Saturday, July 25, 2015

Inch Seventy-Three: Seeing the Forest For The Trees

There is the saying about not seeing the forest for the trees. Friday I smacked right up against it.

Out grocery shopping on a bright day (a rarity in this summer of rains), I turned into the parking lot of the second store, knowing I had eggs in the car from the first, knowing I only needed a few things from the second, and hoping for a scrap of shade somewhere in the vast expanses of asphalt.

There was a small island, with small trees, on a far side of the lot, and I saw a sliver of shade touching the forward slot of two.  Fixating on that, I drove over quickly and parked with a sliver of shade just reaching into the front seat of my car. Victory!

As I exited the car, I glanced at the slot behind me. The other tree in the island was shading a sizable portion of that parking space. I had not even noticed it in my haste to find shade, instead zeroing in on the first spot I saw. I jumped back in my car, put it in reverse, and moved the car into the more generous shade.

As I walked into the store, I thought of the adage about the forest and the trees. I thought about the opening of Dante's Inferno: "Midway upon the journey of our life I found myself within a forest dark, For the straightforward pathway had been lost." And I thought of that scene in The Hobbit when Bilbo and the dwarves are walking through Mirkwood, a seemingly endless and dark forest. Bilbo is sent to the top of a tree to see if he can spy the end of the woods. He does not realize, when he looks out over the treetops and sees nothing but trees in all direction, that they are in a natural bowl and it is something of an optical illusion. Disheartened, he reports back that the trees and the forest go on forever.

Unlike Dante, unlike Bilbo and company, I am not lost and wandering. And I was able to see the forest for the trees, after I stopped looking at the trees.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Inch Seventy-Two: Whistling

I heard a sound this morning, early, that is so rarely heard anymore that I had to listen for a few seconds before placing it.

It was someone whistling.

In searching for the source, I soon saw and heard a tradesman across the street, working on the neighbor's driveway, whistling while he carried his brushes and buckets up and down the driveway. 

We are always surrounded by sound here. There are the birds, of course. The cicadas are back for the summer and today being a warmer day than we have had as of late, they set up their chatter early. There is street traffic and the occasional hum (more audible at night) of the nearby highway. If there is a light breeze, as there is while I type this, wind chimes start sounding. But there is never anyone whistling.

This guy sounded as if he were whistling for the pleasure of the sound. Or the pleasure of the morning. Or perhaps both.

Where did whistling go? It is rare (unheard of) that I hear anyone whistling anymore just for the heck of it.  Is it because so many are plugged into their iPods or other devices that whistling has fallen by the wayside? Have people forgotten how to whistle? 

Jo March famously "sat up, put her hands in her pockets, and began to whistle" just to annoy Amy in the opening chapter of Little Women. The Little House books are full of whistling: Pa whistles constantly, Laura whistles and even sings a song about whistling to Almanzo when they are courting. And I believe it is somewhere in that same canon that I came across the saying that "a whistling girl and a crowing hen always come to some bad end." 

As of late, I have been piecing my days together, more crazy quilt than carefully crafted pattern. Today is stitched together with whistling.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Inch Seventy-One: Days of Gold

During the weeks of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, my morning routine was to wake up, turn on the computer, pull up the New York Times, and weep.

Lately it has been deja vu all over again. While some of the tears are good (the announcement of the Obergefell decision, for example), many have been in sorrow and anguish at more sobering events, especially the murders in the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopalian Church by a white racist terrorist. I have been appalled by the reactions to the shooting, which are not the actions of a mad man, but the actions of a domestic terrorist. I have suffered through tortured explanations of mental illness and calls for gun control, but have heard few honest discussions of racism and racial hatred. (I swear, if Hitler were around today, there would be an ongoing debate of mental illness and whether he should be allowed access to Zyklon B, and no honest discussion of the fact that he and his nation murdered eleven million people, six million of them solely because they hated Jews.)

As I listened to the discussions spin this way and that way about the Confederate flag at the South Carolina statehouse, I was not sure which way the decision would go. I have heard cries of free speech, I have heard cries of Southern (white) heritage, I have heard a lot of racist cant wrapped in the First Amendment and the American flag. (And lest I be tarred with the "you don't get it" brush, let me point out that during the Civil War, my father's family, which was in the border state of Kentucky, fought on both sides. His paternal line fought for the Union and wore blue, his maternal line, who may have been slaveowners, wore gray and fought for the Confederacy. So yes, I do "get" it.)

Since yesterday, the tears have been in admiration and gratitude for South Carolina Representative Jenny Horne:

I have listened to this speech six or more times and have cried each time.

This morning I had a liver biopsy to check scarring on my liver before starting a new type of chemotherapy. After coming home and sleeping for several hours, I awoke to see this:

I started crying seven minutes into the video, when the state troopers came out to lower the flag. But it was at nine minutes and ten seconds, when the flag is finally lowered, that the tears came in earnest.

There are times I despair of the polarization and deep divides in this nation of ours. There are times when I weep thinking we are going backwards in time to an uglier era. There are times when I feel we will splinter into little tiny mini-states, each with our own dearly cherished beliefs, each with its own supreme confidence that its viewpoint and its viewpoint alone is the only right position, which frees all of us from the hard work of listening thoughtfully and carefully to different points of view.

And then there are days of gold, in which a woman like Jenny Horne speaks from her heart, no matter how much her voice shakes, and I am encouraged to go on.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Inch Seventy: The 4th of July

The 4th of July, one of my favorite holidays, is upon us again. Tomorrow afternoon we will be setting the stage for the evening's concert; tomorrow night will be the 30th annual concert by the Central Ohio Symphony, followed by fireworks. Thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court's recent ruling in Obergefell et al. v. Hodges, Director, Ohio Dept. of Health et al., I imagine the Star Spangled Banner will sound all the sweeter this year and the fireworks seem all the brighter. 

In 1776, shortly after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, John Adams wrote to his wife Abigail about the momentous occasion:

I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.

Being married to the Symphony, I tend to see the local fireworks over the tops of buildings as a number of us labor away after the concert to strike the stage. It is fun but it is not the same as sitting out on the road or in the flat practice fields, staring up at the sky.

Never mind. This year I have fireworks close at hand, in the vegetable garden that never became a vegetable garden. They do not pop and boom, but they do hum with bees. And in their colors are the colors that will light the night tomorrow evening.


"Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more." 

And flowers.