Picture
A Childhood Idyll by William Adolphe Bouguereau
My youngest daughter, Dorea, is finishing out a run of The Fantasticks in Winston-Salem this weekend. On Tuesday (hence my blog silence), my oldest daughter Aletheia and I took a road trip south to see her perform. The show is beautifully imagined, the music and acting not only carefully crafted but effortless, and there was a tenderness that overflowed from the relationship between the cast into the audience that I found moving. 

Try to Remember, a song whose popularity goes beyond Broadway, opens the show. With a warm baritone the narrator, El Gallo, urges us to take a moment and reflect on our own youth, that time when we were innocent and open.

Try to remember when life was so tender
That dreams were kept beside your pillow.
Try to remember when life was so tender
That love was an ember about to billow.
Try to remember, and if you remember,
Then follow.

If we are able to remember our own experiences, then this story of young love will resonate. If not, perhaps it can offer us a sympathetic vehicle with which to travel into our past and look upon ourselves with kindness and understanding.

Remembering our youth, the experiences, the relationships, the dreams, the disappointments is what this poem by Longfellow touches upon. In My Lost Youth Longfellow weaves his memories of childhood around a "Lapland song" whose lines create the refrain at the end of each stanza.
 
A boy's will is the wind's will
And the thoughts of a boy are long, long thoughts.
 

Slowing down on this couplet opens some questions. How should we interpret the "wind's will?" Although known to be fickle, wind can also be strong. And while thoughts can be fleeting, through the repetition of the word "long," Longfellow intimates something substantial. I'm reminded of a sailboat, driven by the wind and yet on an ocean with an endless horizon. There is play between the strength of the wind and the ability to hoist one's sail and take control. But most importantly, there is plenty of room to maneuver, even if one might get blown off course. 

The rhyme structure of the poem is neatly balanced until we reach the final 4 lines. Then our sense of order is jarred by the fact that the last line does not end with "long," which rhymes quite handily with "song." Despite the repetition of "long" which gives some amount of satisfaction, we are left hanging a bit on "thoughts." Perhaps this open-endedness allows a bridge from the past to the current act of reflection in which the poet is now engaged.

The Lapland song which plays in Longfellow's mind is not static, but fluid; at times it haunts or murmurs or whispers or sings. Sometimes a burden, it is also described as wayward, mournful, sweet, fitful, beautiful, and fatal. In this, it is not unlike the soundtracks of our own lives, which change and morph depending on which vignette of our past we choose to play. 

It takes time and some effort to review one's childood, and many of us tend to be fully engaged in the present or the future, not leaving much room for past reflections. But I wonder if another reason we don't access our childhood is because of a reticence to engage in the conflicting emotions of our past. Someone once told me that most people cannot remember middle school, as it is an extremely painful period of development. And yet, as El Gallo tells us, "without a hurt, the heart is hollow."

All of our experiences make us who we are. "Nothing is ever really lost, or can be lost," opens Whitman's poem Continuities. And so Longfellow comes to realize as he finishes his reverie. He has not flinched from the retrospective, the pain of those "things of which [he] may not speak, and dreams that cannot die." He acknowledges that there is discomfort with the changes that come over the years. "Strange are the forms I meet" he says, upon visiting his childhood home. And yet for all this, his lost childhood comes back to him as a welcomed gift; in the dreams of the days that were, it ignites a joy so profound, it is almost painful.


 
My Lost Youth
 
by Henry  Wadsworth Longfellow
 
Often I think of the beautiful  town
       That is seated by the sea;
Often in thought go up and down
The pleasant streets of that dear old town,
       And my youth comes back to me.
             And a verse of a Lapland song
             Is haunting my memory still:
       "A boy's will is the wind's will,
And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts."

I can see the shadowy lines of its trees,
       And catch, in sudden gleams,
The sheen of the far-surrounding seas,
And islands that were the Hesperides
       Of all my boyish dreams.
             And the burden of that old song,
             It murmurs and whispers still:
       "A boy's will is the wind's will,
And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts."

I remember the black wharves and the slips,
       And the sea-tides tossing free;
And Spanish sailors with bearded lips,
And the beauty and mystery of the ships,
       And the magic of the sea.
             And the voice of that wayward song
             Is singing and saying still:
       "A boy's will is the wind's will,
And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts."

I remember the bulwarks by the shore,
       And the fort upon the hill;
The sunrise gun, with its hollow roar,
The drum-beat repeated o'er and o'er,
       And the bugle wild and shrill.
             And the music of that old song
             Throbs in my memory still:
       "A boy's will is the wind's will,
And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts."

I remember the sea-fight far away,
       How it thundered o'er the tide!
And the dead captains, as they  lay
In their graves, o'erlooking the tranquil bay,
       Where they in battle died.
             And the sound of that mournful song
             Goes through me with a thrill:
       "A boy's will is the wind's will,
And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts." 

I can see the breezy dome of groves,
       The shadows of Deering's  Woods;
And the friendships old and the early loves
Come back with a Sabbath sound, as of doves
       In quiet neighborhoods. 
             And the verse of that sweet old song,
             It flutters and murmurs still:
       "A boy's will is the wind's will,
And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts."

I remember the gleams and glooms that dart
       Across the school-boy's brain;
The song and the silence in the heart,
That in part are prophecies, and in part
       Are longings wild and vain.
             And the voice of that fitful song
             Sings on, and is never still:
       "A boy's will is the wind's will,
And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts."

There are things of which I may not speak;
       There are dreams that cannot die;
There are thoughts that make the strong heart weak,
And bring a pallor into the cheek,
       And a mist before the eye.
             And the words of that fatal song
             Come over me like a chill:
       "A boy's will is the wind's will,
And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts."

Strange to me now are the forms I meet
       When I visit the dear old town;
But the native air is pure and  sweet,
And the trees that o'ershadow each well-known street,
       As they balance up and down,
             Are singing the beautiful song,
             Are sighing and whispering still:
       "A boy's will is the wind's will,
And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts."

And Deering's Woods are fresh and fair,
       And with joy that is almost pain
My heart goes back to wander there,
And among the dreams of the days that were,
       I find my lost youth again.
             And the strange and beautiful song,
             The groves are repeating it still:
       "A boy's will is the wind's will,
And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts."



Note
:
There are several youtube offerings of Whitman's poem read aloud and put to music and/or photography the I found enjoyable.

 
Quite a few of my friends and family have sent a son or daugher off to college this fall. And so this Thanksgiving will be the first holiday in which they welcome them back. From now on, there will be a flowing in and out as the young adult navigates two worlds, the one which grounded him or her, and the other in which they fly. 

A parent who has loved deeply feels the loss, and yet can celebrate the freedom of the child. In her poem, First Thanksgiving, Sharon Olds captures the myriad of emotions that accompany a child's homecoming. I caught the last few lines of this poem on an NPR special this week, and was delighted to find the entire poem over at poetryfoundation.org, one of several sites that resources poetry lovers.

First Thanksgiving
Sharon Olds
 
When she comes back, from college, I will see
the skin of her upper arms, cool,
matte, glossy. She will hug me, my old
soupy chest against her breasts,
I will smell her hair! She will sleep in this apartment,
her sleep like an untamed, good object,
like a soul in a body. She came into my life the
second great arrival, after him, fresh
from the other world—which lay, from within him,
within me. Those nights, I fed  her to sleep,
week after week, the moon rising,
and setting, and waxing—whirling, over the months,
in a slow blur, around our planet.
Now she doesn’t need love like  that, she has
had it. She will walk in glowing, we will talk,
and then, when she’s fast asleep, I’ll exult
to have her in that room again,
behind that door! As a child, I caught
bees, by the wings, and held them, some seconds,
looked into their wild faces,
listened to them sing, then tossed them back
into the air—I remember the moment the
arc of my toss swerved, and they entered
the corrected curve of their departure.

Note on artwork. More art by this artist may be found here.
 
Today I'm excited to promote a new book - Letters to Me, a collaboration of 19 contributors talking to their younger selves. As varied as their authors, the letters include advice as well as cheerleading, tips for noticing what's important and warnings to let things go. They deal with a broken heart, an unexpected pregnancy, disillusionment, losing a job, and the struggle for a positive self-image, to name a few. But there's no blaming here, just encouragement. As Brian McLaren says, "It's important to be a friend to yourself."

Many of the conversations invite introspection, bringing insight about some of the deeper issues which will drive decisions, noting where they've come from and how to move beyond them. I appreciated Christopher Smith's self-critique on impatience while promoting the work of shalom, and Margot Starbuck's gentle dismantling of traits that were helpful while she was shuttled from family to family, but that were stifling her soul as she grew.

Edited by Dan Schmidt (who, besides being a great writer just happens to be my husband), Letters to Me will certainly be of value to younger adults who are just starting out,  as they have the opportunity to listen in on these grace-filled conversations. But as a middle-ager, I found the book compelling as well. In hearing others speak with hindsight about their lives, I felt confirmed in my own choices, even those which may have seemed like they took me off-course. As Lyla Lindquist says at the end of her essay "As much as my life so far has looked like a crazy bunch of detours and switchbacks with no real aim in mind, where I am right now turns out to be the very place I want to be."

I'm convinced that Letters to Me has at least one story that will move you, and probably more. Whether it's for Christmas, a birthday or a graduation, this collection of letters will make a great gift. So click on the cover above to head to the Amazon site. (Kindle version also available.) Scroll down to read some of the other reviews posted there. And then grab yourself a copy or ten.
 
Picture
Wheatfield with Mountains in the Background by Vincent Van Gogh

Returning from a walk the other day, I found myself drinking in the sky - that clear blue crisp sky that caps an autumn day. You're lovely! I thought. And a song I can't remember now went through my mind. Nature moves me. Even when it's getting colder out, and I'm tempted to stay inside rather than venture into the brisk air, I know there is something out there waiting and wanting to grab my shoulders and twirl me around with joy.

Moved
Uvavnuk (Iglulik Eskimo woman)

The great sea stirs me.
The great sea sets me adrift,
it sways me like the weed
on a river-stone.

The sky's height stirs me.
The strong wind blows through my mind.
It carries me with it,
so I shake with joy.

translated by Tom Lowenstein
from
Poetry for the Earth
 
The soup-making bug has hit the Schmidt house. Last week I grabbed some leeks from the farmer's market and took a few minutes to make a pot of potato-leek soup. A good source of vitamins A, K, C and the mineral manganese, leeks also offer an impressive array of antioxidants. But aside from the fact it's good for you, this soup just tastes great. Flavored with bacon and topped with cheddar cheese, it's as yummy as a stuffed potato - just slides down easier. 

Fun fact - leeks are one of the national symbols of Wales. 

Potato and Leek Soup

3 leeks
2 T olive oil
2 strips bacon, chopped
1/2 c dry white wine (I use sherry if I'm out)
5 c chicken stock
4 med potatoes, peeled and cubed
2 bay leaves
1/2 t lemon pepper seasoning
1/2 t thyme
1 c evaporated milk
Cheddar cheese (for garnish)
Chives (for garnish)

Trim off the green portions of the leek. Trim off the roots. Cut the rest of the leek in half. Slice thinly crosswise and place in large bowl, swish in cold water until well cleaned. In large soup pot over medium heat, heat olive oil and add the bacon. Cook for 5 - 6 minutes until bacon is soft. Add the chopped leeks and cook until wilted, about 5 minutes. Add the wine and bring to a boil. Add the spices, chicken stock, potatoes, pepper and bring to a boil. reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 30 minutes.

Take out the bay leaves if possible. Working in batches, puree the soup in a food processor or blender. Stir in the evaporated milk. Garnish with cheddar cheese and chives.
 
Picture
All Souls Day by Jules Bastien-LePage
My husband, Dan, has recently begun pastoring a church in Lebanon, PA. Yesterday the church celebrated Totenfest, a remembrance for those in the congregation who had died during the previous year. As names were read, a candle was lit and a chime played from the organ.

Falling on the first Sunday of November, Totenfest coincides with the celebration of All Souls Day/All Saints Day Sunday in other liturgical churches, where Christians remember the connection through the centuries with those who follow the Lord of Love. During the children's sermon, Dan asked if any of the children had ever been on stage, and if so, if they remembered what it was like to have an audience cheering as they performed. He then read this passage from Hebrews 12:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.

Last May I went to a conference in Ottawa, and it happened to fall on the weekend of the Ottawa Marathon. Early Sunday morning I walked from my hotel room to the city center to do some sight-seeing. The streets were almost empty, except for those lined by spectators watching the race. I couldn't help but be drawn to the cheering. The sound was constant, regardless of whether the runners were personally known to the crowd. Hands clapping, bells ringing, shouts of "great job, keep going" - all created a glorious cacophany of energy pouring into weary bodies. It was a powerful moment.

Others applauding our efforts is a source of empowerment. But this connection is made even more intimate by Jan Richardson, whose blog  The Painted Prayerbook is a resource for art, reflections and blessings that follow the liturgical year. In this prayer, written for All Souls Day, Richardson imagines that the witnesses are not only above us, but within us. We are truly inspired by the company we keep, she says, it's just that we forget. 

Prayer

God of the generations,
when we set our hands to labor,
thinking we work alone,
remind us that we carry
on our lips
the words of prophets,
in our veins
the blood of martyrs,
in our eyes
the mystics’ visions,
in our hands
the strength of thousands.


Like pearls on a strand, we are linked to those souls who have run the race before us. The Kingdom of God is not limited by space or time. We are taught to believe that we are always connected by the Spirit of God to our Abba God. But we are also connected through that same Spirit to those who share the Spirit of Christ. They, along with Him, encourage us, inspire us, guide us, pray for us. No matter where we are, we are not alone.
 
And all will turn
To silver glass
A light on the water
Grey ships pass
Into the West


For some reason, the song Into the West, from The Lord of the Rings movie, has been the soundtrack in my mind these past few days. It's an interesting song, blending themes of death and farewell, rest and reunion. Annie Lennox's voice is ethereal, it haunts and comforts at the same time.

The song draws from Gandalf's description of what happens after death as he and Pippin fear the defeat of Minas Tirith. "Fear not," Gandalf says. "Death is only the doorway to the next realm. The dawn will come; all will turn to silver glass, and beyond is a golden shore." It also references Frodo's departure from Middle Earth as he takes the last elven ship from Gray Havens into the western sea, leaving Sam, Merry and Pippin behind to live out their lives in the shire.

But with its invocation of sleep it also speaks to me of the end of a period of life which is extremely difficult. In the movie, we hear strains of this melody while the eagles come to rescue Frodo and Sam from certain death after they've cast the ring into the fires of Mount Doom. Safe in the "arms" of the giant birds they are carried back to places of rest and recovery.

The cycle of death and resurrection, while physically real, is also spiritually/psychically symbolic. As our soul moves toward maturity we journey through difficult phases which wear us down to our last breath. Like the caterpillar dissolving in the coccoon, we may feel that we will never return to who we were. And although this is correct, it is also not the end. There is life on the other side.
 
Die while you're alive
and be absolutely dead.
Then do whatever you want:
it's all good.

says Bunan, a Zen poet from the 17th century. Or, as Rilke tells us in the following poem,  we will become free, through all we have given up, to enjoy mastery.

Dove that ventured outside,   flying far from the dovecote;
housed and protected again,    one with the day, the night,
knows what serenity is,    for she has felt her wings
pass through all distance and fear    in the course of her wanderings.

The doves that remained at home,    never exposed to loss,
innocent and seure,   cannot know tenderness;
only the won-back heart    can ever be satisfied: free,
through all it has given up,    to rejoice in its mastery.

Being arches itself     over the vast abyss,
Ah the ball that we dared,    that we hurled into infinite space,
doesn't it fill our hands    differently with its return:
heavier by the weight    of where it has been.
 

Perhaps what I love the most about Lennox's song is the soaring phrase that begins each chorus: What do you see on the horizon?  Who can know? it has not yet come into focus. But it will be more real, I think. We will be more real. Heavier, and yet somehow lighter, too. Having passed through all distance and fear, we will know what serenity is and call all things good.