Tuesday, April 26, 2016

On the Street Where You Live

Yesterday in my physical therapy session, I realized I had healed from the sprained ankle that occurred a couple of weeks ago and had set me back. Yesterday the pain was much less, I was able to balance on the injured foot (the same one that had the surgery), and my walking was much more even than it had been since the sprain.

So this morning, for the first time since December, I decided to get up and go for a walk, the way I had begun so many mornings before having that surgery done.

Usually I walk in the park, but this morning that would have meant moving my husband's car to get mine out. And since I'm just not sure I have the coordination yet to manage the clutch with this foot, I decided to just walk up and down our street.

I felt a little disappointed, because the park is so beautiful, and I miss those morning walks.

But I decided to keep my eyes open and enjoy the beauty of a little city street. And  before long, I found myself taking pictures, because here is what I saw, walking less than a mile up and down my own street.

I wonder if squirrels or fairies swing here? So tiny.

So thankful to live on a street with shade from many large--really large--trees.

From a time when those who laid sidewalks were acknowledged for their work,
and I imagine took more pride in it. Most of the street's sidewalks are still intact.

Plenty of these little guys around.

I wasn't expecting to see the moon.....

....and then looked up and even saw stars.

Moss breaking the stereotype, growing on the east side of the tree.

And in the cracks of the bricks...I just love it.

No place like home.

(And nothing like looking at it from across the street to give you a new perspective.
I had never noticed that silver, crooked pipe thing up there by the chimney!)

"the trees still heartrendingly asparkle"
(read in a poem by C.K. Williams)

They aren't exactly sparkling, but the light coming through
is heartrendingly beautiful when you stand there and feel it....

Childhood helicopter memories!

More stars asparkle.

Beautiful vinca.

And the younger, more intense purple.

And the beautiful sight of my own feet walking, and really not struggling too much with it.

While I still look forward to getting back in the routine of walking in the park, one could hardly wish for a more beautiful first morning walk. So much joy comes with being open and noticing what is all around us, rather than so often wishing for things that are not.

I'm reminded of the line in Thornton Wilder's Our Town--
"Does anyone ever realize life while they live it? Every, every minute?"

And, "Oh, earth, you're too wonderful for anybody to realize you."

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

Violets, the Heart Cure

They decorate our front yard right now like little jewels scattered in the night by some unseen generous giver. Today a storm was on its way, and I came home just before it was supposed to begin raining. The winds were already strong.

All these sweet little violets were out there to face whatever was on its way, and I just wanted to bring some in with me, in case they all got smashed by the rain and whatever branches would fall.

So with the wind pushing against me, and my still-in-recovery foot and ankle protesting slightly, I bent and squatted as I could and picked as many as I could without starting to actually hurt.

Since my surgery, I've been thinking more than usual about how amazingly intricate and wondrous the natural world is. How our bodies are put together and most of the time function so well. How everything is put together--and most of the time functions so well.

And then there are things like flowers. They aren't like feet or toes or ankles, there to do a job and doing it well. Of course they do, I suppose, provide nectar for bees and some kind of nutrients for the soil. According to what I've read, in the medieval period and earlier they were used to treat heart disease.

But they are also just beautiful! Just wonderfully beautiful!

And cute! Who can look at these little things out in the grass and not smile? So sweet, so gentle, so....well, cute. Like "cute as a button" cute. have read that according to legend, Venus and Cupid had a conversation that went bad and resulted in Venus flying into a rage and beating her rivals for beauty until they turned blue...and turned into violets. Horrible story!

I much prefer the story that has come down, that these flowers blossomed when Mary said to the angel Gabriel, "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord," and so they have been called, "Our Lady's Modesty" by those familiar with this story.

They remind me of childhood, and I read that they tend to be associated with childhood and innocence, and in some places and times the graves of children who died were covered in violets. It makes sense. They seem capable of comforting a broken heart and beautifying a great sorrow.

They make me think of the little song we sang when I was little, and that many of my piano students have played, "Lavender blue, dilly dilly...." even though it's about lavender, not violets. They make me wonder if children today learn all those little folk songs we learned, that are so connected to flowers and trees and birds and nature? When children spend the vast majority of their time inside, can they continue to sing such songs?

They make me think "This is my Father's world..."
"He shines in all that's fair....In the rustling grass I hear him pass..." 
And so these little tiny violets serve as a reminder that "though the wrong seems oft so strong,
God is the ruler yet."

I realize that many people do not look at violets and feel reassured that the world is ultimately in good hands. But I do. It has to do with the connection between truth, beauty, and goodness,
and I don't believe I can explain it in a quick blog post in which I really just wanted to say,
Look at these! Just look at these beautiful little flowers,
flowers that we did nothing to deserve.
They just spring up, year after year, out in the plain old grass that we didn't plant,
that we don't fertilize and hardly ever water. It's just there as a gift,
and they are part of the gift.

They make me realize that there are gifts all around that I don't see because I don't bother to look a little closer, or because I've just gotten used to them and take them for granted.

I think those earlier people had it right, that violets are good for the heart.

I think they had that right.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

San Miniato, Guest Post

I've written another piece for Janet Cupo's blog, "The Three Prayers." If you've read my posts about visits to Italy, you may remember that one of my most beloved places is the Basilica of San Miniato al Monte. Until writing this piece for Janet's blog, though, I knew very little about the story of the saint for whom it is named and about some of the history of the church connected with his story.

It makes for quite interesting reading.

Here are some bonus photos in case you do go read it.

These are parts of the inscription I mention that opened the door to meeting the professor from whom I and my classmates learned so much about the basilica.

In Latin it makes a nice rhyme:
Si cor non orat, in vanum ligua laborat.

And in any language, it makes an important point:
If the heart does not pray, the tongue labors in vain.

I took the photo below because it reminded me of the scene in the movie Room with a View, not long before Lucy faints. And it reminds me now of when Professor Gettings shared with us his research related to the symbols in the church. (You'll have to read over at Janet's blog to know what I'm talking about.)

Many tourists make the long climb up to San Miniato al Monte mainly to see the view of the city below. And as you can see, it is high up and gives a lovely view. But there is so much to be seen and understood within the church itself, views that open doors to even more beautiful things than human artists and architects can ever create.  I hope you'll take time to read it.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Korak po Korak

When I first was in Croatia, even before we married, I think, I heard a singer named Lidija Bajuk on TV singing a song that of course I could not understand, since I didn't speak Croatian. But the refrain always included the words "korak po korak," and I remember asking my newly beloved if that might possibly mean "step by step."

He said yes. And once more I thought how all those puzzles I used to do in the newspaper had paid off. I think they were called cryptograms? All the letters had been assigned a number, and you were trying to figure out a phrase simply by making intelligent guesses based on what you knew about how letters tend to be used in patterns to form words. I'm sure it helped me in learning foreign languages because of the constant pattern recognition that is necessary.

Anyway, today that memory came back to me because I saw my doctor this morning and was told that after six weeks following a surgery, I can (and should) begin walking again.

For six weeks I have mostly lain on a couch, keeping my foot, and usually its companion, up above heart level, to prevent or decrease swelling and to help it heal. I have leaned heavily on the generous heart and strong body of my husband, and we have been immensely grateful for the support of friends with prayer, words of encouragement, meals, visits, and other ways of helping out. But the time has come that walking is what this needs to further heal. And it's what I need to live the life I normally live, which was the whole point of the surgery.

So today I took my first very tentative, very strange steps. I have to wear this surgical boot that reminds me of the stormtroopers from Star Wars. Said boot is about two inches higher than the very, very low-heeled shoes I normally wear, so each pair of steps was almost comical because of the lopsidedness. (I'll be calling the doctor about that. I don't want to develop a spine problem from lopsided walking for another month and a half.....!)

I think in my naive mind when I first scheduled this surgery, I imagined that when the day came that the doctor said I could walk, I would just be able to walk. I hadn't thought about what six weeks of not walking would do to the muscles and joints and even the part of my brain that has since toddler years just known that I could walk and how to do it.

I hadn't thought that my foot would still be bruised at this point, that the incisions would still show and be sensitive. Or that one of the major nerves in my foot would still be experiencing strange effects that sometimes resemble pain.

That's why I decided to take those first steps with the walker you see in the photos. Just to be smart, just in case I needed it.

So I thought I would just be walking to an event I've been looking forward to tonight. John Michael Talbot is coming here to teach and sing. I'm very much excited about it. I had really hoped to simply be walking, even if slowly. Now I'm wondering if I should just go with the scooter thing I've been using. I hate calling attention to myself and can't decide which is worse--to be on that thing, or to walk with a hobble and possibly "give out."

The truth is, either way I have to wear a stormtrooper boot, so I'm not exactly going to blend in, no matter what....

I'm not sure what I'll do. But it's an exciting day. And it was really neat when I took these steps and sent the pictures to my  husband, that he texted back, "One step at a time." Which is basically what "korak po korak" means.

I remember over 25 years ago when we saw her on TV, I said something like, "She seems like a lovely person. I'd love to meet her." And he told me she is from his hometown, she is his age, she is a real person that people do meet and know, even though that night she was on TV and by that time was living in Zagreb, the capital, where we moved shortly after we married. We didn't know at that moment that a war was going to start and change everything. And we thought perhaps we would connect with her.

So today when I'm not thinking about walking or the other things I have to think about today, I'm thinking about Lidija Bajuk and wondering if somehow, someday, I may still be able to meet her and tell her  how beautiful I think her voice is and that I love the simple way she plays guitar and sings. And that she has worked to keep poetry and folk stories alive. That I love how her videos feature nature and its beauty.

Maybe I should write her a letter?

Send her a link to this blog post?

I don't know. Step by step. Korak po korak. First I need to be able to walk to my desk if I want to write a real letter. And walk to the mailbox to mail it.

Meanwhile, you can listen to her music and see scenes of Croatian nature here.

And here is a song she wrote about the river that runs close to the town where I first heard of her, with pictures of it, also.

Now I'll go practice walking some more.....(and any typos are surely due to residual pain medication effects....)

Friday, January 22, 2016

All Creatures of Our God and King

It snowed here last night. Because I'm recovering from foot surgery, I won't be going out in it, and there really isn't enough to make me want to take pictures through the windows. But it brought me to my blog, nonetheless.

While I don't intend for my blog to be primarily a record of deaths, it seems that in this period of limited time and energy for writing, deaths and anniversaries of deaths are what have brought me here to write more than anything.

Of course that is because the lives of those who have died are so beautiful and are so much a part of my life that it doesn't seem right not to remember and celebrate them.

I haven't written about it yet here, but our sweet dog Paolo died on December 4. We never knew his exact age, but based on what we knew, we think he was nearly 17 years old. He had been with us since October, 2000.

I hope to write more later about him, his life and his death. Especially after thinking so much about St. Francis in order to write the previous post, he who is known for his love of all God's creatures, it would not seem right not to write about the little doggie who has been my companion and friend since before I had even considered having a blog.

For now I share simply that he is buried under the tree in the photo, at the home of some dear friends, where the concrete planters are standing guard over him until spring.

And that Wednesday I received this photo along with the following message:  "Thinking of you. Beautiful blanket of snow over Paolo's resting place. Kids keeping him company today as they sled in this teeny snow."

Everything about this says "Alleluia!" The sweetness of this dog, the loving kindness of these friends, the peaceful beauty of this hillside and its trees, the quiet beauty of snow, the joy of children sledding.

Be praised, my Lord, through all your creatures.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Friendship with Francis

Recently I was invited to write for a series on The Three Prayers, the blog of a friend of mine. She is inviting guest writers to write about saints of the Roman Catholic Church, or about the influence those people have had on the lives of the authors.

My post falls into that second category. It's not so much about the life of Francis as it is about how the life of Francis of Assisi has been a blessing in my own life, and you are welcome to read it over on Janet's blog.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Numbering Our Days

Teach us to number our days,
that we may get a heart of wisdom.

~Psalm 90:12

Today is the birthday of Neva Jane White, the piano teacher I've written about before. It's hard to let it go by without at least a quick sharing of a couple of memories that came to me this morning.

This is a piece I learned in my first year with her.

She was the first teacher, as I recall, that had me write numbers in each measure. It made so much sense, because once I got out of the teaching method books, measure numbers weren't marked in any way. I don't remember if an earlier teacher had marked them herself or if we just referred to "the top line on the secong page, that third measure there....."

I just remember that Mrs. White had me write in the numbers of every new piece I got, and although it took me some time at the begining, it saved a lot of time as we worked on the piece.

Obviously, measure seven here needed a little help with the left-hand fingering.

Thinking about measure numbers today made me think about the verse written above, from the psalms. Some versions actually say "teach us to measure our days," though it seems most say "number." Either way, it connected to the idea of numbering my measures.

And I just love this warning she put on the top of page three (photo below). It comes after two pages of essentially the same rhythms played out in many different harmonic combinations, then a measure of four quintuplets leading up to this completely different section with new rhythm patterns, new harmonies, a new pedaling pattern--essentially, a big change in the piece where new energy comes in and the sound brightens, leading to a climax about halfway down the page.

And here, I had a tendency to rush. Of course! All that newness, so many things to think about, and knowing that even bigger stuff lay just ahead. Adrenalin was probably building in my brain and body, if we could have measured it. I'm sure the measure of quintuplets had a way of distracting me from the original tempo, too.

So, "don't rush." I've found it's excellent advice for just about every new situation in life.

Because whether you rush or not, you are going to get to the end. (I laughed when I saw I had put an exclamation point after that 50--down in the next photo. Maybe this was the first piece she ever had me write measure numbers in?)

Self-control is highly underrated, it seems, in the society I see and hear all around me. One of the many things playing and singing music has done for me, is that is simply taught me self-control. I was a child who always loved to play piano, so I don't have the kinds of stories some would about being forced to sit and practice when they wanted to be out playing football. But even though I loved it, it still took self-control to put it before other things I loved when that was needed. And the focus required to stay on task with a new (harder) piece, rather than just playing anything and everything, took self-control. Everything about it took, and takes, self-control.

In a culture that is all about rushing into the next thing, switching focus from one distraction to another, and "following your passions," I'm thankful for a teacher and an activity that taught me to slow down, to do the same thing over and over, to really think things through (how does this measure fit with the one before it? what tempo can I sustain throughout this entire piece? how will I refrain from my tendency to start this piece too quickly? which of these two fingerings works best for me to get from this section to the next? how do I really want this to sound in the end? etc.)

Mrs. White, in all the years I knew her, never seemed to be in a hurry. Even when she was running behind schedule and putting on her makeup while I was there at her house after a lesson, she was calm and gentle and thoughtful of my presence, not letting her mind rush on to the next thing and allowing the future to take over the present.

I want to live that way. There are wonderful measures like the one below, with fortissimos and sforzandos, and they can be wonderfully passionate and exciting. But they lose their meaning without the careful tempos and fingerings that get you to that point. And if the whole piece is played fast and loud, then this kind of ending is meaningless.

The other memory that came to me this morning was when my chorus had begun working on Lauridsen's "Lux Aeterna." I took a recording of it to her house, along with the score. Just before I hit "play" on her CD player, I said, "I really think you're going to love this."

And in that first very long measure, as a single note began by the strings in octaves so far apart, barely, barely hear-able, just going on and on, she said,  very quietly and gently, "I already do."

She knew how to number measures, how to make and hear beautiful music, and she taught me how to number my days. I hope to grow into the heart of wisdom she possessed.

May light eternal shine upon her.