P.T. Barnum once declared, “There’s a sucker born every minute.” I’m one of them.
A month or so ago, I was watching a TV program where aging artists sing the songs that made them famous, and somehow they sound just as good as when their vocal cords were 60 years younger.
I have a particular affection for the music of the 1950s and early ‘60s. I was young then; I was healthy; everything was possible; the whole world opened up before me.
I embodied the Les Paul and Mary Ford song, “I’m sittin’ on top of the world.”
So I ordered the six CD set.
I was disappointed.
Not because of the quality of the music. The songs were beautifully re-mastered. And they did include many pieces I remembered.
But they also left out a lot. They didn’t include even one song by Elvis Presley or Bill Haley, who shook up (pun intended) the music industry.
There was nothing by Frank Sinatra or Ella Fitzgerald. No big band numbers, although they were still high on the charts. And apparently Jo Stafford, Jimmie Rodgers, Guy Mitchell, and Teresa Brewer didn’t rate either.
I was in radio during that decade; I managed two music libraries; I remember the hit-makers well.
Cause of disappointment
My disappointment, I realize, rises not from the discs themselves, but from my expectations of them.
Indeed, when I think about it, most of my disappointments have resulted from flawed expectations. A job, a friendship, a trip, that didn’t work out as well as I had hoped. A manuscript that fell short of what I had expected. Even my marriage, at times, didn’t measure up to unreal expectations.
I wonder if the Buddha would object to a slight amendment of his teachings.
Several sources describe the core of Buddhism as “the extinction of desires.” The ultimate goal, nirvana, implies wanting nothing, needing nothing, just being.
I don’t fully agree. I think desires – for oneself, or for others – are still important. And my own Christian tradition encourages me to respond to life actively rather than passively.
But I’d substitute “expectations” for “desires.”
I see nothing wrong with desiring good health, friendly relationships, meaningful activities. The alternative – negativity about health and relationships – will guarantee unhappiness.
But when you start expecting those things, when you start believing you’re entitled to them, then if you don’t get them, you’re going to be angry. Depressed. Even vengeful, seeking to make the more fortunate suffer.
The message seems to be that I should go into any new aspect of life without expectations. About how things should work out, about what benefits I should receive, about how others should behave.
Aging is one of those new experiences. There’s no going back to what I was.
Life is what it is.
Which is, essentially, what God told Moses in the desert: “I am what I am.” Although, since ancient Hebrew had no past or future tenses, God might equally well have meant, “I am what I was,” or “I will be whatever I will be.”
Or as Doris Day sang: “Que sera sera.”
Coincidentally, another song omitted from the CD set.
Copyright © 2020 by Jim Taylor. Non-profit use in congregations and study groups, and links from other blogs, welcomed; all other rights reserved.
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This letters section will be longer than usual. Last week’s column about memories stirred some really moving letters from you. And this isn’t all of them! I’m particularly delighted to hear from some first-time writers.
Richard Hendricks: “Your piece was hard to read because it contained so many vivid descriptions of what are now memories. In that regard, part of my faith is that no amount of love is ever lost – and if that is true, aren’t memories simply reconfigurations of love?”
Sarah Donohue: “Your writing about memories is stunning. I have often felt exactly as you describe, not because I lost a spouse by death but from divorce. No one wants to hear the stories of our better times together. All the memories we created I now carry alone.
“A retired pastor friend told me he and his wife have been spending their COVID lockdown days going through photographs from 60 years of marriage. Recalling those days has been wonderfully rich and rewarding for them. I imagine them sitting together on a couch molded to their familiar bodies, surrounded by tumbling heaps of photos, reliving times the two of them spent together that no one else will ever know as intimately as they do. Looking at those photos isn’t the same when doing it alone, is it?
“Another friend told me it’s the experiences she and her spouse shared, just the two of them — times no one else knows even happened — that she treasures the most. Calling the other over to observe an elusive fox dancing with her tail, getting lost on an empty backstreet in a strange city, contemplating our insignificance while watching a total eclipse of the moon. What significance do those shared memories hold when they are borne alone?
“The ache is deep. The empty hole left in our lives is dark. The yearning never ceases.”
Bob Warrick: Thank you for your reflection on memories. I have so many part memories that I wish I could sharpen up by talking with my Dad, or Mum, or my sister, but they are all no longer; or my brother but he has dementia.
“Not sure if our grand-daughters now 21 and 23 can remember ’The Owl and the Pussycat’ that I read thousands of times to them at bath-time.. but the words do return to me from time to time!”
JT: I can still recite a favourite Three Little Pigs book by heart!
Tom Watson: “Very poetic. Every once in a while, without notice, a memory comes and sits on our shoulder, saying ‘remember when’ and the memory evokes either a smile or a tear...and both the smile and the tear are to be treasured as they are healing.”
Gloria Jorgenson: I have often wondered how you were faring with this isolation thing. Your column today assures me that you're doing as well as can be expected.
“I have never really enjoyed poetry. Too much effort wasted trying to rhyme words or to accomplish a certain cadence. I'm not a very sophisticated reader so the meaning of the piece often escapes me. Your column today is the exact opposite of that. It paints a picture and sets a tone with nothing more than words. No rhyming, no cadence, just a beautifully descriptive use of words.
“Memories are more fun shared but they are valuable on their own. Enjoy them.”
Nan Erbaugh: “My husband of 48 years died 22 June after fighting Parkinson's and dementia for 15 years due to Agent Orange exposure in Vietnam. Covid kept us apart except for skype which I'm not sure he understood. Thankfully I was with him for the last 4 hours of his life. It is amazing what long ago memories keep coming to the surface out of nowhere. It is delightful even if it brings pain. I feel the fog is lifting a bit.”
Greta Horton: “Your title grabbed at my heart. I lost my husband, Ken, 17 months ago after his long fight following a cerebral stroke. We were married almost 59 years.
“I also have fleeting memories that are blessings. Someone says something and I’m travelling with him across Canada with a 16 foot trailer and three young children in our station wagon! Or a camping trip to P.E.I. [when] we had a lot of rain and our camper collapsed one night into the red earth!
“Memories permeate from the depths of my mind, times not thought of for many, many years. Memories keep me company.”
Margaret Mills: “Often, I recall something from my life I shared with my spouse and would love to discuss it with him. He has been gone 11 years now. Some memories could only be appreciated by him. They are meaningless to others.”
Florence Driedger: How can I respond to such a wonderfully written memory and look into the future? You brought me close to tears as I read on. I was near the river, on the road and walking with you… I too was in Ethiopia and felt the dark night of people facing the excruciating drought and coming through the pain into the future. But I have not been through all you described and want to affirm how meaningful it is for me as you share your thoughts.”
Wilma Davison: “Beautiful (and accurate) description of grief that encapsulates so well the saying of ‘they are everywhere.........but nowhere’. I can tell you from having lost a husband and two of three daughters that this is an everyday experience in my life now, bringing sadness but also joy and thankfulness for having been so loved.”
Isabel Gibson quoted my line, “My dark road unfurls ahead, leading who knows where, over the hills and far away...”
“One of Mom's favourites was Don Blanding's poem, The Rest of the Road:
How long? How far? How hard? How fine?
How heavy or light the load?
If it’s half as good as the half I’ve known
Here’s Hail! … to the rest of the road.
“What good are memories with no one to share them with? Two things, I guess. They *are* whether they're good for anything or not. And you share them with us. Not the same, I know. Not as good. But, pace Blanding, maybe half as good?”
Jayne Whyte: “Memories are the rocks in the stream that stir the water, aerate it so life goes on. Memories hold pain and promise. I felt your grief. I also appreciate that as a writer, you share memories and include your readers for our own moments of music and musing and murky fog.”
Bob Thompson: “Maybe there is someone with whom to share those memories. Maybe thinking them is sharing them. The Celtic Christian tradition talks about the Spirit returning to God when we die. Modern science talks about the collective consciousness. My experience leads me to believe in that collective consciousness, and I find that Celtic Christian take on it to be deeply significant. Every baby who is born is an incarnation of God, we remain grounded in God throughout our lives, and we return to God when we die. I guess we all have our take on what that means, but my sense is that we continue to be in communication with those who have gone from us, even in our thoughts. And what a rich part of our lives are those memories that you talk about.”
I have apparently never written a paraphrase for Psalm 145:1-8 (the alternate for this coming Sunday). So here’s something new, a praise paraphrase based on how (I think) my dog thinks of me. Is that how we’re supposed to think of God? You tell me.
I lie on the floor, but my eyes always watch you.
You are the core of my life.
I make mistakes. I bark at the door when there’s no one there. But you know better.
Your wisdom astonishes me.
You taught me to ignore snarling dogs on the other side of the fence;
You feed me, you brush me, you cuddle me;
I can’t begin to describe all the ways you care for me.
So I hold my head high when we walk down the street.
I’m proud to walk with you, and I want everyone to see it.
You don’t fly into rages; you accept my limitations.
You are the core of my life.
You can find paraphrases of most of the psalms in the Revised Common Lectionary in my book Everyday Psalms available from Wood Lake Publishing, email@example.com.
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Wayne Irwin's “Churchweb Canada,” an inexpensive service for any congregation wanting to develop a web presence, with free consultation. http://wwwDOTchurchwebcanadaDOTca He’s also relatively inexpensive!
I recommend Isabel Gibson’s thoughtful and well-written blog, wwwDOTtraditionaliconoclastDOTcom. She also has lots of beautiful photos. Especially of birds.
Tom Watson writes a weekly blog called “The View from Grandpa Tom’s Balcony” -- ruminations on various subjects, and feedback from Tom’s readers. Write him at tomwatsoATgmailDOTcom (NB that’s “watso” not “watson”)
ALVA WOOD’S ARCHIVE
I have acquired (don’t ask how) the complete archive of the late Alva Wood’s collection of satiric and sometimes wildly funny columns about a mythical village’s misadventures. I’ve put them on my website: http://quixotic.ca/Alva-Wood-Archive. You’re welcome to browse. No charge. (Although maybe if I charged a fee, more people would find the archive worth visiting.)