These scars are milestones…

When I was little, I took a certain kind of pride in my scars and bruises, especially during the summer. Each summer they were different, this scab from poison ivy, this one from the bike that fell on my leg, this gouge out of the bottom of my foot from a stick on the playground.

There were a few scars that were more permanent, too. The place where I had stitches, when my grandparent’s dog knocked me down. That maybe left another kind of scar as well, because I’m not a dog person.

Maybe because the scars never bothered me, I didn’t mind the acne I had as a teenager. Or maybe it was because I felt no one should be judging me because of my acne. It only lasted for a few years, and I rarely think about it anymore.

This summer I was sick, though, and I have small scars on my arms, legs, back, all over. I have a nearly two inch scar on my lower calf. And for the first time, as I was going through my closet today, I realized I didn’t go bare legged all summer. I wore long skirts all this past summer, when I was out in public. All fall, all winter so far, I’ve worn tights and knee socks and long skirts, and it’s been to hide that scar on my leg.

Maybe I’m not as tough as I was, as a kid. Maybe I care more about what people think of me than I should. But it makes me wonder, if I’m this concerned of what people will think about the scars on my body, what will they think of my scars on my soul? I have a lot of them, and I’m in the habit of hiding them away. I don’t have any pride for these scars, like I did as a kid. I want to hide them away.

I can’t regret being sick, exactly. It wasn’t something I did to myself. I can wish accidents didn’t happen, that there was no such thing as poison ivy, but I don’t really regret that. So why do I regret these scars? I wish I could take pride in what I’ve learned, in what I’ve done, that these scars are the milestones of. But I’m not there yet.

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Beautiful work, beautiful music…

Sometimes I think I really need to find a real job and stop just teaching music part time. I never had any deep desire to be a piano teacher, I sort of fell into it because I play piano well and I accompanied at a Suzuki school, and had nothing better to do than get training. So I waver on why I’m really doing this, and spend time thinking of what I could do instead.

And then I get lessons like the one I taught today.

The piece was beautiful. There were flawless accents, in the first piece this student had played accents in, ever. There was beautiful phrasing, dynamics, ritardando at the recapitulation and at the end of the piece, and there was a sonorous, legato left hand that did not overpower the right hand melody. And the root of all that was perfect hand position, perfect posture, and a good ear.

This student has only played since September, with no prior musical instruction. There are older siblings who studied various instruments, but this was the first formal study for this student.

What I’m realizing is, all my students have the ability to play as beautifully as this student did, and many of them do. But the timeline is not the same. Watching this student learn is like time whizzing by; watching other students, time crawls. Some seem to take big leaps, while others take baby steps, and yet they are all taking the same path.

I hope I can learn to appreciate the ones who move slowly as well as the ones who race ahead. Because I have more students who are moving slowly, and are making beautiful music inch by painful inch, not in a giant leap. They will all progress, but it takes time. Time and patience.

If I learn nothing else from this endeavor I hope it will be patience for the slow and painful process of learning to create beauty. And learning that there is beauty in the process, too.

A galaxy far, far away…

I teach a music and literature class for young children, and we just finished up a three week unit on setting. After we had created four different settings on the whiteboard, adding characters and buildings and other things that were appropriate for the setting, we listened to music and chose songs for the different settings. ‘Imagine you’re making a movie, what kind of music would be playing at the castle? Under the sea? New York City?’

So of course we listened to Star Wars, which they all recognized, every single one of them. That amazes me, because my parents were not into the Star Wars movies, and I didn’t see them until my little brothers were old enough to be interested. I’ve only seen five of them, the three originals, then Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones.  Maybe parts of the others, but not the whole thing. I read the chapter books by Patricia C. Wrede for the two new episodes that I had watched, and I actually think I read the books before I saw the movies. I really liked the books, and the other middle grade series that were set inbetween the movies, with Anakin as a padawan learner.

So all my students recognized the music, and they jumped up to swing imaginary lightsabers around and shoot imaginary blasters at each other. When we got around to the discussion and drawing of settings, they were still talking about Star Wars. The topic has come up in several classes, actually. And no matter if you like or hate the movies, listening to five and six year olds talk about them is hysterical. It definitely reminds me that they might like the movies, and they might remember them, but what they are seeing is not what their parents think they are seeing.

For instance, “Princess Leia is Luke Skywalker’s daughter.” That changes the story a bit. And I asked if they didn’t mean Darth Vader, and no, they were quite sure they had it correct, because Darth Vader was Luke’s father. Maybe the concept of twins isn’t there yet?

Or, “I thought Han Solo’s son was going to be scary, like, really scary. But instead he was fuzzy.” At first I thought he meant funny, but he kept moving his hands over his head as if he were describing curly hair. So, one can’t be scary if one is fuzzy.

They all think Han Solo is amazing. That’s pretty much what I remember from watching the movies.

We heard about a character named Stinky, which I haven’t yet investigated. The older students looked at the younger ones like they were crazy, so the younger ones might have added to the cast of characters. The pictures they drew about him were very interesting. Apparently he got blown up?

Sometimes teaching is like being on a galaxy far, far away.

A family movie night…

After writing about a book that could be a family tradition, I started thinking about movies and tv shows that are family traditions in my family. Not many that are ‘fun for the whole family’ which nothing ever is, but movies we can call each other the characters from, or quote from, and everyone knows what we’re talking about.

Alice in Wonderland is one that my mom quotes from a lot  , and we usually know what she’s talking about. ‘Off with her head’ and ‘more pepper please?’ have gotten a lot of use, as well as ‘this way out, madam.’ And I’ve had ‘Tweedledum and Tweedledee’ memorized since about fourth grade. I like this movie because it’s imaginative, and logically bizarre. It’s pleasant to watch, very much like a dream. I can think of worse movies to have as a family tradition.

If I was going to choose a movie for a family tradition, I would choose The Princess Bride. It has that same dreamlike quality as Alice, but it’s for an older crowd. I love the crazy comedy, but I also love how it still is a fairy tale. All the right rules for a fairy tale are there, and even if some of it gets laughed at and joked about, the idea of there being such a thing as a fairy tale is not. True love is the theme, and that is never joked about. I’m not a fan of some recent fairy tale movies and books, because they don’t play by the rules of fairyland, as Chesterton might say. But The Princess Bride does.

Some movies are family traditions only at certain times, or in certain places. Hallmark Christmas movies are a staple in our family from about Thanksgiving until after Christmas. My grandma always had The Sound of Music and My Fair Lady at her house, so we watched those there. Generally we watch Luther around Halloween, and I remember when The Bible miniseries aired on Sundays leading up to Easter. Some movies are also personal favorites, such as Princess of Thieves for me, which I’ve seen probably over a dozen times. The Black Stallion is one my sister and I watched a lot, and we spend a lot of time sharing movie ideas with each other even today.

Not that we ever see a movie in the same way as someone else does; I’ve almost decided to give up reading movie reviews, because I keep disagreeing with the critics. Movies can give us more than topics of conversation, they can give us practice in connecting and conversing and thinking deeply. Knowing what movies someone likes tells you a little about them, but knowing why they like them moves you along a little further in knowing them. Having a connection of catch phrases or quotes, that’s a good thing. Having a connection of vicarious experience, that’s something special.

I want to talk about the movies I’ve seen. That’s one of the first things I think, when I come out of the movie theater, or turn off the screen at home. What did you think about that part? I want to ask whoever watched it with me. Why do you think this is important?  What if such and such had happened instead? I don’t usually talk about those things because most people are content to be entertained by a movie. They don’t want to think deeply. But watching a movie with someone can connect you to them. You’ve had a shared experience, and depending on the movie it could have been heart pounding, tear jerking, or terrifying. The emotions are real, even if what’s happening on the screen is not. That’s why a movie can become part of a family tradition. It also makes me think it’s a hard thing to choose.

 

The stories that connect us…

I’ve been rereading Elizabeth Goudge’s Herb of Grace, and one of the reasons I like it is because of the connection between the generations. The grandmother shares her wisdom, and she has collected that wisdom for the sake of her children and grandchildren, and they in turn respect or are aggravated by her, learning who they are in relation to her and in the process, in relation to the world. I’ve never had that experience, to be told I was like any relative, to be sorted into a group of people who were similar by personality or tastes. I like being able to immerse myself in the story, and for a while I can pretend I am part of the Eliot family.

One thing in particular that connects the family is how the grandmother has read The Wind in the Willows to her children, and to her grandchildren. This book is part of their family, part of their shared experience, and gives them a common vocabulary. When a new friend appears, part of the reason she is immediately accepted as a friend is because she speaks the same language, quoting from Kenneth Grahame’s book.

So that got me to thinking, what book would I want, if I had to pick and it didn’t just happen by chance, to be the book my family has in common? What book would be part of our family tradition?

My first pick would be The Swiss Family Robinson. I can’t even count how many times I read it as a child, how many passages are, if not memorized verbatim, stuck in my mind as visuals. I like the spirit of adventure, the honorable actions of the people, and I think it opens up the idea of optimism. Someone said it’s not a true adventure story, because whenever the family needs anything, there it is. But someone else (I wish I could remember who) said that isn’t that really what an adventure is like? You look around, and whatever there is, that is what you must use; the smallest things become treasures.

My second choice would be between The Scottish Chiefs  and A Tale of Two Cities. I am beyond disappointed that I only discovered both of those books since high school. As a child, I would have read them over and over, and as an adult I find them adventure stories of the highest quality. The characters have honor, and the action is exciting, with plenty of romance.

Of course, The Wind in the Willows is clearly a good choice. I wouldn’t choose fantasy, though, because I find it hard to talk about fantasy books with people who don’t appreciate them. Magic and fairies and myth, I would love to have those in common in my family, but it’s not something you can choose to give someone; they have to find the books, and find the magic, for themselves.

I think it’s important to reread books, and to read aloud to children, and it does more than give them some family jokes and phrases that only they understand. It really gives you a chance to enter into the world, to become the character, and to allow the story to change you. You can read a book once and have it change you, but to read it only once doesn’t allow it to mold your character, or connect you to the generations who have read and loved it. And to read aloud is to share that story with someone else, helping them enter another world, another way of looking at the world. So if I have the chance, I’d like to read one of these books over and over to my family, as a mother and as a grandmother, and see the connections grow. It’s only by choosing not to share the stories that the connection is lost.

No one is normal…

Over the past two days I’ve watched The Legend of Tarzan twice. The first time I caught most of it, from the late beginning to the end, and the second time it came on I thought I’d watch just the beginning and then turn it off, but I didn’t. There’s plenty of mediocre stuff in it, but overall it was great entertainment. And then the second time through I heard what I think is the best line in the whole film, and was able to stop and think about it, because I knew what was going to happen next.

Jane says to Rom “A normal man will do the impossible to save the woman he loves. My husband is not a normal man.” This might not be an exact quote, but it’s more the concept than the exact words I’ve been mulling, so my apologies to the screenwriter.

A normal man will do the impossible to save the woman he loves.

Whenever someone in my family starts talking about what is normal, I usually reflect that everyone is weird in their own way and no one is normal. So there are no “normal” men. But there are ordinary men. Is this the standard anyone has for an ordinary man, that he would do the impossible? In the old fairy tales, it is. And that made me wonder, if the standard stays the same for men, what about for women?

The damsel in distress isn’t a popular role today. Even Jane, in the movie, says she won’t scream like a damsel. No one wants to sit back, and wait for someone else to rescue you, minding the castle. But there was always honor for the damsels that waited faithfully; more ballads than I can count have been sung about the unfaithful lover. So what if the statement is reversed, and a standard for women is give: A normal woman will do the impossible to wait faithfully for the man she loves.

If I’m going to applaud the concept that an ordinary man will do the impossible to save the woman he loves, I should also applaud the concept that an ordinary woman will do the impossible to wait faithfully for the man she loves. There’s no part in this kind of a relationship for someone who does nothing. Waiting faithfully is not nothing.

Then there’s the next line of Jane’s statement:

My husband is not a normal man.

There’s no one who is normal. In our own ways, we are all weird. And that weirdness is a good thing, because that is what makes us human, and what makes us able to accomplish our given tasks in life. I’ve heard that each of us has one task for our lives, and that once we accomplish that we die, because we have fulfilled our purposes. I don’t precisely agree, because we have different purposes throughout our lives, as well as one defining purpose to be human.

Can any of us take this as our standard? To do the impossible for the people we love, and do it because we accept that we’re not normal? I don’t know. But I think it would be a great adventure to find out.

Holiday for martyrs…

I read the Song of Songs today. I’ve never heard a sermon on that book of the Bible, and I’ve been going to church every Sunday for over twenty years. With its colorful imagery and romantic passion, though, I suppose a sermon might ruin it for me. But that kind of romance isn’t all Valentine’s Day is about.

Roman soldiers were forbidden to marry by the emperor, during St. Valentine’s lifetime. If the soldiers were married and had families, they wouldn’t be as loyal to Rome, so marriage was forbidden. But the Christians valued marriage enough to disobey the order, and St. Valentine performed marriage ceremonies secretly, until he was imprisoned and martyred. This is the truth of the story in a nutshell, and while there may be some facts that I’m missing, this is the part connected with it being a holiday for lovers.

St. Valentine died not for romantic love only, but the commitment of Christian marriage, a sacred undertaking before God, the symbolic representation of Christ and His church. I think it is fitting that St. Valentine was a martyr, because on his day we remember other martyrs. A marriage in God’s sight is one where husband and wife willing offer up their life for each other. That was what Christ did when He chose death in order to bring us salvation; that is our standard of love. Marriage is for martyrs, not in a sarcastic, disillusioned way, but in a passionate, Spirit filled way.

This month I’ve seen a lot of commercials for flowers and jewelry and chocolate. Romance is alive and well in American culture today. But there’s not much out there about martyrdom in my corner of the Christian world, though, and there’s also very little passionate love. I feel like someone missed the memo on what Christian marriage is supposed to be, and it’s because martyrdom is downplayed in modern culture. Who really wants to be a martyr? And who thinks Christian marriage is a serious love affair?

There are still a few of us who would like the chance. I would rather awkwardly and painfully figure out what living each day as a martyr looks like, than all the jewelry and chocolate in the world. Because when I read the Song of Songs, that is a love affair worth having. Because I’ve binged on romance in books and movies, and came up empty from the lack of reality. Because marriage is a relationship, not a revolving door.

I like the Valentine flowers, and chocolate, and stuffed animals, cute stuff. But is cute really romantic? Romance used to mean something along the lines of ‘grand adventure.’ As humans, we want to be involved in a grand adventure. We want to feel we have purpose. What could be more of a grand adventure than vowing to enter a sacred union between two people that can never be broken, for the purpose of symbolizing Christ and His church to the world? What could be more of a grand adventure than being a martyr?

St. Valentine, pray for us. Pray God there would be more willing martyrs in marriage, proclaiming Christ to the world.

 

Sticky frogs, Jackson Pollock, archery…

When I was a kid, I had sticky frogs made out of stretchable rubber, and they were supposed to stick to the walls. There were some other animals, too, that you could throw at the wall and they would splat there, stuck. They never worked very well, and usually ended up coated in dust and hair. I don’t remember playing with them much, but I can remember how good it felt to see them splat against the wall and stick, until they got dust covered and soft, no longer sticky.

Modern art has always seemed more about process than product to me, including Jackson Pollock’s work. I wouldn’t want to decorate my home with it, but I can appreciate the work the artist went through. I’ve worked on one splatter paint canvas, and I enjoyed the process; I enjoyed flinging the paint onto the canvas, and it was satisfying to see it hit the canvas and stick there. There were some near misses, and the lawn was varied shades for a few days, but there was a gratifying feeling from seeing the paint hit the canvas and stay there, permanent.

I’m not very good at archery, and I haven’t held a bow in years. But when I did, it was the same feeling as splatting a sticky frog against the wall, or slinging paint onto a canvas, to have an arrow sink into a target. My skill was at the level of spending a lot of time hunting in the grass for arrows, so it was even more gratifying when one hit the target. It was putting an object in motion, and seeing it reach the target, and a lot of the time it was sheer luck.

I don’t believe in luck, though. I believe in the providence of God. I believe Almighty God holds all things together in this world, everything that has been, will be, is, could have been, or may be. But I can’t see what God is doing, so my part of the process is often like flinging sticky frogs against the wall, hoping something will stick. Flinging paint onto a canvas, and hoping it will make art. Shooting an arrow and hoping it reaches the target. That’s what this blog is. I’m flinging words into the abyss of the internet, and hoping they will stick, somewhere. I’m flinging together stories and words and paragraphs, hoping they will make art. I’m the arrow, and God is the archer, and I don’t see the target yet. At least I know from reading Robin Hood that a good archer never wastes arrows, never loses arrows, and never misses the target. And if there is an archer, and there is an arrow, there must be a target.

Love is all about losing…

One of my favorite parts of the movie A Knight’s Tale is when Jocelyn tells Will he must lose his jousts to prove his love for her. He tells her he will not lose, but when the time comes, he just sits there on his horse and lets his opponents use him for a target. I’m a romantic, so I liked this part of the movie before really thinking about it, but I’ve come to see it as a parable of sorts about what love is, and that makes me like it even more.

Both Jocelyn and Will have a real understanding of love. Love is about losing. Love is about giving up what you want, and selflessly doing what someone else wants. Will realized if he won all his tournaments but lost Jocelyn, none of those wins would matter. Losing gained him the real prize.

It’s not easy to lose. It’s not easy to say “I’m sorry” instead of making excuses, especially good excuses. It’s not easy to say “I forgive you” instead of insisting restitution is made first. It’s not easy to say “I love you” when that means giving up your free time, your peace of mind, your personal space, or your priorities, thinking priority number one is myself, and what I want. When I choose to lose what I deserve, or what the world says I deserve, because I realize the greater prize is to be obtained by losing, then I am living in love. But it’s not easy.

Falling in love is easy. Being romantic can be easy, in certain circumstances. Loving people who make reasonable demands, for logical reasons, that makes sense. But loving someone who asks you to lose everything for them? That isn’t easy. Jocelyn demands Will lose in order to prove his love for her. She wants to know how much he is willing to do for her, and how much he values her. Will does what she wants because he decides she is the better prize.

Jesus Christ says when we lose our lives for His sake we truly find them, because we have to lose everything to love Him completely. Christians talk about crucifying themselves for Christ, dying to self so they can live for Him. It’s not easy. Jesus puts the request to us, asking us to prove our love for Him, so show how much we value Him. We need to decide if He is the better prize.

Even though the loss is driven by love, that doesn’t make the losing enjoyable. It hurts. It’s humiliating. Will says he hates Jocelyn, in the middle of his trial. I don’t think that is lost on Christ, as He puts forth his request to us. What are you willing to suffer for? What are you willing to lose for? Is love so great a prize, to suffer such pain and humiliation? On screen, yes. In real life, I don’t know. Sometimes it doesn’t seem worth it. So it helps me to keep this little parable in my mind, to re-watch that scene with Will and Jocelyn, and see that he does obtain the prize in the end. I should have no regrets for losing out of love, because love is all about losing.

 

 

To escape or not to escape…

Escapism is vital to survival, and movies and tv shows are sometimes an easier way to escape than a book. So is writing a blog post about favorite movies, when I should do something more productive. But there’s nothing like finishing up a day of giving piano lessons, to students who haven’t practiced, by writing an escapist blog post. Here, then, are some favorite movies and tv shows, in no particular order, and why I like them.

The Princess Bride-I first watched this as a school assignment for the fencing. It intrigued and puzzled me then, and now I love the writing, love the acting, and love the message about true love. It was probably one of the first movies I didn’t cringe at the kiss at the end.

Princess of Thieves-I have watched this so many times, I have clips I can watch in my head. Robin Hood, Keira Knightley, good soundtrack, and a bittersweet ending that is not typical Disney. The ending gets me every time, when Gwen and the prince walk away from each other.

The Swiss Family Robinson-I loved the book, and while the movie is far, far away from the themes and characters of the book, I still love the movie.

A Knight’s Tale-This one is hard to admit to liking, but I enjoy it. I like the music, I love the characters, but it’s really the conversations that get to me. There’s theological insight, too.

August Rush-Beautiful music, beautiful love story. And amazingly shows the impact one night can have on the rest of your life, and the lives of future generations, in a way that i heartrending and hopeful.

Amazing Grace-This one I need to watch more often. When I lose perspective on what one person can do to bring God’s love to the world, this is the movie to watch. And it doesn’t hurt that Ioan Gruffudd is in it, either.

The Man from Snowy River-This was probably one of the first ‘grown up’ movies my parents let me watch, possibly because ‘it’s about horses.’ It’s about a lot more than horses, including the scenery and score.

Ocean’s Thirteen-For the short, brilliant scenes and perfect dialogue. Not a word is out of place, not an action is unnecessary, which is perfect for a heist movie.

Father Brown series on BBC-The first episode was, in my humble opinion, the one G. K. Chesterton would have approved of the most, and everything else went downhill from there. But that doesn’t stop me from watching it every week I remember it’s on.

Leverage series-I admit to watching reruns all day, every Sunday when it’s on. The characters are great, and it’s fun to watch them grow over the seasons. Watching the first season, first episode and the last season, last episode back to back is fun.

M*A*S*H* series-I haven’t watched this in a long time, but I liked the sarcastic, dark, intelligent humor. I liked how one moment you could be laughing, and the next crying, and that was life. Because that still is life.

Inside Out-Because this was my life, as a pretty happy go lucky kid who suddenly had to deal with a lot of new emotions,moving, and life being turned inside out and upside down. So maybe it’s not escapism, but looking for a point of connection.

Ramona and Beezus-I admit, I have not read the book. I would like to read the book. I love this movie. It’s just good, clean, fun, and good, clean, romance.

Brooklyn-For the romance, for the costuming, and for the ability to slip into the shoes of an immigrant for a little while, and come to terms with the idea of moving away from family. And because of the Irish singer at the Christmas dinner scene.