Ah! What a time of year! The first few months of the year are always incredibly busy for me. Work is predictably hectic and coaching basketball is in full swing, so there is precious little time left for doing any new projects around the house or to play much online. This evening however I had some free time on hand, so I thought I might start organizing and thinning out the club room and storage area of our home’s rec level (a nice word for finished basement).
The club room is currently home to my original stereo system, a holdover dating back from my college days along with a fairly large collection of record albums. What memories college and that stereo bring back! Life was definitely simpler, the possessions austere. Furniture motif was “Early Parents”, cobbled together with some thrift store lamps, cinder block bookshelves, and of course, a $1,000 stereo system with dozens of albums. Priorities you know…
Where was I? Oh yes, organizing the club room and storage. I thought to myself, why not put one of those old albums on the old stereo and have some music to listen to while organizing? Just flipping through each album was a fun, nostalgic experience, bringing back memories of when I bought each one, looking at the album art, and feeling the different textures of the album covers. I settled in with one of my old favorites I haven’t listened to in ages: The Beatles – Abbey Road. I fired up the old turntable, flipped on the receiver and put on the vinyl. Man oh man, I forgot how nice that old stereo sounds. I had also forgotten how talented and fantastic the three part harmony was on Because…
With the music playing, my wife peeked in and came downstairs to see what in the world I was doing, which was basically me sitting on the floor and not doing much of anything. I asked her to join me, while I ran upstairs and poured us a few glasses of wine. We both just sat on the floor, and we listened, and we chatted like a couple of college kids back in the day. What a pleasant, nostalgic moment.
No, we didn’t get much work accomplished around the house tonight. Who cares?
Youtube now has the entire album uploaded if you are interested. Here’s hoping you enjoy your evening as well.
I just returned from another visit to Victoria’s blog, whereupon I was intrigued by this week’s Monday Morning Writing Prompt topic of Sacred Music. Last week was quite extraordinary for me, two funerals and a wedding. There was no shortage of Sacred Music to be heard and felt as a result. This particular writing prompt captured my imagination, as I have been surrounded by music all my life, and I easily resonate with its raw beauty and power to transport my mind to another plane.
The word sacred evokes the notion of reverence, devotion, or veneration with regard to a higher order of a religious or spiritual nature. For today’s prompt and reflection that follows, I selected two musical pieces that some may consider to be deeply religious in nature. I am not, however, a particularly religious person although I do consider myself spiritual. These musical pieces are excellent examples of what some call prayer, or others meditation; a conversation of a simple creature seeking and reaching out to some higher order power in a uniquely personal and private moment of serenity, tranquility, and beauty. Inspirational, ethereal, and sublime.
I cannot simply put the musical pieces up without a set-up; I am after all a musical geek. Both pieces are commonly known as the Ave Maria. First is my absolute favorite version, written by Charles Gounod in 1859 as a melody superimposed over J.S. Bach’s Prelude No. 1 in C Major written in 1722. The lyric is the Hail Mary prayer in Latin.
Ave Maria – C. Gounod (1859) sung by Jessye Norman
The second selection, also a personal favorite, is commonly known as the Ave Maria, however it is actually Ellens dritter Gesang (Ellen’s Third Song), written by Franz Schubert in 1825. The song was part of a seven song Opus, a German translation of Walter Scott’s Lady of the Lake epic poem. The original lyrics of the song begin with Ellen praying to the Virgin Mary to protect her and her father from harm as they hid in exile in caves near Lake Katrine from their enemies.
Ellens dritter Gesang (Ave Maria) – F. Schubert (1825) sung by Barbara Bonney
I can be an incredibly long-winded person, almost never at a loss for words, but as I close my eyes to listen and reflect upon this sacred music, I am moved and filled with a simple thought:
Life is beautiful.
No work papers
No personal mail
No text messages
No signal to any device
No light in the wee hours of morn
No contact with the human world
No connection to things that oft govern my day
No shoes on my feet as I enter the solitary beach before the dawn
No plan in mind
Nothing. Nothing at all
Nothing and yet…
The senses awaken, one by one
The sound of the ocean as waves crash ashore
Violent and powerful, yet rhythmically relaxing
Reach my ears in a haunting, familiar, and primal sound
Soothing, as I drop ever slowly into restful relaxation
Breathing in step to the cadence of those tidal sounds
I can smell the salt air from the sea water’s presence
The mist from the surf hitting hard on the rocks
Floats into the air, gently tickling my skin
The sand at my feet at first coarse now gets finer
And wetter, yet firmer as I near waters edge
As the water rolls over my feet it feels cool
As it rolls out to sea, wet sand envelopes my feet
I can feel a light breeze in my face from the water
Cool and quite chilly, blowing my hair all about
I can see the waning moon in the easternmost sky
Cast its eerie glow over the rippling seas,
A dappled line in the water points uniquely to me
The sky changes hue as the sun nears the edge
All at once it is bright as it peeks over water
Completely transforming the night into day
In the water ahead playful dolphins diving for food
On the sand in the distance, gulls hopping about
Other birds soar above as they chirp with delight
So I sit on the sand as I am warmed by the sun
Enjoying the performance around me, brought exclusively here
And while I had thought I unplugged from it all
It occurred to me now that the less that I brought
Left me open to receive all the world had to give
Reconnected in ways I had never imagined
Today is my birthday, which for me is a good time to take stock of my life and all the twists and turns, planned and mostly unplanned that brought me to where I am, this very moment in fact, sitting in front of a computer screen in my swivel chair writing a blog post. If someone were to tell me a mere 5 years ago I’d be writing material for public consumption on such a thing as a blog, I would have said, “Me? Impossible!” I have never imagined myself as a writer. Truth is, I still do not fancy myself as one. There are far more people out there with so much more talent and skill who truly earn the right to be called writers. I’m more of an interloper of sorts. But that’s not the point. I digress. Again! Dammit, I need to work on better introductory paragraphs. See? Told you I wasn’t a good writer!
As I stare at that picture of me as a young boy, a few thoughts pop into my head. Random thoughts of course. I keep looking at that picture and wondering, what was that young boy thinking? How did he imagine the world to be, and how did he picture being a part of it when he grew up? What did he dream about? Things were so much simpler then.
So I wonder, what was this young adult in his early twenties thinking? What dreams were circulating about his mind? How did he imagine his future to be? Could he imagine having a wife, a family of his own, a career? What would his life be like say oh, 30 or so years into the future?
I now sit and look at those eyes and can’t help but wonder, what are you thinking? What are you dreaming about? How’s the future look to you? Who are you? How has your life turned out so far? What’s next?
Live in the present and look forward to the future. Don’t get me wrong. I love to reminisce as much as the next fellow, but my mind and body are built to move in forward gear. I never cared much for neutral or reverse. So rather than wax sentimental, let me dream of the next 30 or so years and perhaps I’ll be lucky enough to post another picture of my eyes then. I imagine those old and tired eyes will still be twinkling as they wonder about the future and what it will hold.
I’ll leave you with the closing lines from William Cullen Bryant’s poem titled Thanatopsis. Amazing stuff about living and dying from someone who was 17 at the time it was conceived and updated for the following verse when he was 27. This is an example of what a real writer with a gift can do – far better stuff than I could ever write:
So live, that when thy summons comes to join
The innumerable caravan, that moves
To the pale realms of shade, where each shall take
His chamber in the silent halls of death,
Thou go not, like the quarry-slave at night,
Scourged to his dungeon, but sustain’d and sooth’d
By an unfaltering trust, approach thy grave,
Like one who wraps the drapery of his couch
About him, and lies down to pleasant dreams.
Good advice. Now go out there and LIVE, so you will have no regrets!
This morning I was reading a blog I frequently visit, Lorna’s Voice, and noticed a post of hers titled “The Day is Done, Sunset Challenge“, which is inspired from a blog she frequents, A Lighter Shade of Grey, which contains a post titled “Weekly Photo Challenge: Sunset“, which is in response to a weekly WordPress challenge on Fridays for Photos, all of which means I spend way too much time on the computer during my morning coffee break at work. But I digress…
It seems the purpose of the photo challenge is to post a picture of a sunset and perhaps write something about it.
I love sunsets. They are strikingly beautiful, and they are free. Free and beautiful, what’s not to like? The most extraordinary thing about sunsets, is their ability to be beautiful anywhere in the world. Sure there are spectacular shots of the sun waning on the horizon in tropical paradises, pristine waters, glacier-topped mountains, and other exotic locations. Yet a sunset has the ability to beautify even the most mundane place in the world. Witness the above picture, taken around sunset a few weeks ago just outside my office where I work each and every day. Nature and the heavens have a way of smiling down on the entire planet with no bias in latitude and longitude.
All you have to do is make an effort to notice. Eureka! There is a point to all this. As we rush around to the hectic pace of our everyday lives, try to become more aware of all the beauty in your everyday world lying just beneath that conscious, distracted mind. Pay attention!
Well little brother, just a quick note to let you know we were all thinking about you today. I had a piece of cake at home, called mom and dad to chat a while, and looked through a few pictures of us when we were kids. Jack sent me some pictures last year, and I thought you might like seeing one of us together on Jack’s front stoop.
Your big brother,
Written in 2009
via Random Thoughts
I lived and worked in New York City for several years immediately after graduating college up until we left the City for good in 1984. Tonight on the eve of the 10th Anniversary of 9/11, my wife and I were going through the photo books, looking at pictures we had taken while we lived there. As occurs whenever you live in a place long enough to take many things for granted, we had surprisingly few pictures of the World Trade Center itself. Unlike many of our friends from out of town, who we took on tour whenever they would visit with camera in hand, most of our New York pictures were just ordinary ones with lots of friends and people celebrating various events, not of places.
Luckily, I managed to find a few pictures taken with the trusty old 35 mm back in the days of film. Our apartment on 23rd Street had a southern exposure from the windows in our living room, and we were up high enough in our building to have an unobstructed view of downtown Manhattan with the Twin Towers dominating the skyline, day or night. The above picture brought back a flood of memories to me. I worked in the Finance industry, and as a result, had walked around so many of the floors, offices and corridors of both towers countless times for business meetings and other business related errands. Perhaps this is reason for my lack of fascination with it all as compared to tourists that were easily identified with their awe-struck gawking at the sheer size of each tower.
In May before we left New York City for good in 1984, both sets of grandparents came to visit our daughter and we spent a part of the day making our way to see the view from on top of the world. I thought it would be neat to snap a few shots looking upward from the ground in the plaza between the buildings. A favorite of mine is one with the camera perched up against the steel and glass frame looking straight up the side of the South Tower. Below are the two photos taken that day.
Having lived in New York for quite some time before we eventually left, the events of 9/11 were deeply personal. I lost a workplace friend that day. I wrote about it in 2009 as my second entry to this blog. Here is what thoughts came to mind that morning as I sipped on my coffee, reflecting on what that day meant to me:
I am sitting here having my morning cup of coffee, much as I can imagine you were doing that fateful morning as you were getting ready for work. It was a crisp, beautiful day. I would like to believe you kissed your lovely wife good bye and hugged your kids as you left for work, but the reality is, we sometimes fall into a routine and just take that kind of stuff for granted. I wonder, what were you thinking as you left your apartment for that subway ride to your office? Was it the wonderful weather, a work issue, maybe a family happening?
I remember working with you at another financial firm in mid-town back in the early 80’s. You were a few years older and were always helpful, showing me the ropes, assisting me as I learned my job. You were finishing up law school and I remember you telling me how you wanted to pursue that career path instead of the one laid out before us in mid-town. You dreamed of working on Wall Street. By 1984, when I moved out of New York to pursue a new career opportunity, you had already left the firm, chasing your dreams downtown. It would be poetic to say we were the best of friends, but in actuality we were merely work acquaintances who shared an occasional beer socially outside of work. We didn’t keep track of each other over the years; you went your way and I mine.
Seventeen years later, I recall waking up September 11, 2001 to an incredibly crisp, cool day. The weather was beautiful, so I decided to extend my early morning run. By the time I returned home from the run, my kids had all left for school and my wife for work. It seemed like an ordinary day. I showered and left to meet some bankers at an outdoor site we were looking to finance. I didn’t get back to the office until about 9:30, where I was immediately told of a horrible crash. Everyone was huddled in the conference room where the TV was on. I watched in stunned silence as buildings that I so often have been in and out of for the many years I lived and worked in New York were on fire. This was too personal for me – I had been inside those very same corridors countless times! I was appalled, and yet I just couldn’t look away. I watched the unthinkable happen, as the Towers gave way. Feeling sick, I returned to my desk. All I could think about, all I could focus upon was who I might know and were they all OK. I frantically started calling my friends in New York; the lines were all busy. Busy, busy, busy. Every attempt busy. All day long busy. Nothing but that awful busy signal.
It took me three days to account for everyone I knew or had worked with. Everyone made it except for you.
Rest in peace, Stephen.
I need to go hug my wife and and call my kids right now and tell them I love them before I leave for work.
Much of my extended family lives in the New York and Connecticut area. My wife and I moved to Maryland in 1984 and we would drive up Interstate 95 through New York City and onward to New England to visit family on many holiday occasions. That first drive we made after that horrible day was during Thanksgiving of 2001. I will never forget the experience as we approached the city skyline from the New Jersey Turnpike; it was surreal. There was a hole in my heart as we drove by, my mind trying to find and locate a familiar landmark no longer there. There were no words then to describe the feelings swirling within me, and to this day, there still are none that can accurately describe that hole, that emptiness. The emotional wounds of that day have healed with the passage of time; the memory and love of those affected, however, does not fade.