry was quite simply one of those people who thought on his feet and was able to come up with just the right retorts at just the right moments. He and his debate partner and friend had quite a run as superstars. I often thought that he might become a lawyer but I suspect that such a career was just a bit too tame for him. Harry was out of the ordinary and we all seemed to sense that.

I learned that Harry spent his work life in Los Angeles but returned to Texas after he retired. He chose to settle in Galveston where he loved reading and listening to music. He brought a former ballerina with them and the two of them enjoyed a quiet life near the sea. Even in his final days Harry managed to seem a bit exotic and to have done things on his own terms.

It’s amazing how we never quite forget the people with whom we spend our teenage years. I regret that I never really got to know Harry just a bit better or to tell him how much I admired him. I suspect that I was too much in awe of his remarkable talent in areas in which I so wanted to succeed in my own right. It was as though I saw myself as little more than a hack whenever I compared my abilities with his. Eventually I found the confidence that I had lacked back then and realized that Harry and I had very different styles. I became content to have watched him from afar and to know that maybe just maybe he had found some magic out in Hollywood. At least I certainly hope that is true. I’d like to believe that he lived the kind of life of which he had dreamed so long ago.

Harry’s death signals the passing of another extraordinary member of our class. I feel confident that he is now resting in peace with the angels and cracking them up with his razor sharp sense of humor just as he shared his gift with us so long ago. I remember a time when he proclaimed that the Rolling Stones were the best rock group ever. I argued with him at the time and lost of course, but I always thought of him over the years as that group became my favorite as well. Upon hearing of his death I heard the strains of Satisfaction in my brain and thought of his grin and sarcastic humor that always made us laugh. Thank you, Harry, for some really good times.

Never Let Go

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So much has been said about the examples of heroism and unconditional love that were exhibited in Houston, Texas both during and in the aftermath of hurricane Harvey. Suddenly the entire world is beginning to understand what it is that we love about this place that is as flat as a pancake, a perfect breeding ground for mosquitos, and has very little in the way of scenic views other than a downtown skyline that is quite beautiful on an autumn day. For years I have tried to explain our town to those who have never been here, and I suppose that I never truly made my point that this city is all about people. The view of who we are has suddenly changed as Houston has become the symbol of what is right with the human spirit.

Sure we have some basic problems with flood control and such, but what the attraction to Houston comes down to, is to be found in the generosity and determination of its citizens. As I travel from place to place I see so many wondrous sights and I find that the people that I encounter are generally welcoming, but nowhere do I feel as accepted for who I am than right here where I live. I always find myself feeling a sense of relief whenever I reenter the city limits. The outpouring of courage and unity and pure love that we have witnessed in the past few weeks has proven my lifetime contention that there are many great places to visit, but Houston is one of the best places to live.

I’d like to think that if any real good comes from this disaster that has so horrifically impacted so many in Houston, it will be the reminder that when all is said and done we are all brothers and sisters aiming for the same comfort and security in life. In the middle of the night during a storm when floodwaters forced a family onto the roof of their house the background of the savior who drove up in a boat to retrieve them from danger mattered not a wit. The reactions that we have when we don’t have time to think are often the purest and most perfect. The reality is that nobody who endured the terrifying days when fifty one inches of rain filled our streets even thought to consider differences. We were all just human beings lashed together in an horrific situation. Our only goal was to survive and to help others to make it to safety with us.

I suppose that politics raged on as usual during those days, but we weren’t even aware of the day or the time much less who was arguing with whom. My neighborhood received a bit more than forty three inches of rain. My only worry was whether or not the drainage system for my street would continue to operate. I silently prayed that my husband would not have another stroke because I suspected that we would not be able to reach the hospital that is only five minutes away if he did. I constantly checked to be certain that my neighbors, family members and friends were okay. When I heard of people who had flood waters entering their homes I was not able to rest until I knew that they had reached a safe and secure refuge. Mine was a scene that was taking place a million times over throughout the area, and we were all hoping for the best for one another. 

I’m not known as a fan of Donald Trump, but I was happy when he came to survey the damage and worked to speed the funding for the recovery of our city. He seemed sincere in his concern, and somehow my animosity toward him didn’t feel appropriate given the situation in which we found ourselves. I am thankful that he seems to understand our plight and that he is willing to do something about it. I have no criticism of his willingness to help.

I have been moved to tears by the outpouring of love from all parts of the country and the world. Our brothers and sisters in Louisiana were some of the first to render aide. The people of New York City understood our pain. Again and again I have heard of volunteers from Israel, Saudi Arabia and countries that may not have heretofore even thought of Houston, Texas. It has been simply amazing to me how wonderful we humans truly are and my faith in mankind has been bolstered.

I watched the Hand in Hand telethon earlier this week and when I saw the genuine concern of the arts community hoping to help us in some way I found myself shedding tears once again. There was Oprah Winfrey manning a telephone line. Tom Hanks and George Clooney and Leo DiCaprio  were there to help the people of my city. Usher and Blake Shelton sang so beautifully. Matthew McConaughey spoke eloquently of the road forward for the citizens of our city. Dennis Quaid wore his Bellaire High School shirt. George Strait led some of the best country artists in a beautiful rendition of Texas. I don’t think that I will ever again see any of the many people who gathered together for this cause without wanting to hug them in thanksgiving. They became as one with my city and they earned the key to my heart.

Beyonce, a native Houstonian, said it best when she noted that we have seen far too much violence and hatred of late. Houston has shown the world that love still exists. Houston has demonstrated that race and politics and social standing don’t matter as much as a willingness to stand toe to toe with one another in an hour of need. In our darkest and most frightening days it was the best of humanity that rose to the occasion. Let us pray that we will not let go of that ideal now that it has come to the fore. We need to join hands all across the world and never again let go.

  

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.