Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Delicious Ambiguity

"I wanted a perfect ending. Now I've learned, the hard way, that some poems don't rhyme, and some stories don't have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what's going to happen next. Delicious Ambiguity."

- Gilda Radner

Circle Limit - M.C. Escher

What an amazing way to look at the changes presented to us in our lives. To think that Gilda was able to articulate this idea so beautifully as she was immersed so suddenly and deeply into the treacherous waters of cancer is a testament to her shining soul.

Sometimes welcome, sometimes despised, Change comes. It can stalk us for days or weeks, or it can assault us suddenly. It may be heralded by great joy, or preceded by angry tears.  Still, it comes, uncaring and even completely unaware of our personal needs or desires.

Change comes. We cannot control it, we cannot avoid it. We can only hope to experience each moment as a sort of delicious ambiguity.

Our beautiful Young Man will soon be released from his tethers to this world. This is the most unwelcome of changes to all of us who love him so dearly. The only ambiguity is in knowing how truly delicious it will be for him to breathe free for eternity.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Memorial Day 2011

"What a cruel thing is war: to separate and destroy families and friends, and mar the purest joys and happiness God has granted us in this world; to fill our hearts with hatred instead of love for our neighbors, and to devastate the fair face of this beautiful world."
 - Robert E. Lee, letter to his wife, 1864

Red Poppy - Georgia O'Keeffe, 1927
Oil on canvas, private collection

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders Fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,

That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly

Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,

Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw

The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die

We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, MD (1872-1918)
Canadian Army

Granary Burial Ground, Boston, Massachusetts

Friday, May 27, 2011

The B-List

"The year's at the Spring
And day's at the morn;
Morning's at seven;
The hillside's dew-pearled;
The lark's on the wing;
The snail's on the thorn:
God's in his Heaven -
All's right with the world!"

- Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Portrait Study - William Adolphe Bouguereau, 1898

Some days, serendipity takes over and I don't try to fight it. I woke this morning and took a look at the "to do" list I jotted down last night before I went to bed, giggled, and thought, "why not?"

Are you a list-maker? I sometimes wonder what my brain would do if left to its own devices. I suppose it's more of a security blanket to me these days, but it's a habit I began in the stressful days of early motherhood, and it has served me well. Why mess with success, right?

Here's the list, as it lay on the antique washstand by my bed:

-- Blog (Birds' Battle of the Bands?)

-- Barnes ICU (Barrett-Browning for Josh)

-- Beauty Brands (brow gel)

-- Barbeque for Mon. (Brisket, beans, and potato salad. Need buns)

Well, I supoose I'll save the bird post for another day (though they have been deliriously happy lately), but the rest of the activities are still on.

My husband took me out to our favorite Mexican restaurant last night, and I enjoyed a fabulous margarita with my meal. I wonder if that had anything to do with my B-List?

I hope you enjoy a bit of serendipity in your day today!

Of course, I had to choose one of the "Three Great B's" for today's music (Bach, Brahms, & Beethoven), and I went directly to Brahms' "Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 77," 1st Movement. This beautiful rendition is from violinist Henryk Szeryng and was filmed at the ORTF, Paris, December 1962 with conductor Paul Paray and the  Orchestre de la Société des Concerts du Conservatorie.

Short blog post = long music post, I guess. At around twenty-two minutes, you may want to allow it to play in the background as you work, but if you have the time, you will certainly enjoy observing Szeryng inhabit his instrument and his music. His posture, confidence, and assurance are equaled only by his stamina in this demanding movement.

Oh, one last thing...I'm sorry for the video quality. It's a BIT BLURRY.  Enjoy!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Tango of Spring

"Life is like Tango...sad, sensual, sexy, violent, and quiet."
- Unknown

Red Canna - Georgia O'Keeffe, 1923
Oil on canvas, University of Arizona Art Museum

Spring is such an interesting season. We like to think of spring as a romantic time repleat with blossoming flowers and burgeoning with new life. In my mind's eye I can see the nymphs with flower garlands dancing in the newly verdant meadows and the faerie folk blissfully taking a dip in the pond deep in the woods. Idyllic Spring, right? I suppose the transition from winter to summer takes place peacefully some years, but not this one.

This year, Spring has come upon us with all the fire and passion of a tango. Like the dance, the last few weeks have been a push-me, pull-you season of moments of great beauty interspersed with moments of anguish.

I feel the struggle of the season, and I know others have felt it, too. One dear friend has been posing the question,"What's happening this spring?" in many different ways, deeply feeling the tango of this spring in her soul.  Another friend, an artist, has found himself nearly obsessed with a painting he's working on of....what else? The Tango.  Talk about feeling the dance.

I love passion. I'm in awe of Mother Nature. I adore watching good dancers, and Mother Nature is one of the best.

But really, can we have a nice waltz now?

I wish you a beautiful spring day today.

The four seasons have been the topic of many composers through the ages. How does one attempt to musically describe spring? Well, Vivaldi held the same romantic notions I hold, and his great work, "The Four Seasons" is timeless.

Unfortunately, his music in no way describes our spring this year. For this fiesty spring, I'm selecting the Argentinian composer, Astor Piazzolla's "Four Seasons of Buenos Aires" - Primavera Portena (Spring). This is performed with all the fiery passion of the season by Peter Wienhardt on Piano, Johannes Brandl on Violin, and Nicolas Altstaedt on Cello. Enjoy!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Glad Game

"Thousands of candles can be lighted from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared."
- Buddha

"Pollyanna" by Eleanor Porter
Things are tough right now. Tough for most of us, terribly tough for some of us, and downright tragic for more than a few.It's easy to get stuck in the quagmire of the sturm and drang of recent events.
Okay, let's face it. It's time to pull out the big guns today. This is a job for Pollyanna.

I always loved Pollyanna. Did you know that the character in the book (I'm not sure it was mentioned in the films) was from the Ozarks? Well, the Ozark Mountains are located well south of my hometown of Kansas City, but I always found it inspiring that a girl from the rural hills of my state could end up on a plantation in New England. So intriguing!
According to the story, Pollyanna's late father was a minister, but he shows signs of being a Buddhist to me. He taught his daughter The Glad Game, how to find something to be glad about in each moment, and how to share that perspective with others.
It's not a big lesson, and doesn't usually involve great mental gymnastics. It's just a little thing, one little thing that might just affect the way we experience our day.
With that little lesson in mind, allow me to share just a few things with you that make me glad right now;
- First of all, I'm planning to meet up soon with a friend I've not seen since sixth grade! We've had a bit of trouble sorting out our crazy schedules, but we will soon spend the day together, and just the thought of that fills me with gladness.
- Secondly, a wonderful blog friend, Cheryl, (or 'Jojo' to her two lovely granddaughters), from JOJO's JOYS has most generously offered to help The Graceful One as she makes her transition to the Atlanta area to begin her new job with The Georgia Ballet. How gracious is that?
We have some arrangements yet to make over the next few weeks, but I certainly hope to see Cheryl, introduce her to my daughter, and share a glass of sweet tea or lemonade.  I also look forward to telling her how glad she's made me feel with her warm, southern hospitality.
- The Graceful One began her career with two wonderful years in the beautiful city of Portland, Maine, and I'll be sad not to visit that charming city, which quickly became my favorite vacation spot...
but wait...this is the Glad Game. Nevermind. The silver lining to the imminent move means that we will be able to spend a few precious weeks with The Graceful One this summer, a treat we rarely get, so I'm very glad for that.
- Something else that makes very excited is coming up in just two weeks. I'm set to reunite with fellow graduates of Ruskin High School for our fortieth...yes, 40th! class reunion! Thanks to the magic of Facebook, I've become reaquainted (and in many cases, finally aquainted) with many friends, and have so much to look forward to that weekend, I can't help but feel glad. 
- Lastly, The Coach and The Fashionista in Las Vegas have gotten an adorable new puppy. I'm receiving regular updates, lots of photos, and I'm sort of hoping they'll love the experience enough to start a real family! (No pressure, Kids.)  Here is a photo of my new 'granddogger' Lily...

                              Awww. What's not to feel glad about?
Today, I hope you share some happiness.
The music choice today makes me feel happy all over. It's Chopin's "Étude Op. 10, No. 5 (Chopin)" or the "Black Key Étude." The entire right hand (and most of the left)is played only on the black keys of the piano. Who would think to compose a piece like that? Well, Chopin, of course!
This is performed by the outstanding Valentina Lisitsa. Watching her happy expression as her fingers fly across the black keys is delightful, and it does, indeed, make me feel glad. Enjoy.

Monday, May 23, 2011

For Joplin

‎"Faith is the bird that feels the light and sings when the dawn is still dark."
- Tagore.

Spring - John-Francois Millet, 1870
Oil on Canvas, Musee D'Orsay, Paris

My message today is for the people of Joplin, Missouri, to be sure, but it's also for anyone at the edge of life-altering experiences. 

It seems so trite to tell those who face profound tragedy to have faith.  How can we have faith in anything when we experience such overwhelming loss? Well, because faith is what will get you through this trauma. 

Have faith. Have faith in your spirit and your will to go on. It is stronger than you know. Have faith in your family, your friends, and your community. You will be amazed at how the people around you will lift you up when you need it most. Most importantly, have faith in the power of love, for God is Love. No one can undo what has been done, but the power of Love will wrap you in a warm embrace, lift you up, and carry you through all that you need to endure. Have faith, friends. Have faith.

This amazing picture was shot by a photographer friend of mine in Springfield, Missouri, just east of Joplin, as the tornado roared through. Thank you, Brannon Estis, for allowing me to share this here at Smiling Heart. This photo may not be reproduced without permission. 

 Edge of Disaster - Digital photo by Brannon Estis
Brannon Estis Photography, copyrighted image

...Nurture strength of spirit 
to shield you in sudden misfortune. 
But do not distress yourself with imaginings. 
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline, 
be gentle with yourself. 
You are a child of the universe, 
no less than the trees and the stars; 
you have a right to be here. 
And whether or not it is clear to you, 
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.
Therefore be at peace with God, 
whatever you conceive Him to be, 
and whatever your labors and aspirations, 
in the noisy confusion of life, 
keep peace in your soul.
With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, 
it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful. 
Strive to be happy.
Excerpt, "Desiderata" Max Ehrmann c.1920

I wish you peace.

May this music bring some measure of comfort to you. It is from Dmitri Shostakovitch's "Five Pieces for Two Violins and Piano." Nikolaj Znaider, Julian Rachlin, Sopie Rachlin perform in 1997 at 
the Tchaikovsky Conservatory of Music in Moscow, Russia.

Many thanks to my friend, Ace, for this beautiful gift of music.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

This Sacred Morning

"I'll tell you how the sun rose a ribbon at a time."
- Emily Dickinson

Sunrise Over the Fields, Ergany - Camille Pissarro, 1891
Drawing-Pastel, Private Collection

Well, as far as I can tell, no one was "raptured" yesterday evening. The seismographs were silent, and the 'end of days' was a bust for a few members of "Family Radio." 

I feel a little sorry for Harold Camping today. It's a glorious morning here in Weldon Spring, but I don't think that Mr. Camping, wherever he is (decidedly on Earth, though), is enjoying the glory of it. 

Predictions regarding the End of Days/End Times/Judgement Day/Rapture have been bandied about since the dawn of time. Mr. Camping was certainly not the first to elevate himself to the position of God's Messenger only to be embarrassed and demoted to Discredited Kook, and he certainly won't be the last. Tsk.

When will people learn?  

As for myself, I'm very glad to be here today. The morning is breaking as I write this, and the lavender ribbons in the sky predict a beautiful day. Be happy, Mr. Camping. We all make mistakes. This is a new day for you, too. The sun is up, it's a sacred day, and you are loved.  

Let us rejoice and be glad in it! 

Sir Edward Elgar must have been a very earnest man. His music is some of the most somber and heavy music ever written. Interestingly, he was capable of great lyricism, too.

I think one of the finest pieces ever written in tribute to morning is  his work, "Chanson de Matin" or Opus 15, No. 2,written in 1899.

This is performed by the Orchestra Da Camera, U.K., and is set to photos and paintings from the Victorian Era. Hmmm...that was right around the time that a certain William Miller was predicting the 'End Times"... enjoy! 


Friday, May 20, 2011

The Twilight Twister, 1957

"Living things have been doing just that for a long, long time. Through every kind of disaster, and setback, and catastrophe. We are survivors."
- Robert Fulghum

Ruskin Heights, Missouri Tornado, May 20, 1957

Today is the 54th Anniversary of the "Twilight Twister" of 1957, an F-5 Tornado that tore a seventy-one mile long swath of death and destruction through several communities in Kansas and Missouri on the evening of May 20, 1957, killing scores and injuring over five hundred. 

Hardest hit of all the communities was Ruskin Heights, my childhood home.

Last year at this time, the ten founders of this Smiling Heart blog made the decision to recount our memories, and in doing so, honor the friends and neighbors who became the storm's victims that awful night. Today, I offer these posts again in the hope that our friends in the southern United States, whose lives have been inundated by floods or uprooted by tornadoes, will receive some measure of comfort from them.

The series of posts began with Reya, my brilliant friend from The Gold Puppy blog. Though her family hadn't yet moved to Ruskin Heights at the time of the tornado, she was deeply affected by the vivid images recalled by others as a young child and newcomer to the neighborhood.  

HERE is her post, titled "Prequel".

The next post was submitted by Rick, who described the fear and bewilderment as a child, huddling with his family in the bathtub of the home to  escape the tornado. 

HERE is his post, titled "My Recollection of May 20, 1957.

The third post was written by Dubby, author of Oats, a novel in blog form. His post contains technical information from the archives of the National Weather Service, and his own gripping personal story of his experience, not only on the night in question, but many years after.  

His post, titled "A View from the Pants Leg" can be read HERE.

As I read Dubby's account of the tornado and a conversation that took place years after, I received a revelation. His story dovetailed perfectly with mine, and provided a small but significant fact that provided an answer to a question I'd long held inside.

My post, titled "My First Memory...For Denise" can be found HERE.

On May 20, 2010, we simply posted THIS titled "In Memoriam" a poignant list of the 30+ victims from the Ruskin Heights neighborhood alone, accompanied by the music of Samuel Barber's "Adagio for Strings".

Possibly the most moving post was submitted by Rick the next day. Rick's father had gone out on the morning of May 21st with his 8mm camera to document the aftermath. Rick took the film, converted it and uploaded it to create this powerful post, titled When We Emerged.

I hope you take the time to read at least a few of these accounts of this fateful day. For many of us, it was our first memory. For all of us, it was a life-changing day.

We emerged from the rubble of the Twilight Twister to rebuild our homes and our businesses. We mourned together and rejoiced together. We were in shock, but we worked together to regain our community, brick by brick and nail by nail .

The children of that night who were as yet too young to attend school will gather together next month to celebrate our fortieth reunion. The memories of the Twilight Twister reside within many of us...it is an undeniable common bond.

But it is not our only common bond. We went on to create other bonds, as well. The bonds of friendship, camaraderie, trust, and affection have proven to be much stronger and more enduring.

Our message today is to those who have suffered from the tornadoes and flooding in the south this spring. Your lives have been changed forever, as many before yours have been, and many yet to come will be. We have been in your shoes and the shoes of your precious children. We know the hard work and sacrifice you face. We are with you in spirit.

Keep Living. You are survivors. Your yesterday may have been filled with darkness, but your tomorrow will be filled with light again. You'll see.

This is a recording of the song "Brick by Brick" by Train. Lyrics are by Amund Bjorklund, Espen Lind, and Pat Monahan. Enjoy.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Heroic

" A hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles." 
- Christopher Reeve

Intervention of the Sabine Women, Jacques-Louis David
Oil on canvas, 1799, The Louvre, Paris, France

Not much time to write this morning, as I'm heading over to the ICU for a visit with Our Young Man.

It occurs to me this morning how heroic the families of those waiting for transplants must be. Today alone, 110,586 people are waiting for an organ transplant. 

They, the hundreds of thousands around the world, are ordinary people, after all. Yet they find the strength to endure and persevere in spite of overwhelming odds. That's heroic in my book.

If you're interested in finding out more about Cystic Fibrosis, please click HERE

If you're interested in finding out more about organ donation, please click HERE.

To these ordinary people displaying extraordinary courage, I salute you today. 

This is the master himself, Vladimir Horowitz, playing Chopin's "Polonaise in A-flat Major, Op. 53".  

It's more often called by it's popular name, "L'Héroïque" or "The Heroic". 

Listen and enjoy. ♥

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Limbo of Things

"Dreams are excursions into the limbo of things, a semi-deliverance from the human prison."
- Henri Amiel

The Dream of Solomon, Luca Giordano, Oil on canvas, 1693
Museo del Prado, Madrid, Spain

Limbo: [14th century. < Latin, "on the border (of hell)," form of limbus "border, edge:]   
in limbo - in a state of uncertainty or of being kept waiting.

That pretty much defines the situation today. Everyone is on 'the border of hell' and in a state of uncertainty. None of us, though, can know what is going on in the heart, mind, and soul of our young patient.

What is happening during this medicated coma?  Is he feeling his mother stroke his foot? Does he hear his wife tell him he's loved? Does he know how many people are praying for his recovery?

A very dear friend told me she thinks some heavy negotiations are going on right now between him and the Divine. I'm inclined to agree.  

To my mind, it might be something like the painting above by Giardano. He depicts Solomon, surrounded by spirits and angels, the seraphim and the cherubim, God speaking to him without words, saying to him, "Ask me for whatever you want me to give you." (I KINGS 3:5-15)

And now, anyone who knows the young man lying in a coma right now also knows how funny that image would be to him. He may look as if he's slumbering peacefully, but if our young man is in any sort of discussion with the Divine, I'm guessing he's more than a little testy right now.  In fact, it's probably more like an angry debate between two adversaries.

I can hear him now.

"Are you crazy? I just got married a few days ago. I have a beautiful wife and great parents and stepmother and brother and a nephew I've never even held yet, not to mention a hundred other loving friends and relatives who want me here...I demand to know the meaning of this!"

The truth is, our young man is a little irreverent. That image is fine with me, too. I do hope he and the Divine can come to some sort of agreement soon.  And if there is some meaning to this experience, may it reveal itself soon, too. Please. 

Because for his family, this limbo is...well, like waiting at the edge of hell. 


As I thought about the music selection for today, it came to me that the 'negotiations' going on day and night might be something like the legend of Scheherezade, the Arabian bride who kept her king distracted by telling a story each night for 1,001 nights, thereby saving her life.

This is Rimsky-Korsakov's 5th movement of "Scheherezade" with Sergey Levitin conducting the Kirov Orchestra. 

I should make it clear that I imagine the cymbal clashing and thunderous roars coming, not from The Divine, but from our young man.

The lyrical strains of the violin and strings seem to be The Divine offering comfort and peace to him...come what may.

Let the debate begin...  

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Exquisite Hour

"When we have done our best, we should wait the result in peace."
- Sir John Lubbock

Woman in White, Pablo Picasso, 1923
Oil, water-based paint, and crayon on canvas
Estate of Pablo Picasso

My family is in a waiting period right now.  At this moment, we do not even know the path that we must travel, but either path will be difficult. 

A precious young life hangs in the balance, awaiting the miracle of a double lung transplant. Time is of the essence, and yet we know we cannot pray for tragedy to befall another family.

My heart aches for this young man, his wife, his mother and father, and his brother. No one should have to endure this pain. 

We can only pray for strength to endure either path. 

A gift arrived today from a dear friend, Tess, the brilliant poet from
 Life at Willow Manor
and with her permission, I share it with you. Thank you, Tess. 

It's not the magic of a simple answer to the unbearable question, "What will happen?" but serves as a peace-giving interlude while we wait for the path to unfold before us...as we await the exquisite hour.

This is soprano Susan Graham performing" Reynaldo Hahn's "L'Heure exquise". This composition is set to the poetry of Paul Verlaine, who reportedly wept when he heard it first. Pianist Roger Vignoles provides the accompaniment.

This composition is lambent with peace and hope...something precious and rare in hospital waiting rooms around the world. 

I dedicate this to all those who wait today. 

Translation of text:
The white moon
Shines in the woods;
Each branch
Share one vote
Under the arbor ...
O beloved.

The pond reflects,
Deep mirror
Black Willow
Where the wind cries ...
Dream, it's time.

A vast and tender
Seems to descend
The firmament
Iridescent as the moon ...
It is the exquisite hour.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Seeking Acceptance

"Earth teach me to forget myself as melted snow forgets its life.
Earth teach me resignation as the leaves which die in the fall.
Earth teach me courage as the tree which stands all alone.
Earth teach me regeneration as the seed which rises in the spring. "
-  William Alexander

Surrey Pines,  Benjamin William Leader
Oil on canvas, 1905, private collection

Listening to friends and family recently has added an interesting and beautiful new thread running through my tapestry of life lately. Sometimes the shining color of hope for a new beginning, and sometimes the more softly burnished glow of remembering better times, the thread, nevertheless, glows with significance.

It seems to be all about acceptance lately.

How do we learn acceptance? Maybe I should back up and ask it this way...do we learn acceptance? Is it a skill that we can develop, or is it a gift from Heaven bestowed upon us?

I'm not being rhetorical here. What do you think? 

I think I was born with the ability to accept my circumstances. From my earliest memories, I could accept almost everything that came my way; gifts, rules, boundaries, limitations, or consequences, without question, and was certainly one of the most compliant children ever born (except for that infamous little "orange peel incident" which we'll just leave alone for now). I'd say my parents had to have felt mighty lucky parenting me, except that My Twin had to have been one of the most rebellious children ever born, so I guess we sort of cancelled each other out in the Lucky Parents category.

I've experienced many things in my life that I have dearly wished could be different, but I've spent precious little energy railing against them or the world or the heavens or the people around me. I just never saw the point to that. 

So...how did it happen?  Was I the recipient of this gift via DNA, or God's hand, or mere luck, or did I , through witnessing My Twin's frustration upon lashing out at every injustice, learn the attitude of acceptance?

[Is there an inherent value in possessing an attitude of acceptance? My Twin became a physician, fighting illness, injury, and disease with every fiber of her being. She is respected and loved by her patients and colleagues alike, and I can see that her resistance to accepting the status quo may have had a good deal to do with that.]

The truth of it is that we all must at times accept things we don't like. The question becomes, then, can we accept them with grace, if not appreciation? What is to be gained by our circumstance? Wisdom? Strength? Character? Maybe a deeper appreciation of those around us? Could it simply be an exercise in self discipline?

If we can see ahead to what we might gain from any given situation, I'm convinced we can accept it with grace. Everything, from profound issues like the serious illness or death of a loved one, to the the more mundane, like issues relating to our careers, to the more philosophical questions of why people come into and out of our lives, why we love whom we love, and what we do with that love, all contain the gift of a lesson. 

If we can see the gift of the lesson, we may be able to accept our circumstance with grace. It can be a comforting consolation to accept it in peace. We may, someday, even be able to say, "Thank you" for it.

Today I wish you the blessing of seeing the gift in your circumstance.

Who doesn't appreciate being consoled during tough times? Franz Liszt understood. During the latter part of his life, he turned his thoughts to more devout pursuits, and his compositions reflected that. In 1850, his sixteen works of "Consolations" was published, and it's a body of work of great lyricism and peace. Each one is a special devotion to consolation, but my favorite is "Consolation No. 3 in D flat Major." 

This performance was a revelation to me. In terms of sound quality, performance, and even down to the respectfully quiet audience (which can sometimes ruin a recording with coughing and the like), this one by Sunghee Lee Hinners in 2009 beats them all.

I hope you hear in this piece what I hear, the wonderful consolation found in acceptance. Enjoy.