Friday, September 24, 2010

The 4th movement

Something remarkable happened to me this week. As I was driving to work (before sunrise), I was taken aback by the beauty of the bright gold harvest moon in the sky straight in front of me. A few seconds later, I turned on the radio to our local classical music station, and within a few notes I recognized the piece being played - the lovely Moonlight Sonata by Beethoven. That song holds precious memories for me, for its first movement was one of my favorite piano recital pieces as a teenager. Listening to the Moonlight Sonata while watching the gorgeous moon just seemed serendipitous.

For those of you who are non-musicians, the Moonlight Sonata is a piece played solely on the piano and consists of 3 movements, or parts. The first movement has always been relaxing to me, even though, in its minor key, some folks find it a bit sad. It has a wonderfully soothing rhythm that is steady, varies little in volume or style - almost like a lullaby. As I kept driving, watching the moon, and listening to the first movement, the moon was stable in the sky and stayed in front of me, bright and clear.

Then the second movement started, and immediately the moon became playful with me, following the cues of the music. It appeared on the left, then it appeared on the right, then just around the bend, it was on the left again. The music of the second part of Moonlight Sonata picks up the tempo, frolicking a bit and bringing in some changes. You're aware you've turned a page, something is different, and the quiet lullaby is over.

Then came the third movement. I remember that I tried valiantly several times to learn to play that third movement, but it was just too difficult. It starts at 90 miles an hour and never lets up, fingers flying everywhere on the keys, and oh, my, is it loud! Banging, clanging, pulsating, and just when you think it's over, it starts up again, going every which way. It makes your heart race just to listen to it. By this time in my commute, I had turned a different direction on a rural road thick with trees, and most of the time I lost sight of the moon totally.

Then all of a sudden, with a few loud chords, it was over. Silence. Beethoven chose not to balance his sonata with a nice quiet fourth movement after the noisy third movement. The frantic race is over, and there is no cool-down time.

Then it hit me: I'm living the Moonlight Sonata. My life started out as a lullaby, a familiar, secure feeling of love and acceptance, my wonderful childhood. The second movement started when I became an adolescent/teenager. Life became a little more complicated, still fun, but insecurities and changes made their debut, and the ubiquitous teenage worries about appearance, grades, and other self-esteem issues made that time a bit more stressful. The third movement, my adult years, came in with a bang, as I got married at 19 to an active alcoholic, started working, had two children, and tried to pay bills. Even when Ed got sober, things didn't magically calm down, as he entered the ministry and it was another round of stress and changes which threw me for a loop. For the whole third movement of my life, I never was sure if I was banging on the low keys or slapping the high keys - life was everywhere at once, providing me with incredibly uplifting moments and other times hitting me in the face with anxiety and worry. Even after we moved to Maine, as the saying goes, "good" stress can be just as hard on you as "bad" stress. Both kids got married, grandchildren started coming, and we had a very difficult time selling our house, financially and emotionally. The third movement was the roller coaster of movements!

Then it occurred to me that I am now in the fourth movement of my life. My sonata didn't end with those loud chords when we finally downsized and moved to our little house in the country. It just started a new part, a quieter, more peaceful part, and I am composing it every day by the choices I make. I am realizing that the more I choose to honor my priorities and fill my hours with meaning, the more harmonious the music becomes. If I react to situations with anger and frustration, the more dissonant the music becomes.

I've heard people talk about the idea that we write our own stories, the books of our lives. I think I prefer to say I'm writing my own sonata. It's got a lot of sad music, happy music, and everything in between. I'm in the fourth movement, and I'm not finished yet!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Just a few seconds

Every night I call my mom in Memphis and have a little chat. Our talk always includes a short summary of our police report. She enjoys this because usually, with our lower crime rate, our police reports are filled with various and sundry items of curiosities instead of murders. People in Maine will call the police for the most unusual reasons. For instance, there was a man a few years ago who called the police to report he was seeing holographic pictures of his nude wife on the side of his garage. (You have to wonder what he was smoking.) Recently there was a couple having sex on the dock, and in the same report, some condoms had been shoplifted. Wonder if there was a connection there. There are also reports of cows, chickens, pigs loose, and the town of Bucksport always has a "suspicious" person or two every week.

Today, however, the newspaper was full of depressing, not funny, news. There were 3 car accidents involving fatalities, one even wiping out a family (dad, mother, 4-year-old daughter). Sometimes the results of excessive speed, sometimes with DUI, but ultimately most of the accidents we read about (including the tragic one this week of the family above) happen because a driver crossed the centerline. All it takes is a few seconds, and your whole life is changed (or even eliminated). It might not even be the person who makes the mistake who is killed; many times innocent people are victims.

I have been grieving for that family (the mother worked at our hospital, although I did not know her). A few seconds of distraction, whether it's texting or turning the head to look at something or trying to kill a wasp in the car or answering the cell phone or changing the radio station or being blinded by the sun - and lives are gone, just like that, in an instant.

I immediately talked to my adult kids and reminded them to stay away from that centerline and to watch oncoming traffic that appears close to the centerline.

But it doesn't have to a life and death situation for a few seconds to alter your life. It only takes a few seconds to say something hurtful that immediately you wish you never said, or to press "send" on that insulting e-mail before you have a chance to think it over, or even to put up that "funny" photo of yourself on Facebook that your future employer will see. Some decisions in life just don't get the rewind opportunity. You may have the ability to handle troubles, financial and otherwise, and you may be able to handle hurt and disappointment and fear, but regret burns itself into your soul and haunts you forever.

It only takes a few seconds.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

The Fair (and Wayne)

This time of year always makes me nostalgic for the Mid-South Fair. I lived all my childhood in Memphis, just blocks from the fair site, and going to the fair in September was one of the highlights of the year for my sister Joy and me. School would usually give us a holiday for the fair with reduced or free tickets, and we could hardly wait to start the walk to the fairgrounds.

Of course, in Memphis, even towards the end of September, it was usually very hot, but that didn't matter to us. As we got nearer the site, we could hear the sounds of the fair - and the smells. The first chore was walking past the farm animals, who were stationed in an arena with a roof but no walls and you had to pass them to get to the good stuff. You'd think, growing up city girls, we would have been fascinated with the animals, but that was not the case. The stink of mature and straw was just a minor inconvenience that we had to endure before we could get to the main attraction - the rides, of course!

Our funds were limited and our fear was infinite, so we stuck to our preferred time-tested relatively low-key favorite rides - ones that were cheap and not too scary - in other words, rides that stayed pretty close to the ground, like the bumper cars and scrambler. Dad took many home movies that showed how much fun we were having laughing and screaming. As a child, I was always fascinated by the Fun House, but that was more expensive to ride, scary in its own way, and it wasn't until I was an adult that I finally was brave enough to try it.

You can't have a fair without the food, though, and I was a sugar addict, so I bypassed the gyros and corn dogs and headed straight for the cotton candy. Our dad absolutely hated to pay for spun sugar. He knew it was bad for the teeth and considered it a total waste of money. But every year at the fair, he relented. Add to that an occasional snow cone, ice cream cone, and Coke, and I was in sugar heaven.

Forget those mysterious trailers with loudspeakers urging us to "see the Gorilla Man" or "feast your eyes upon the Half Human/Half Alligator Boy." We never got to partake of those opportunities. I did enjoy, though, seeing all the pictures of what was inside. Likewise, we didn't have the money to participate in the "win a stuffed animal" booths and other "games of skill," but it was fun walking by and seeing all the various ways you could empty your wallet quickly.

After we were exhausted from rides, or just wanted a break in some air conditioning, we would walk through the crafts building. This I could only appreciate when I was older, in high school. I was a seamstress by then, and I was really interested in the clothes and items that were sewn for all the fair contests. They all made me feel good - the ones with exquisite workmanship gave me inspiration, and the ones with shoddier workmanship made me feel better about my own skills in comparison.

The Mid-South Fair always had a star attraction giving concerts in the Coliseum. As these tickets were extra, of course, from fair admission, our family budget rarely allowed us to add this to the itinerary, but one memorable year, Joy and I got to see the Cowsills! Another year, though, was a real dud. The fair always fell around my birthday, and that year, for some reason, part of my birthday present was our parents giving us both tickets to the star of that year's fair - none other than Mr. Wayne Newton. Now Wayne back then was not the megastar he is today. He was not popular, not cool, and we didn't even like his music. There we were, two teenage girls, sitting in the audience watching Wayne's performance, wishing we were anywhere else. The audience was small, so Wayne didn't exactly have the biggest fan base at the time. To this day, I hope we kept our disappointment hidden from our parents, because it was a very sweet thing for them to do. Now I laugh when I read a ticket to go see Wayne Newton starts at $80 because he is in such demand.

As I grew up and became an adult, the rides no longer interested me. I still enjoyed the food and the fun of just walking around, but my child-like excitement had been replaced with being able to take our own small children to the fair, with the joy of watching them react to the sounds, smells, tastes, and atmosphere of one of my fondest childhood memories.

The children are grown with kids of their own now. I don't go to the fair anymore; Ed and I don't like to get in big crowds these days. But a whiff of cotton candy, a shot of a ferris wheel in a Monk TV episode, an odor of a hay-eating cow, or a picture of Wayne Newton as "The King of Las Vegas," and I am right back there in Memphis, Tennessee, enjoying the glorious, exhilarating, irreplaceable Mid-South Fair.

Friday, September 03, 2010


As I mentioned in July, we recently downsized and traded two cars for one (a Subaru). After about a week of driving the new car, I realized a major difference in it and my old Toyota: On the Toyota, the number right up top center on the speedometer was 60, and in the Subaru, the number in that same position in 80. As I drive mostly highway miles on my commute, I have always been used to seeing the arrow point straight up to 60; now if I go only by the arrow, I would be speeding at 80. I can't just look at the arrow for guidance anymore; I will have to watch the numbers until I get used to the new setup.

I have to continually remind myself the same lesson as I age. For many years, I have gotten relatively comfortable in my own skin. I have understood my limits and my capabilities. I knew how much weight I could lift, how flexible I could be, how fast and far I could walk. After a few years have gone by, though, as I've aged, the speedometer has changed. I'm so used to seeing the arrow at one point, and forget that a few more years on the calendar means trading in for a new, different speedometer, and the same rules no longer apply.

I think that's one of the hardest parts of aging. You get used to your body behaving and responding in a certain way, then one day it fails you. A joint will crunch painfully or your digestive system won't cooperate or your eyes aren't as sharp; even your hair won't behave like it used to. Yet, somehow we assume things will never change, and then when they inevitably do, we prefer to avoid reality and pretend everything is the same. After all, that arrow has been pointing straight up for a long time now; if it's still straight up, everything must be normal and familiar - in other words, nothing has changed. We may even panic. It can't have changed! How can we act/look so old when we still feel so young at heart? I've heard ER tales of baby boomers who were sedentary all week and then on the weekend, participated in a few too many basketball games or tennis matches, because, after all, that's what they used to be able to do, right? Well, their muscles or bones or heart or some other body part didn't think so. It can be disheartening when you realize your body and stamina have deteriorated. My husband Ed said he was totally deflated a few months ago when he caught a glimpse of his 63-year-old thin lower limbs in the mirror and thought, "Oh no! When did I get my Daddy's legs?!"

Alas, with aging, we know that change is inevitable. Just ask the billions of dollars we consumers spend on products which promise to turn back time. Experts tell us to embrace the change. I don't go that far; I think, however, realizing that change has occurred is paramount. You can't be driving 80 mph when you can only handle 60, and you need to be aware that the speedometer you have been used to seeing has shifted its landmarks. You can't assume things based on the past. Every day is a new day with new challenges, every birthday has more to teach us, and every year our bodies remind us that things, they are a'changin'.