Monday, August 21, 2017

The Contraband of Stolen Music

“Hey Danielle,” he said, smiling up at me with that cheeky grin.  I swear if that grin ever disappears because he’s too old or cool, it might just break my heart.  And those freckles?  Goodness, he may only be eleven but he’s going to break a pile of hearts someday.

“Hey bud, what’s new?”

“I got an MP3 player.”

“That’s pretty cool.”

“Yeah, it’s my first one.”

I smiled inwardly, thinking back to when I first fell in love with music.  My first MP3 player actually belonged to my mother, but I would sneak it into my bedroom and listen to her workout playlist (the only music she kept on it) when I was supposed to be sleeping but couldn’t remember how.  Eventually when I reached my young teens, she gave the thing to me and I began discovering some of what would become my all-time favorite stuff: Jack Jonhson’s lullabies, Frankie Valley and his four seasons, Acapella’s soulful worship, and the soundtracks my father used to put on CD’s for me when I was little.  I explored, no longer nervous of being caught with the contraband of stolen music.

“I thought maybe you could take it.”  He produced the shiny little blue device seemingly from midair and slipped it into my palm.

We were sitting in the backseats of the family truck, on our way to some now-forgotten event, and I realized that this conversation was not an idle eleven-year old’s way of passing the time - it was premeditated.  

But for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out why.  I was pretty sure it wasn’t a gift, so what did he intend for me to do with it?  What had I missed?

He glanced at me furtively as another sibling climbed into the vehicle. 

“Um, you want me to…” I hoped he would finish the sentence but he kept quiet.  “Oh, want me to load it up for you?” I asked.

“Yeah,” he shrugged, playing it cool.

“Cool.  Like some acapella stuff? Or something more exciting for swim meets?”

“Or that thing we talked about…  If you want?”

He glanced back at the sibling who had just joined us, another big sister, and it suddenly dawned on me.  He had asked me ages ago to make him a new CD of Hamilton music since his previous CD had gone missing.  I’d forgotten (for the space of a couple of months) and he’d taken matters into his own hands by buying an MP3 player just so he could listen to Hamilton.  Recalling how had reminded me at least once or twice, a pang of guilt constricted my chest. 

It’s hard sometimes – being the sister he only sees on the weekends at best. 

His furtive glances at our other sister made sense now too.  She didn’t exactly approve of our shared love of Hamilton.  It’s a fair enough stance, the songs I don’t listen to have some foul language in them that’s unfit for eleven-year-old ears.  But then again, our mother is okay with the clean songs and with the couple of clean versions of songs I found edited on youtube and she is the mom, so it wasn’t against the rules. 

Still, it concerned his little mind so I played right along.

“Oh, gotcha,” I said, slipping the device (and charging cable he thought might be necessary) into my pocket.  “I’ll get it back to you soon.”

“Thanks,” he said, buckling in as we back out of the driveway.

“What are you guys talkin’ about?” the sister on the end of the row asked.

“Nothing,” Eli and I said in unison.

After a few miles he leaned over and whispered,

“You won’t forget?”

“Don’t worry,” I whispered back.  “I’m not throwing away my shot on this one.”

That response accomplished what I’d hoped, earning me another grin.

Sitting here now, hundreds of miles away, it makes me a bit tearful to think that I get to be his big sister.  That I am allowed the honor and responsibility of helping to mold his little mind and his tastes, that I get to know this amazing person and watch him grow, that we get to share in this great big scary wonderful world together. 

The music he wanted me to load on his player was the clean (or cleaned-up) songs from the Hamilton soundtrack.  It’s a beautiful and thrilling retelling of a true story – and the voice talents and story line are heart-breakingly amazing. It’s the sort of written thing I can’t even be envious of, I’m just grateful to live in a time where it exists and I can be a part of it by listening.  Hamilton is a play about a man obsessed with the legacy he leaves behind.  Who lives, who dies, who tells your story? is a line oft repeated.

I’m not sure if anyone will tell my story, but I’m not sure that really matters.  I think the legacy of a simple, faithful life spent for the Lord and lived alongside cheeky grins and contraband music is enough. 

At least, it is for me.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017


   "Now, your report card is out on the counter, and guess what?"
   "What?" he looked up at me from the boat he was repetitiously sinking into the water.
   "I even put stickers one it."
   "Stickers?  And the stickers will be for me?" he asked.
   "Well they're stuck to your report card, but you'll get to see all the things you did this session in swim with me.  So it's time to get out now, go see your Daddy and you can get your report card."
   A miracle happened then, for the first time in eight weeks, the adorable, spoiled little preschooler got out of the water without a fight. No coaxing necessary.
   The next half hour was empty due to a cancelled class, so my fellow lifeguard, Cal, and I began cleaning up the deck.  From across the pool he shouted my name.  I looked up to see a childish grin on his face, he was holding the frisbees I'd used in class (entertaining props, not just for preschoolers) and he wanted me to catch them.  I had to jump to catch the first, but the second came straight at me.  I smiled inwardly that it was sort of aimed at my face, funny how the creative life can spill over into "real life."
   "I'm heading out then," Cal said, his shift over.
   "See you later," I said, heading to the women's locker room to get out of my wet bathing suit.
   I got through the door and grabbed my towel before turning back.  I was glad to catch him still out on deck.
   "Or maybe I won't," I said.
   "I might not see you.  This is my last shift with you before I take off for the summer, and you're leaving in the fall."
   "Really?  Man... Nah, I'm sure I'll see you again."
   "Maybe," I said, "if you can't find a real job."
   He laughed.
   "That's a possibility.  But if I don't see you in the fall, I'll see you way later."  He made a big gesture with his arm, as if throwing a sloppy shot with a basketball.
   Reminded of the knowledge of our shared heritage, growing up in gospel-preaching churches, a smile spread across my face and I nodded.
   "Yeah.  Way, way later."
   "See you then," he said.
   We parted then, and I didn't see him again.  But it is good to know that I will, later on.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

The sun still rises, and she's still here

How do you look at the love of your life and tell her, through her tears, this is where I leave you? How do you premeditate an earthquake, see the damage it will cause, and wreck it all anyways?

It's a great cliche, I can see that.  I didn't tell him that he meant a lot to me, not recently.  I didn't say thank you and now it's too late.  These are the types of things that people say in soap operas, worn little regrets that have been used so often, they no longer hold any meaning.

Until you go to what was his house and for a split second, wonder where he is.  What a stupid thing to think when you've gone there to bring flowers to his wife because he is irrevocably gone.  The mind does strange things to cope.

I am not enough for times like these.  I am less than what is needed, less than what is deserved.  I have been a peace-maker among my siblings, my friends - there's a puzzle piece in my soul that yearns to set things right.  I can't make this right.  In fact, I cannot even use these words that I've practiced, not in real life, not when it matters.  When face to face, all I can do is allow useless tears to roll down my cheeks.  Stupid, selfish, useless tears.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Chlorine mixed with tears

I walked down a winding lane today and watched a couple, grey-haired, kissing one another goodbye. Yet they could not be content with one kiss, but shared in three. I saw a mother holding the hand of a small boy, blonde curls framing his face and the remnants of lunch on one cheek. A messy little angel he was. I watched cars drive by, one after another after another and I wondered at their mysterious and complex lives. 

I thought to myself, but life is beautiful. There is so much to love and so many to be loved by. 

I am not angry with you, yet at times I am furious. The feeling that predominates is a greater weight in the region of my heart. You let me down, but more importantly, you let two curly-haired, dimpled little boys down. Little boys who looked out their window and dreamed of the far reaches of the galaxy. Little boys that I am supposed to protect, that I cannot protect from what you did to them. I did not have to bear such truths when I was their age. 

Why? I wish you could tell me. Was it isolation? The inevitability of oblivion that your world-view had convinced you of? Was it your health? What was the pain that you felt you had no other escape from?

And my biggest question... how could I have lifted this pain for you? What have I done?

I could have done more.  There is always that truth, that bitter seed of knowledge. Yet, I know it was not down to me. It was down to you and your burdens.

Was the weapon really lighter than the weight you bore? I am sorry and I am angry and my throat is much too tight.

You knew the God of creation, you saw Him in the mountains out your front window. I don't know how to pray for you, but I pray for the wife you left behind. And the two little boys and the little girls you hurt. Their precious tears mixing with chlorine, it is all much too terrible. I pray for it to become a gentler pain washed softer with time. 

I hope to see you again, I hope you are alright, and I hope.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

I can't find my own words tonight, I will have to borrow another's. I don't think Leonard would mind.


There are some men
who should have mountains
to bear their names to time.

Grave markers are not high enough
or green,
and sons go far away
to lose the fist
their father’s hand will always seem.

I had a friend:
he lived and died in mighty silence 
and with dignity,
left no book, son, or lover to mourn.

Nor is this a mourning-song
but only a naming of this mountain
on which I walk,
fragrant, dark and softly white
under the pale of mist.
I name this mountain after him.

(L. Cohen)

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Piano Keys Amidst Chaos

I'm sitting in the library after a particularly full week.  I don't want to call it a stressful week, because it contained good elements, as well as elements that caused a great deal of anxiety.  It was a week full of ups and downs, and I couldn't help but feel as though it was a week of concentrated time - so much more was stuffed into each hour and day.

But I took time out from errands to sit in the library with my computer to write for a while.  I was typing along when I took out one of my headphones and heard that from the other room, someone was playing the piano.

And not just playing the piano - this stranger was working in harmony with their instrument to create art. There's a difference.  My sisters and I have all played various instruments since we were little, and I've seen the violin and piano become artwork in their hands.  It's incredible.

To my sheer enjoyment, the song choices ranged from Music of the Night, to Edelweiss, to The Rainbow Connection - all songs that I could sing along with if I so chose (no worries, i'ts a quiet library and I'm still sane, I did not so choose).  But they were all songs that I could listen to and be filled by - relating with them with nostalgia instead of enjoying them abstractly.

I think all great art is a collaboration of sorts.  The pianist's music in the other room is made more beautiful by the enjoyment I (and others) derive from it.  The book that I have safely tucked away in my bag is just a collection of ink and paper until I take it up and collaborate with the author, settling into their pattern of thought and the universe they've spun.

Art imitates life, and thus our lives are made richer the more we collaborate with others.  Our lives become more meaningful the more we take time to enjoy the beauty of what others are creating, the more we attempt to understand their stories.

The world isn't always a beautiful place, but it's wrong to think there is no beauty in it.  It's just that sometimes beauty is something we have to look for in order to see - in people, the art of their lives, and in the complexity of this great earth in which we get to live.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Questions I don't know how to answer

Someone asked me what marriage was.  I didn't know what to say and I almost gave the one-word answer of "persistence."

It wasn't a bad answer, but I was half-joking and it didn't really sum everything up.

Marriage is having someone in your corner.  It's coming home at the end of the day to someone who wants to know how yours was.  It's being yourself and being liked for it.  It's also being annoyed and even flat out angry now and then, but it's having enough humility to say you're sorry afterwards, or to accept their apology.  Even if they never said it aloud.  It's eating together, a lot.  It's being on someone's team and having them on your team too.  It's caring, it's being kind.

And it isn't half bad.