Nine lives

From the first tentative four notes of Mahler’s Ninth Symphony [June 2, 2017], I was caught up in the Omaha Symphony Orchestra’s performance on Friday, . Mahler must have felt the pressures of living and dying as he composed this long paean to mortality, almost as if he felt it was his last chance to make a statement. It’s almost as if he, and you and I, wait for the fifth note, the completion of the musical phrase.

Much has been said about this work, but what I couldn’t shake was the thought the Mahler mattered.

That led to a fixation on the conjugation of the verb.

You matter. Mahler mattered. Artists matter and mattered. On and on the conjugation goes. Mahler’s four notes carry on and carry on. It matters.

Black holes swallow each other up and send gravity waves across the universe. That matters.

A flap of a butterfly’s wings also sets off a pattern. It may or may not affect the global climate. But, that butterfly and that stroke across the air matters, mattered, will matter.

Too much attention to the little stuff, indeed the big stuff, that matters can lead to a trip to the looney bin, but that sensibility must always be present.

I matter, in my work as an editor, in my work in the back yard, as I fix bicycles. You certainly matter, in any task you do. The third person matters. He, she and it no longer define, but that third person matters.

What I do, what you do, what that third person does matters. It’s small, certainly. It may be a symphony, a life’s work, certainly. It is everything as mundane as tying a shoe or as grand as winning a major battle or a peace prize. But, it matters.

So, my Sunday thoughts haven’t strayed far from that lengthy conjugation: I, you, we, they have a place. It matters.

Homage to the blues

Type in any search box “the blues” and you’ll be rewarded with example after example of example of one of mankind and womankind’s greatest cultural legacies.

I tapped into that today after basking in the blues of just-departed Greg Allman. He ain’t never coming back, went the way of all human beings, but thank God, his full-throated visceral roars have been preserved… and the plaintive B3, the slow, then full-throttle rhythms, the thrilling twin-guitar leads.

Allman’s death, his and the band’s story, reading about the deaths of minority youths and elders in acts of violence, the solemnity of Memorial Day sermons and observances are all coming together in a patchwork of the blues.

So many people in the service of our country and other countries have died, bloodied on battlefields, soon or long after after being wounded. Young and old, caught in the crossfire of misunderstandings of human beings with the same DNA code, have died at gunpoint or in circumstances they did not deserve. Artists have died, some more famous than others, all after following their ideas, their muses and creating.

We’ve got much for legacies from all these folks, but chief among them are the blues.

Allman Brothers: Dreams

Thoughts on my mother’s passing

I was raised by a warrior. Chances are you were, too.

And, sometimes it takes a funeral to help bring that home. A remembrance reminds a person of the circumstances of a life.

Mom’s funeral on Monday helped sharpen that for me.

It was important to her to make sure her kids learned that structure was important. She was good at that.

She did her darnedest to bring order to our lives. Three meals a day. Always a garden. She knitted and crocheted. She sewed. Her house was very, very clean. She read. She read to her children. She wrote letters. She kept track of who was who in the families. Anyone who visited was invited to sign a guest book. If she knew you, you’d likely get a birthday card, with a letter.

I’ve missed a few things I should add to that list, I’ll bet.

She was a preacher’s wife, too. That’s a tough role to fill, right there. She tackled that with the same vigor of her other endeavors. She played piano. She played organ. She taught Sunday school. She led Bible studies.

She was the wife of a Reformed Church missionary, as well, called to be of service among several tribes of American Indians. This woman, raised with German, Protestant, Calvinistic values, was determined to pass that along, wherever her and her husband’s calling took them.

All that came from a deep well of belief — Christ is redemption Christ brings meaning. There were terrible times, but those, too, had their places in the scheme of things.

Sometimes all that order made it tough to live with her, but that went with the territory.

The last 12 years or so of her life, she battled infections after illness resulted in total parenteral nutrition. A woman who loved to cook for herself and others could only taste food while liquid nutrition was delivered through a vein.

But, she battled those recurring infections, recovering time after time, maintaining a faith that puts mine to shame.

Chances are you have a warrior in your family. And, it’s a good idea to think of a parent in that fashion. They may not be dressed in a cape or armor or camouflage, but I’ll bet they’ve fought their share of battles to get you to where you are.

History sometimes pivots on moments

I’ve long been convinced of the power of story. Annie Dillard, Hunter Thompson. Flannery O’Connor. Herman Melville. These authors and others have heavily influenced how I look at the world.

I was reminded today, thanks to a reference to the web site http://time.com/4381471/july-4-moments-change-america/, that there are moments upon which history turns. I took a spin through the list and was reminded of the power of a single story on the path of a nation.

At some point, the old clothes are changed for something new.

I don’t want to overstate, for history is changed by more than the moment, but culture builds to a point of change, and a single event can remove the last obstruction to a course of action that takes our lives in a different direction.

Here, in northwest Iowa, I’m on the lookout for the event that will signal a sharp turn in a number of areas: a deep cultural acceptance of diversity, the emergence of a strong, ethical citizen journalism, permaculture over annual cropping, to name just a few.

In future years, someone will be able to pick out the moment in which a significant shift happens.

Whether it will be legislative action, a change in language usage, the evolution of gender, technological advance, an acceptance that the human DNA includes all colors, changes in sport and popular expressions of culture, the emergence of new global political entities or the evolution of law and order, there will be points in which our history will pivot. It’s an exciting, sobering, sometimes scary notion that we’re part of slow swells that will one day break in directions that have been building for years.

A late snow

Friday’s sheet of snow,

tightly furled around the yard,

is now rumpled

as a muscular sun

pours its rays.

Blizzard pieces drop like rain

from frosted evergreens

Busy squirrels dimple,

intent on trails between trees

while hungry ferals stalk.