Y.D.K.W.Y.G.T.I.G. # five - 'The Streets Are Paved With Gold' - 14. July, 2010.
She was old when he first met her. In fact in his seven year old mind, she must have always been old. But that makes perfect sense for someone who has never been anything else other than young.
She first called to him across the backyard fence, 'I'll give you one of these if you play with my dog for half an hour,' she said holding up a shiny new quarter and pointing to her overweight and out of breath Welsh Corgi. This was 35 years ago but even then, that quarter didn't really much matter to the seven year old. But there was a sound of pleading in the old woman's heavily accented voice and a look of desperation on her face that the boy could not ignore.
The business arrangement went on for months. The boy would come home from school and the old lady would summon him to play catch with her beloved pet. The dog never tired of the repetition, chasing the slimy red rubber ball as if it were the most precious, delicious thing in the world, dutifully returning it to the boy who tossed it out into the yard again. All the while the old woman told stories of the old country, of her long dead sister, and of how she came to America because she was told the 'streets were paved with gold.', frequently slipping into her native Italian and even more frequently slipping into tears as she reminisced, more to the dog than to the boy.
She lived in the modest house with her daughter and her son and their daughter. Her relationship with the three consisted mostly of listening to them yell at her and yelling back in Italian. The only other things she cared about were her dog, the birds that gathered around the feeders and bird baths in her yard, and the endless modeling clay sculptures of her own creation. that in her mind represented the birds at play. In time, the Corgi would pass on and the woman added to her list of regrets the fact that her family would not allow her to have another dog.
By now the boy was a young teenager, but still she summoned him away from his homework and his piano practice and he would sit and listen to the old woman, the compensatory quarters now silently left on the picnic table in the yard. The stories were now almost all in Italian. The old woman and the boy conspired as to how she might again have a dog, how she might escape her prison of a back yard, or how she might return again to the old county, or better yet, all three. One day the old woman lost her mind, or at least that's how it was described. In the afternoon, late in the spring, the boy sits in his room puzzling over the periodic table listening to the old woman curse and scream and struggle against the ropes that tie her hands to her wheel chair and her wheel chair to a tree, in view of the now empty bird bath and the little mound where the Corgi is buried. She has no more language, but the boy knows she is cursing the streets paved with gold. (for N.)
Y.D.K.W.Y.G.T.I.G. # four - 'Ach wie nichtig, ach wie flüchtig' - 13. July, 2010.
'How fleeting, how insubstantial' is a thought expressed in Michael Frank's chorale text, set to a chorale by Johann Cruger and utilized in more than one work of J.S. Bach. It is also a notion I suspect understood by everyone who was ever asked, 'where does the time go?' Hours, days, years, even lifetimes slip away from us. How often do we look back at the day we have just spent, or at the weekend we were so looking forward to and ask, what have I done with my time? Where did the time go? The mind suffering from depression knows too well how fleeting and vain our days can be: huge blocks of time vanish into dull nothingness and incomplete tasks stand as mute indictment of the waste of our one truly non-renewable resource. Is there a greater human tragedy than, 'I should have while I had the chance...'? The hopeful, even triumphant chord at the end of this improvisation may be taken to indicate that while lost time can never be regained, in the words of Cicero, 'Where there is life, there is hope,' and that hope is that we may yet redeem the next hour and the next day. (Ephesians 5:16) .
Y.D.K.W.Y.G.T.I.G # three - 12 July, 2010 - 'angels of a lesser god?'
The late, great Robert Heinlein, postulated, in a theme running through several of his sprawling novels, that 'we are all someone else's fiction...' Compelling as that concept is, perhaps even more spiritually poignant is that we may at times all be some else's angel... or someone else's demon for that matter. (see Hebrews 13:2 and Matthew 16:23) I have had the honor of being visited by a series of 'angels' in the last few months: Angels of the town of Orange, who, one after the other, have come to visit my Giantess on the corner of Scotland and Main. Each angel has remarked at the beauty of the structure they have so long passed but never truly known. Each has wondered at the burying ground hiding the mortal remains of fallen Revolutionary and Civil War soldiers. Each has expressed outrage at the cessation of the great church. And they have all come with ideas on how to forestall the inevitable - for that's what makes them angels: they carry 'good news'. 'Why not do this or that? What about such and such?' The ideas blur into a stream of sameness... Please don't misunderstand, I do not denigrate these human angels: Each one is sincere. Some have been moved to tears and a few ... a very few... understand the truth: too late... far too late... Long ago the church and the community which surround it failed each other. No one is to blame and and everyone shares the guilt.*
* The previous is strictly the opinion of the author and does not neccesarily reflect the opinion of the governing body of First Church or the Presbytery of Newark.
Aurelia - 11 July, 2010. 'Aurelia'
'Aurelia' is the tune most closely associated with Samuel J. Stone's text, 'The Church's One Foundation' was composed by Samuel Wesley. The text depicts the Biblical image of Church as the mystical Bride of Christ. This improvisation, a service postlude for the second-to-last service held at First Presbyterian Church in Orange, NJ, attempts to portray the full spectrum of emotion described in the text: wonderment, awe, resolve, perhaps some measure of frustration, and ultimately, holy joy. Additionally, you may perceive some measure of irony as I find such inescapable when comparing the Biblical vision with the human reality in which we live - though in my mind the irony is layered: there is the Biblical ideal as presented in Revelation, then there is the often antithetical human experience, and finally there is G-d's spiritual reality, as yet largely unrevealed, but which we may catch glimpses of through Word and Sacrament and those moments where the face of G-d is reflected in the eyes of our fellow human beings.
Y.D.K.W.Y.G.T.I.G. # two - 11 July, 2010. 'The Prodigy'
It has been said that the insults which cut most deeply are the ones closest to the truth. As a young man he had shown so much promise - mentors and peers alike expected that this young prodigy would as the saying goes, 'be going places' in the world of classical music. Though the cares and desires of life would side track the young man over and over again, he felt little concern , at least at first, for he was young and there was still so much time. Until there wasn't. Now no longer young at all, the man struggles to reclaim the past glory that was never quite his. And when the slight comes, perhaps unintended, from an expert in what should be his field, it cuts like a razor, for even amidst his indignation he knows the truth: he has squandered so much of his talent and can never go back to what he should have been. (for M.)
Y.D.K.W.Y.G.T.I.G. # one - 10. July, 2010. 'The Friends'
'You don't know what you've got 'til it's gone' is a sentiment all too common to the human condition, memorialized in at least one much covered hit song. On a personal note, this being the eve of the start of my last week at 'First Pres' I have decided to add one improvisation, accompanied by a 'vignette' of sorts, illustrative of the above thought, for each of the remaining days, in addition to any service improvisations recorded.
They had been friends since the old country. Friends though thick and thin - enduring all the petty squabbles and gentle indignities of any long standing friendship. But in the end, as they grew old, they grew apart. Now one was dying. In fact, by any reasonable definition, she was already dead, only her body technically defined as living with the aid of machinery. The physician waits patiently outside the room to 'pull the plug' and the two remaining friends pour out their hearts to the third - her face unchanging, her eyes unblinking - as they confess old, unspoken grievances and apologize for long forgotten slights and vow eternal friendship. Why are the kindest words ever spoken of a person often at his or her funeral? Why is is so easy to honor the dead while we are so ready to deride the living? (for V., V., and H.)
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