A riot of harmony

While though the tempest loudly roars,
I hear the truth, it liveth.

Fifty years ago this month, my mother watched news coverage of the war zone her hometown had become. My grandmother, in her 70s, still lived alone in the same house there on Cruse Street. Detroit was burning — with arson fires, July heat, and years of anger stoked by injustice and fear. Mom was hours away in Indianapolis with a 6-month-old baby (me), and I don’t know how long it took before she knew Grandma Flossie and the rest of our family and friends were safe in a city that suddenly and frighteningly wasn’t theirs.

Flossie Craig in front of 16260 Cruse copy (1)

My grandmother, Flossie Egan Craig, in front of her home on Cruse Street in Detroit, probably in the mid-1940s.

Only later did Mom learn that while the worst of the action was happening outside her door, Flossie played hymn after hymn on the piano, singing at the top of her lungs.

Her African American next door neighbors, who were hiding under their beds, could hear it.

Half a century later, I can see it — a bright bubble of protective energy around Flossie and the piano, expanding with every note to surround her modest brick house and those nearby.

We humans have always known the power of sound and song to heal and unify. Whether it’s a lullaby to a child, a protest song belted through tears, or a hymn or patriotic song sung by many voices in unison, music raises our vibration and creates a powerful energy around us. Does it stop bullets or put out fires? No. But it sure can change the climate that produces and responds to bullets and fires.

That’s why, instead of riot footage, I chose Enya’s “How Can I Keep from Singing?” for this post. I don’t know if this was one of the hymns my grandmother offered up to God and the world at large during these trying days … but as I listen to the lyrics, I think it fits.

May we, in today’s tumult and strife, hear and join in that “real, though far-off hymn” — loud enough for the neighbors to hear.

 

Listening to the birds

29868587Birds bridge the ordinary and the unknown as few other creatures can. In Birds Art Life: A Year of Observation, novelist, essayist, and children’s author Kyo Maclear details a year of urban birdwatching and life shifting in her home city of Toronto.

While coping with her father’s illness, the married mother of two young sons happened upon the photography of a musician and urban birdwatcher, and was riveted. “These birds lived in gardens of steel, glass, concrete, and electricity,” she said, but the message in the photos was not one of environmental sins, but of love for “the dirty, plain, beautiful, funny places many of us call home.”

The musician (as he is known throughout the book) became Maclear’s guide on a number of bird walks throughout the year. As so often happens when we take up something new, ostensibly to distract ourselves, the insights that emerge bring us right back to face the music, if we are willing.

Accompanying the musician to his father’s aviary of finches, for example, and feeling like a “galumphing invader” among the tiny, captive creatures, sparks reflection on the quality we most associate with birds: freedom. We are all captive in some way to something, Maclear said — such as the cages of ego and habit we may or may not recognize. A small birdwatching excursion to a marina on the edge of the city not only teaches her how to distinguish among trumpeter, mute, and tundra swans but becomes an almost meditative experience of simultaneous waiting and experiencing.

As she began to talk about the subject of this book, Maclear was surprised by the number and diversity of people who shared their own bird stories and passions — rich hobbyists, former POWs, people who traded the bottle for binoculars. “They had lost something, hoped for transcendence, wondered how best to live this life. Birds spoke to their irrevocably blue parts, their hopeful parts.”

The birders she encountered in books and in the world shared little except this, she concluded: “If you listen to birds, every day will have a song in it.”

 

 

 

Mismatched sand dollars

198414763_32ccdcb344_bIt’s the task adult children dread: Sorting through the detritus of a parent’s life, however well-lived, while also sorting through grief.

My mother loved her independent apartment in a Southwest Florida retirement community. She had a blast furnishing it 10 years ago, and she got to stay there until she died a couple of days after Christmas (see obit). She’d moved there on her own initiative and resisted being hustled into assisted living. Mom had already pared down quite a bit before moving into her apartment, but when you’re 90, you’ve still got plenty of stuff.

In one drawer was an abundance of earrings, many of which I could not remember her wearing. They were all organized — worn and put carefully back in place. Except for one pair of gold sand dollar post earrings. One had been bent, possibly stepped on. They were both little gold(ish) sand dollars, but they didn’t match. Their hues and patterns were different enough for me to notice, but similar enough for Mom’s eyesight. How similar are any two sand dollars on the beach, anyway?

I poked around for the other sand dollar earrings, but did not find them. That’s how it is. We accumulate experiences, emotions, relationships, scars and stuff. Not all of it matches and some of it’s a little bent out of shape, but it’s ours. We hope that what we don’t take with us will benefit someone somehow, even just to leave a smile.

The sand dollar earrings went into the “keep” box. Life doesn’t match up. Wear it and rock it anyway.

Photo credit: tashland via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND