Syrian refugee children signal to onlooking media, from a camp set up by by Turkish Red Crescent in the town of Yayladagi in Hatay province.

Today I'm posting two songs that flow from my last few blogs on Steven Galloway's novel The Cellist of Sarajevo (here and here). The first is a piece for cello which was composed by David Wilde in honor of Vedran Smailovic, the cellist who performed during the Siege of Sarajevo, his instrument offering up a persistent prayer for peace. The work is entitled The Cellist of Sarajevo, a Lament in Rondo Form for Cello, and is performed here by Yo-Yo Ma. The second youtube clip is of the Albinoni Adagio, the composition that the fictional cellist draws strength and solace from playing. 

One of the powers of good literature, and of good music, is the ability it has to transport you from the place you find yourself to a different world. Although I was sitting comfortably in an upstairs study enjoying a beautifully calm September morning, as I listened to the notes of the cellist, connecting back through scenes in Galloway's novel, I found myself praying for those who are still caught up in the horror of war.

A Prayer for Peace by Maya Angelou, can guide you if you want to offer up a prayer yourself while listening to this music. Like the earth needs the rain, so the human heart constantly thirsts for peace. And so we pray for peace - for peace in nations, peace in communities, peace in our families, peace in our own hearts. We come with open hands and hearts to the borderless sea of substance and ask for what we need most - the gift of peace.

A Prayer for Peace
Maya Angelou

Father, Mother, God,

Thank you for your presence
during the hard and mean days.
For then we
have you to lean upon.

Thank you for your presence
during the bright and sunny days,
for then we can share that which we have
with those who have less.

And thank you for your presence
during the Holy Days, for then we are
able to celebrate you and our families
and our friends.

For those who have no voice,
we ask you to speak.
For those who feel unworthy,
we ask you to pour your love out
in waterfalls of tenderness.
For those who live in pain,
we ask you to bathe them
in the river of your healing.
For those who are lonely, we ask
you to keep them company.
For those who are depressed,
we ask you to shower upon
them the light of hope.

Dear Creator, You, the borderless
sea of substance, we ask you to give to
all the world that which we need most—Peace.

Vedran Smailovic, the real cellist of Sarajevo
I mentioned in last Wednesday's post that I attended a high school reunion over the weekend. Early in the evening, a former classmate came up to me and reminded me of how, years ago, in the back of a math class, I had befriended him. Probably talking when we should have been working on assigned problems, our conversations helped him see himself as someone with a good mind, intelligent, with something to offer. That insight had made a difference as he went on from high school and into college.

Over dinner, another friend of mine told me of a similar encounter she'd had that evening. A few years after high school, she and her roommate had opened their couch to a friend who was trying to get a handle on what to do next. He was there at the reunion as well, and not long after she had walked through the door, had come over to talk, wanting her to know how significant a safe haven had been to him at that point in his life, offering time and space to sort things out.

What's interesting about both of our stories is that at the time, it didn't seem like a very big deal to either of us. But that didn't matter. It turned out that in each case, our actions had ramifications greater than what we were aware of.

Like last week's post, these thoughts brought me back to The Cellist of Sarajevo, the novel by Steven Galloway, based loosely on true events during the Siege of Sarajevo. The main character, whose name we never learn, is the principal cellist for the Sarajevo Symphony Orchestra. Or at least, he was - before the mortar destroyed the Sarajevo Opera Hall, demolishing a part of who he had been. He sits now in his apartment, overlooking the battered streets and plays for himself, music that tries to reach beneath the daily realities and waken a soul that is shell-shocked by the loss of livelihood and purpose. On a bad day, he reaches into his repertoire for an Adagio, whose balm has always worked its restorative magic. Still he knows the music's power is not infinite, and so, like a man on a life raft with a limited supply of water, he rations the times he allows himself to play this piece.

One day, another bomb falls, this one outside his window, shrieking devilishly downward and leaving in its aftermath 22 of his friends and neighbors, moments before innocently standing in a bread line, now among the many casualties of this war. And for the next 22 days, the cellist takes his instrument out to the small crater on the empty street and plays the Adagio. At the begining, he doesn't know if he will make it, but he knows he will try. In his former life, walking out onto a stage transformed him into an "instrument of deliverance." He gave what he loved most to the people who would come and listen. And so, perhaps without even knowing it, he does so again.

Playing a cello once a day may seem like a small decision, and a foolhardy one at that, given that explosives are no respecter of persons. And, as it turns out, it isn't long before a sniper is sent to silence the notes that daily draw a crowd. But the cellist is unaware of what is happening around him. He does what he knows how to do - offer music - and so affects the other characters in the story. The liquid sound of the Adagio flows like an intravenous drip deep down to their souls, reviving war weary spirits. It encourages those who listen to take their own small steps, made heroic by the backdrop of the snipers on the hillside, and their own internal struggles to do what is right.

In our daily lives, we can feel paralyzed by the immensity of certain situations. Perhaps it feels hopeless to remain uncynical in the face of an election year. Maybe we can't imagine how a marriage can make it through the hurricane winds that threaten to send the roof flying. The problems that we see require resources that we don't possess, and are complicated beyond our ability to sort them out. But we can take small steps. We can do what we know how to do. We don't know the effect it will have on those around us, and how that influence will spread. In fact, we may never find out. 

At least until the final reunion, when all that we've done will be brought out for us to see. And we'll be able to see that they have made a difference, much to our surprise, and to our delight.

Note: I found this photo of Vedran Smailovich on a blog post you can see here, which tells a little more of the story of the real man whose story inspired the novel.

Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte by George Seurat
This past weekend I headed to the Pocono Mountains for my high school reunion. It gave me an opportunity to spend some time at the camp that my dad directed for many years, a place that formed many of my happiest childhood memories. When my dad passed away, we buried his ashes there, and I spent part of Saturday morning weeding his memorial site, before sitting down and imagining him by my side, looking out over the camp which he helped to create.

Tears come easily to me (something my siblings and later on, my children have all commented on) and as I walked up familiar trails, through the woods and around campfire sites, I couldn't help but be touched. In many ways I had a charmed childhood. Every summer my sisters and I entered into another world staffed with energetic, caring counselors who headed up activities at the pool, craft barn, and archery range, to name just a few.  It was a whirlwind of fun, grounded in meaningful connections, all set in the beautiful Pennsylvania woods. Whether or not I recognized it at the time, in retrospect I look back and realize what an amazing life it was.

It reminded me of a passage from The Cellist of Sarajevo, a novel by Steven Galloway I've recently finished reading. This story is set during the horrific siege of Sarajevo, when for four years the city was shelled daily, and life became a living hell. Arrow, one of the four characters the book follows, is recruited to become an army sniper. She tries desperately to hold on to her humanity, forced to become a person she never wanted to be. One afternoon, while lying prone in a burned out building, waiting for her next target to come into view, she recalls this scene from her childhood.

Ten years ago, when she was eighteen and was not called Arrow, she borrowed her father's car and drove to the countryside to visit friends. It was a bright, clear day, and the car felt alive to her, as though the way she and the car moved together was a sort of destiny, and everything was happening exactly as it ought to be. As she rounded a corner one of her favorite songs came on the radio, and sunlight filtered through the trees the way it does with lace curtains, reminding her of her grandmother, and tears began to slide down her cheeks. Not for her grandmother, who was then still very much among the living, but because she felt an enveloping happiness to be alive, a joy made stronger by the certainty that someday it would all come to an end. It overwhelmed her, made her pull the car to the side of the road. Afterward she felt a little foolish, and never spoke to anyone about it.

Now, however, she knows she wasn't being foolish. She realizes that for no particular reason she stumbled into the core of what it is to be human. It's a rare gift to understand that your life is wondrous, and that it won't last forever.

Life doesn't last forever, at least this life on this earth won't. Childhood moves on to adulthood; people leave us and we experience loss. But those moments of pure happiness feed our souls. No matter when we encounter them, they are gifts to remind us of how wonderful life can be.