Interruptions in Life

Reading can bring back memories, help to understand oneself with respect to the past, the present, and even give direction in life. It can stimulate the imagination and desire to create outside of a story, and make one’s own stories. “The Song of the Lark” strikes many such chords for me. Through Cather’s quiet introspective narrative tone, we watch the character, Thea Kronborg, grow into herself.

In Part II of the novel, Thea, with the encouragement of Doctor Archie, goes to Chicago to complete her musical education. While she takes piano lessons from Mr. Harsanyi, a Hungarian immigrant, she simultaneously sings in a choir for a church. Only by accident does Mr. Harsanyi discover that Thea is also a singer, possessing a beautiful, but untrained voice.

Life for Thea in the city takes on an aspect of drudgery and loneliness, feelings she never experienced growing up in Moonstone. She is the daughter of a Swedish minister and nonjudgmental mother, who believes in the power of fate. Back in Moonstone, Thea was a free-spirited girl, who carried around with her ‘under the cheek’ that inexplicable sense of innate happiness. Now in Chicago, that feeling has since dissipated, and been replaced by the routine of her music practice, and daily living.

One scene which recalls a memory for me is described in the opening passage of Chapter V, Part II:

By the first of February Thea had been in Chicago almost four months, and she did not know much more about the city than if she had never quitted Moonstone. She was, as Harsanyi said, incurious. Her work took most of her time, and she found that she had to sleep a good deal. It had never before been so hard to get up in the morning. She had the bother of caring for her room and she had to build her fire and bring up her coal. Her routine was frequently interrupted by a message from Mr. Larson summoning her to sing at a funeral. Every funeral took half a day, and the time had to be made up. When Mrs. Harsanyi asked her if it did not depress her to sing at funerals, she replied that she ‘had been brought up to go to funerals and didn’t mind’.

It’s this last scene that struck home with me, because I too was brought up going to funerals, to sing the Requiem. You see, the school I went to was attached to the Catholic Church. The best part of each classroom were the very large windows that looked out onto the grass and swing sets. The children could also watch the cars that drove by on the driveway, as they circled the school and the church. When there was a funeral the procession with the hearse and all the cars filled with mourning family members would also go by. This was our indication to go into the church and sing. We went to Mass every morning anyway, and sang in Latin, but when someone died, it was different. It was a solemn time, and we had to show the greatest respect.

Like Thea, going to sing for a funeral was not a task of drudgery, and even though I look back and realize it wasn’t what most normal children had to do, I didn’t mind. I enjoyed singing, that much, and looking at the beautiful stained glass windows inside the church. Similarly to Thea, these frequent interruptions to go sing at a funeral, were a real part of my school day life. As school children, it was our place to attend to the matter, give our voices to the sad family, and then get on with life. We learned to take the good, with the bad, and the sad, with the happy, and always had that something under our cheek to keep us company, even if it seemed to step out for awhile.

Although, I haven’t finished the story yet, I imagine that Thea has a lot of growing to do, that she will have to struggle even more; But if I know Willa Cather, her heroine will overcome, whatever steps in her way. Thea will undoubtedly be rewarded for her struggle, and be resurrected to an even more dignified level of being.

“I cannot not sail”

While the grogginess of waking comes over me, on this gray rainy morning in early October, an autumnal mood hangs in the atmosphere. Yesterday, we were forewarned of the coming of Joaquín. Beware! A huge hurricane was riding the waves of the sea!  Relieved, we were spared from another big one.

With the season in our midst, I remember the occurrence of Hurricane Gloria, at the end of September of 1985.  Coming from the Midwest, this was the first hurricane I experienced in my life.  Similarly, my husband came from the Ring of Fire, where earthquakes are the norm. In light of the newness of it all, fear was not on my agenda, having lived through many a Wisconsin tornado and blizzard.

The morning before Gloria’s expected arrival, on the advice of a vigilant neighbor, I hurried out to buy batteries, only to find every store, wiped out of supplies. No new batteries, and no duct tape, to secure the windows. Making do with the Duracells, found around the house, I prayed the panes wouldn’t break. Well, the storm, a lesson in science, was proven to be an all day process, moving into the next. As I stood, looking out the divided lights, I saw the trees bend and sway back and forth. They moved 180 degrees, from one side to the other, like sticks of licorice. The daunting speed of the wind caused the trees to crash to the ground around the house. One, two, three and another, uprooted from the base, they fell with a huge thump. The house was being spared, except for the electrical box. Without warning, a trunk like branch from a tree fell on the wires extending to the street, and the metal case was abruptly severed from the clapboard siding, strewing live wires all over the ground, outside.  Then, an incredible stillness enveloped the air as the eye of the storm passed overhead, only to be followed by a more gently flowing wind. Nearing the end, Mother Nature had orchestrated a tremendous performance, with her emissary; The great and powerful Gloria!

Life was disrupted for several weeks into the month of October.  The clean up was slow going, and the crews worked morning and night to restore electricity. The public waited patiently, as fleets of trucks, were sent from Quebec. They were like the Messiah, coming to bring everyone out of the dark.  A heavily wooded state, storms inevitably pose a problem for Connecticut, and its residents can pretty much expect to cook with propane, and burn the lamplight oil.

Well, we survived. I look back, with gratitude that I had no small children to watch out for, and, there was no loss of life, at least that I know of in Connecticut, or New England.

Sitting on the Atlantic Coast, we wait patiently, and ponder, as hurricane season descends upon us. Will the brewing storms perish at sea, like Joaquín, or should one  “batten down the hatches’, before it’s too late? In my quest for enlightenment, I ask myself, “What kind of a sailor will I be in the next storm?  Will I have duct tape and batteries, and jugs and jugs of water?  Will my bathtub be filled, and overflowing?”   The question is not; Will another storm blow in? but rather, How can I ever be prepared? Having not the answers, with affection, and humble regard for the unknown, I recall the beloved words of E.B. White. “I cannot not sail.”

Without Friends

Summer's Secrets
Summer’s Secrets

Summer’s secrets

hold much in store…

frolicking, playing, and more

Sadness, and storms, with thunder and lightening,

Keeping one up

it’s quite frightening.

Life and death are fare game…

Without friends

it wouldn’t be the same.

For my friends by TiffanyCreek

Lesson in Fishing

When my son was a little boy, I thought I had to teach him how to fish, because every boy needs to know this. I knew nothing about the sport, but I went out anyway, and bought fishing equipment for our next big camping trip. Upon arrival, at dusk, in Maine somewhere, out to the dock we went. With his nifty fishing hat, dungaree vest, and fishing poll in hand, I told him to stand at the end of the dock, and cast the line. The next thing I knew, he had fallen into the lake, not sure how. I hope he learned a lesson, and that this is not the last time, he will ever fish.

Struggling to Understand

Thoughts on an article from the St. Paul Pioneer Press, Sunday, August 17, 2014

IGHGrampa writes about ‘struggling to understand issues of Life (and Death)’. He reflects upon the suicide of Robin Williams, saying he had everything a person could possibly want, so how could he possibly want to take his life? Perhaps he has a point, but, many would ask, who is to judge? This point of view reminds me once, when I actually took the attitude, that if someone wants to kill themselves, it is alright. Today, I think twice before making this judgement, and it all stems back to when Someone, somewhere, when I lived in Nebraska, had taken their life. I don’t remember who they were, but it was someone, a coworker of mine and I were talking about one day, at a cafe, or bar. What I do remember, is my conversation with this very attractive blond girl, younger than myself. I really liked this girl a lot.  I think it was her very strong character and the self-confidence, with which she projected herself. In reference to this suicide, I said something to the effect, that it was this person’s decision to do what they wanted with their life, whether it was to continue on, or end it by their own hands. What will never leave my memory, is this girl’s totally unexpected, and strong reaction to my statement. With her steel blue eyes, she looked into, my eyes, and told me point blank; “It’s wrong!” She was adamant and unwavering in her statement, and went on to say that it was a totally selfish act, and that this person had no regard for the feelings of others around him or her. She was so fixed in her opinion that it truly made me stop and think about the act of suicide. To this day, and with utmost respect, I think of the proud and moral position this girl took, and I admire her still, for standing her ground on an issue, about which many people were, and still are, wishy washy. Furthermore, she was young, in the years of the late 70’s, a time when, ‘everything goes’. Today, I shame myself for not having a stronger spine and for following the opinion of the flock.

Going back to the article, IGHGrampa goes on to talk about ‘the struggle’, so to speak. He makes reference to the main character of the movie “Precious”, a woman who seems to have “insurmountable” problems. He writes about the struggle by astronomers to acquire knowledge and an understanding of how the planets and stars are formed, the forces of existence itself.

Pondering these struggles, Grampa remarks on his own trivial struggles, and that ‘sometimes you just have to put the struggles aside for a time.’ He even works on his own little problems in his workshop, to help him forget about the larger struggles of the world. Or, he likes to simply listen to classical music, to escape. His final statement makes so much sense to me, and that is, that perhaps, in order to understand, the key is ‘to make an effort to remove oneself from the struggle’, someway, somehow.

Grampa’s words bring me back to the idea of the struggle, to choose life, or death, between what is right, and what is wrong. In light of these thoughts, it is our duty, to find something that can be done for those, who find themselves alone in a moment of desperation, something to prevent them from hurting themselves, and/or others, whether it be with words, actions, or no action.  The passive-aggressive route. To help them to make an effort to ‘remove themselves from the struggle, and carry on in this world of life and death.  If my blond friend were here today, she would know. She would know what to say, and do.

Presently, I am thankful that this girl stepped into my life, if only for a short time. Like a few people in my life, she is gone, hopefully living, nonetheless, out of my radar.  Yet, the spirit of her hopefulness, has not subsided.  When the question of suicide ever comes up, I think of this girl, who worked by my side, in Lincoln, Nebraska, and, I think twice.