The Return

After years of not paying attention to my record player (and the old LP recordings), a sense of nostalgia filled my life as 2018 was coming to a close.  It was not a very good year for me, but I am not going to say that I had nothing to be thankful for.  There are always so many things to be thankful for in one’s life.  Lives end, but the experiences shared, the memories, the love remains.  It was a time to realize that that old song from “Funny Girl” – “People” still mean the same thing to me now, several decades since I first heard it (and fell in love with the song).  Life has ups and downs, but as long as there are people in your life that give it meaning, life is always worth living.  Sorrow may linger, but joy always remains.

And so it was that I ended up putting a record on that old Denon record player, only to find out the stylus on the cartridge had snapped.  A few days later, Amazon shipped me a new Ortofon cartridge.  And what was dusty and forgotten was alive again.  As the stylus fell on the vinyl, the past and the present became one.  And the sound of music, long unheard, became part of my life again.

A little snippet from Alfred Brendel playing Mozart.

A sampler – Alfred Brendel and the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, Mozart Piano Concerto No. 15

Another thing.  Somehow, an old CD player that was supposed to have been donated years ago never made it out of the garage.  After cleaning off the dust, it was time to play an old Carly Simon CD.  Some things never get old.

Carly Simon, My Romance – a short sampler

A new year.  Old things are new again.  And new things, well, they’re always there to be discovered.  “People.  People who need people.  Are the luckiest people in the world.”  I am a lucky man.

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The Inner Light

My favorite episode of Star Trek is “The Inner Light.”  Star Trek has always been a show about what it means to be human.  Yes, it has a lot of flashing lights, special effects, green aliens, esoteric worlds, starship battles and journeys to countless planets and stars.  And yet for all the glitter, the show, at its best, is a grand exposition of the human condition, the human experience.  In “The Inner Light”, Captain Picard is thrust upon a life totally different from his own.  Instead of commanding a starship, he was a man with a wife he didn’t know, on a planet slowly dying.  He didn’t want to be there, but there was this woman he didn’t know who nevertheless tended to him, nurtured him, loved him.  Slowly, the fantasy became a reality and in a scant twenty minutes, Picard experiences a life he had never known.  A love he had never known.  A wife who adored him, children who loved him, needed him and in the end, taught him that being a parent elicits emotions ranging from worry, consternation, disappointment, pride.  All the by product of the most basic human emotion of all.  The ability to feel and to give love.

It is a masterful story and when I need to find meaning in my own life, I watch this show again and remember that all that glitters is not gold.  Kamin was not rich by any means.  His family was but one of many families in a village being ravaged by drought.  Yet the life he was living seemed so much more complete, so much more fulfilled than the life he lived as the dashing captain of a Federation flagship.  And when the illusion ended, when he realized that what he had thought was his life was actually a mental recreation, he did something extraordinary.  He took a flute, sat by a window, gazed at the stars, and he began to play.

We can go through life and be dazzled by the success that we are taught to go after.  We can go through life looking for the next star, hardly stopping to even look at the world that we are in.  We can go through life and experience ecstasy, the heights of fame, the allure of power, the spoils of wealth and yet feel empty, broken.  When we look outside ourselves for validation, we allow others to judge us from their point of view; to tell us that in order to be happy or successful, we must follow someone else’s dream, live the life that someone else envisions.  Is it such a surprise that a life that always looks outward misses the simple joys that life can bring.  A fluttering butterfly.  A cool breeze on a warm day.  A sprinkle of rain blurring one’s view of the world, for an instant.  So many small moments that can bring meaning to a life.  Do we spend the time looking at the world in its own terms, feeling the infinitely small breezes of fluttering wings, feeling the hair on our forehead dance, just a little.  Do we look inward and in our heart find that inner light, the one true beacon that can bring meaning to one’s existence?

It is like the nondescript houseplant pictured above.  Green leaves on a pot.  These leaves have a secret.  They are the leaves that will bring sustenance to this plant, that will eventually provide the nourishment for flowers to bloom.  These are the leaves of a sampaguita plant.  Jasmine.  Beautiful and sweet.  A flower, that to many, symbolizes purity and humility.  It is, in many ways, ethereal.

So as the year ends, I think of this special Star Trek episode.  And of a beautiful flower.  And look inward and see the beauty that the inner light reveals.  It is within all of us.  And when you find it, share it.  Be kind.  Be gentle.  Be generous.  In the grace that the beatitudes bring, we experience the greatness of all creation.

Ruminations at Christmastime

When I think about the things that happened this year, I want to go to a dark room and make everything go away.  And just like the college campuses around the United States that deem it necessary to isolate people supposedly investing their time to learn new things, experience a world outside of what they have known, and learn that life is full of the unexpected, it seems that the temptation to only feel, hear and see the good things in life is the answer to a life that doesn’t always have answers to questions that come about.  And yet, to shut the world out because it’s not what you want is to deny yourself the essence of what being human is all about.

Life is a series of events that in its eventuality is unstoppable, in its unpredictability predictable.  This year has seen the death of someone very dear, the death of others that have filled my head with ideas and my heart with love.  There was sadness all around.  For the realization that some voices will never be heard again.  Some smiles will never be seen again.  That a warm touch, that warm hug will never be felt again.  The mind senses that change has come.  The heart knows that change has come.  The spirit knows that while change has come, the world still beckons and that which are gone truly still live in our midst.

A Christian believes that the promise made by a loving Creator becomes manifest in the birth of a child.  Whether that child was born in squalor matters not.  What matters is that the God who created us all kept His promise to His people.  That love, true and unerring, triumphed over disappointment.  That forgiveness and mercy is more powerful than hate and betrayal.  That in giving His people His son, knowing that He in turn will be betrayed by His creation, God showed us the possibility of what we all can become.  If we let love reign in our hearts, we are capable of making the world we live in a world that all of us, whether we consider our self a child of Abraham,  whether we follow the precepts of Buddha, whether we find solace in the spirits of the forest – all of us the can transcend the limitations we place upon ourselves.   Respect one another.  Care for one another.  To see people not as impediments to our ambition but truly as a brother or a sister that we can nurture and love.

In the spirit of this season, we can find in the people around us, the world around us reason to be hopeful.  To be inspired by those who do small things and seeing countless small things bring joy to those who give so wholly of themselves.  I pray that today, we remember that salvation did not come with a proclamation of greatness.  It came from a Father that loved us all, from a couple who devoted themselves to the care of a child entrusted to their love, and eventually, the willingness of this child to give Himself wholly for the people He and His father loved.  In spite of the hatred and spitefulness heaped against Him, this Son of God and Son of Man gave Himself up to serve all of us.  To purchase, with His sacrifice, our salvation.

Love, freely given.  And today, we remember, if we so choose, that we are children of this same Father.  That like His son who died for us, we are tasked to take care of the world around us.  To be stewards of His creation.  To love all of His creation.  It is not always easy.  There are disappointments.  In the end, it is this selfless love that must inspire us to live a life of generosity.  Of giving.  Of sacrifice.  Forgiveness.  Charity.

Peace on Earth.  It starts with each one of us.  A small act of kindness, magnified a billion fold.  May each of us be a reflection of the love that made life possible.  And worth living.

The Stars at Night

As I gazed upon one year old twins, I think about my own youth.  Once, I was the baby on the crib, nurtured by parents who provided for my needs, sheltered me from the elements, protected me from harm.  As I grew older, they grew older and so it is with every person, of every generation.  We are like the sun, first rising slowly, lighting a path on a dark planet.  Slowly but surely it rises higher and higher, and soon enough it reaches its zenith.  Then slowly it starts to sink towards the horizon and when the last light of twilight is extinguished, the world turns dark again.

And yet, I could not escape the thought the sun is but one star in the firmament.  Each of us, as we grow older, as we climb higher in the horizon, begins to blot out other things in the sky.  And yet, elsewhere in the heavens, other stars continue to shine.  And I am heartened to think that each one of us, each of our ancestors, is a star.  Even as our lives shine bright and we become the center of our universe and seemingly outshine other lights around us, the stars are always there.  And so it is that I remember my father and mother, now gone.  And grandparents.  And uncles and aunts, and the many people who came before me, who came before them.  In the evening, before I sleep, I look at the window and see the stars that are always there.  They are never truly gone.  And if we listen carefully, we can still hear the voices within them.  They can still teach us.  If we let them.  In our dreams we are in some ways always children, always protected, always loved.  Awake, we know that life and love are eternal, shining forever, in the heavens around us.

On an August Day

It was, for August in the Washington D.C. area, a relatively cool day.  In the midst of summer, it was time for a walk in the garden, to take the sun in, to find that even in the undulating continuum that we call life, beauty always beckons, just waiting for us to find it.  We need not look far.  It is always within ourselves, if one decides to live a life not solely for one’s self but also for others.  Happiness comes not from selfish abandon but from selfless generosity.

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#youwillbefound

For people who love musicals, the hashtag above will be familiar.  It is so fitting that at the moment of great loss, I found meaning in music.  My first distinct memory of my mother was watching “The Sound of Music” so many years ago.  When I posted the last entry on this blog, I was on my way to Manila to bring my mother back home from her vacation.  Her cancer came back, and unlike the saying, the third time was not the charm.

It’s hard to imagine what happens when the music that has ruled your life suddenly disappears.  It is an empty feeling when your world is devoid of the person who raised you, who understood you, who cared for you.  The person who knew you first, the person who felt my heart beat for the first time.  The person who taught me that honesty and truth were the important ideals in life.  That love, among all the things that we can give to another, is the greatest gift of all.   It is so easy to think that all that we have will always be with us.  And truth be told, if we lose a lot of the things that we have, we will not be missing anything at all.

That is almost true.  The thing is, we are nothing without the people who care for us.  And the people that we care for.  Why is it that a child with almost nothing at all, in the warm embrace of her mother or father has a smile so broad that in that instant, the world lights up as if a meteor is streaking through the sky.  The warmth that love brings is the one thing that truly makes our lives complete.  We can look to the skies for inspiration.  With love in our lives, we need only look at our hearts to find that a simple look, a simple smile, a single touch is enough to lift our souls to the heavens.

And so it was in May that the person who saw me as I am finally joined the husband that she lost more than a decade ago.  In that moment, her spirit joined the spirit of my father and together, I imagine that they look down upon me and in their corporal form, the same love that bore their son fill the heavens, magnified by the love of the countless multitudes who came before them.  Love free of the boundaries of time and space.

I say to myself that as long as I remember, as long as I feel, they are never truly gone.  The truth is,  life for those who lose someone truly dear will never be the same.  Life is altered forever.  And yet, it does not have to be a life without meaning.  Different yes.  Meaningless?  No.

And so it was that I happened upon the music that keeps playing in my head.  It is in an endless loop.  Not that it mutes everything else in life.  Rather, the music gives one the clarity to understand that as long as we live, there is always a place for us to find love.  We need not wait for someone to embrace us.  The gift of love is best manifested when we share it with another.  And so, in the loneliness and emptiness that death can bring, it is the act of giving one’s self to another that allows us to find life anew.

Accept people as they are.  Find the good in all and in so doing we find the good in ourselves.  “I never dreamed that I would find someone like you who would want me.”  For many of us, we have already lived the dream.  Loving parents that nurtured us, cared for us.  We have been found, in the very first moments of our existence.

And now, it is up to us to find the meaning of the hashtag “youwillbefound.”  It’s not about being alone.  It is about realizing that we are never really alone.  There will always be someone who will love us.  We are, after all, created out of love.  We are all children of love that is infinite.

And so, thank you Evan Hansen.  In the depths of sorrow, the wonderful music, the incredible story, the beautiful words reminded me that there is so much to live for.  No one is truly alone.  #youwillbefound.

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A note about Dear Evan Hansen.  This is the best musical I have seen in years.  Dare I say that it might be my favorite musical written in the last thirty five years.  Yes, this includes Les Miserables, Phantom, Hamilton, Rent, etc.  A lot of great music to be sure, but there is something about the vulnerabilities that the characters in this show exhibit that we as human beings can understand.   And relate to.  We all have fears, moments of doubt.  Sometimes, no, often times, we need to let others into our lives.  To heal us.  To love us.

On the Saturday matinee, Michael Lee Brown played the part of Evan Hansen.  A fantastic Evan!  And Mallory Bechtel as Zoe was adorable and wonderful.  This is the show to watch in New York.  And now that it is about to embark on its first American tour, I hope that you are able to watch this wonderful musical.  Pasek and Paul are the new dynamic duo in the musical universe.  The play by Steven Levenson is exceptional.  Two and a half hours of laughter, sorrow, empathy, and hope.  Yes, hope.  The core of this show is hope.  Forgiveness.  And love.

You are not alone.  You will be found.

Ephemeral Beauty

I look up a pink hued sky
And my heart beats in rhythm
With nature’s beauty, enveloping me
With warmth in the still cold April day
I gaze upward, and in the midst of the cherry canopy
I see a flower, standing still, yet moving me
My soul trembles with joy
And for a moment, an instant
The spirit of love overwhelms me
And my heart, changed, is finally free
Embraced by an ephemeral beauty
That lasts an eternity