The Varied Faces of January

“Who won the game?” The ICU hospital room was hushed as the young football player, recently awakened from a coma, penned those words on a notepad. “Yes, Lamar,” replied the attending physician, Dr. Timothy Pritts. “You did. You won the game of life.”

My husband and I were watching the Buffalo Bills-New England Patriots game at Cincinnati on January 2, when the unthinkable happened. 24 year old safety Damar Hamlin suffered a blow to his chest and went into cardiac arrest. Immediate CPR and defibrillation by medical personnel saved his life. In the fifteen minutes from the time of his collapse to the time he was removed from the field by ambulance, we witnessed a remarkable sight. Players from both teams fell to their knees in combined support for the life of their teammate. For many long minutes, the country held its collective breath. Afterward, columnist Robert Azzi said this:” Monday night Damar Hamlin died, I believe, and was resurrected , not just because CPR and oxygen were administered, but because of those who knelt alongside believed in the American Dream, believed in the power of prayer…”

A few days later, on the other side of the country, off the coast of Dana Point, California, there was another new beginning.

Passengers on Captain Dave’s Dolphin and Whale Watching Safari witnessed the highly unusual, “once in a lifetime opportunity” of seeing a pregnant gray whale giving birth. Thrilled passengers and crew watched in amazement as the calf emerged from its 40 to 50 foot mother, then swam up to rub itself against her, the two nuzzling their faces together. The birth was especially sweet and poignant, since the gray whale population is in sharp decline.

That January began on these optimistic notes may be somewhat symbolic. January gets its name from Janus, the god of beginnings and transitions in Roman mythology. Thus, January symbolizes the willingness to embrace change in life.

On a personal note, my husband and I bought a second property this month, a lovely house near the Delaware shore. But with the responsibilities of ownership comes the hope that the place will be a haven of peace for family and friends. For as American Transcendental poet Ralph Waldo Emerson once said,
“A house is made of walls and beams, a home is made of love and dreams.”

But along with beginnings, come endings. As the month progressed, we got the news of the passing of another rock legend. David Crosby, that flamboyant, flawed, frenetic, yet talented musician, was dead at 81. Originally a founding member of that iconic band, The Byrds, Crosby’s music encompassed the musings of a generation.

It’s funny how a song, not heard for years, can quickly return you to your youth. The Byrd’s “Mr. Tambourine Man” is such a song. Crosby couldn’t take credit for writing it, ( that was that other musical genius, Bob Dylan), but he did arrange the soaring melodies.

“Hey, Mr. Tambourine Man, play a song for me

I’m not sleepy and there is no place I’m going to

Hey Mr. Tambourine Man, play a song for me

In the jingle jangle morning, I’ll come following you…”

What exactly is a “jingle jangle morning”, I always wondered. Apparently, the jingle jangle is the sound the tambourine makes, and the “morning” inspires ideas of renewal. Very January.

After leaving the Byrds, Crosby joined with friends to create the famous Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young. They hit their stride with the award winning album, Deja Vu. While I don’t hold with Crosby’s belief in reincarnation:” We have all been here before”, several of the tunes display sweet simplicity and a lasting message, particularly “Teach Your Children”: “You, who are on the road, must have a code that you can live by, and so, become yourself, because the past is just a goodbye…” and “Our House”: “Our house is a very fine house with two cats in the yard, life used to be so hard, now everything is easy cause of you…”

If only life could be that easy, and that predictable!

So, David Crosby has passed, but his music will live on.

This January, football players, gray whales, beach houses, and musicians- all had a tale to tell.

As January comes to a close, I bear in mind the words of Mother Teresa:

“Yesterday is gone, tomorrow has not yet begun. We only have today. Let us begin.”

Or, in David Crosby’s words from his masterpiece, “Carry On”:

“Rejoice, rejoice, we have no choice but to carry on.

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Light Through the Darkness

It is deep December, and it has been a long, cold, and gloomy time. So much sickness- family gatherings cancelled, lingering coughs, and trips to Critical Care. The worst flu season in years. A dear cousin battling breast cancer. And then the frigid temperatures, and nights “not fit for man nor beast”, in my late father’s immortal words. And then the deaths. Dozens dead in that Buffalo blizzard, and chaos at the airports.

The unexpected passing of friend’s husbands, and friend’s mothers. The death of former colleagues: first Mary, an educator on a global stage- after retirement, she taught in Africa for years. Then Connie, dear Connie. A stellar teacher, a supportive friend. She’s the one, on the morning of 9/11, who knocked on my classroom door, alerting me of the disasters occurring in Manhattan: “Turn on your TV, Rose. There’s something horrible going on at the World Trade Center.” And so the kids and I watched the nightmare unfolding all that fateful day.

Connie, of the delicious rum cakes she brought to our faculty luncheons. It’s a wonder that we teachers didn’t get a bit tipsy after consuming a few pieces! I still have the recipe, and mean to make it in her honor.

In recent years, such memories of visiting our mutual friend in the nursing home, and those sweet lunches afterwards, with secrets shared.

Connie, one of the best supporters and admirers of my blogs- what will I do without her kind comments?

Connie! Now she has joined her husband in eternity, but her light shines on.

And yet, despite the sadness, Christmas came.

The family joined for the festivities. The grandkids frolicked in the basement ( too frigid for the outdoors), playing with those thirty year old toys, remnants of their parent’s childhoods, those long-forgotten Cabbage Patch dolls and Star Wars figures.

That afternoon, I sang with the church choir. The lyrics to one of the hymns I found quite appropriate:

“Rejoice, rejoice, take heart in the night, though dark the winter and cheerless, the rising sun will crown you with light, be strong and loving and fearless….”

At dinner, we toasted the family with a lovely Pinot Noir, ate a delicious ham, then exchanged presents in that atmosphere of cheerful pandemonium.

And the next day, joined in an impromptu game of Christmas charades- how exactly do you act out “Home Alone”, “Angels We Have Heard on High” or “Rocking Around the Christmas Tree”?!

And so, the light through the darkness. Through sickness and death, there’s family and surprising times of love and joy. Though the night be long and dark, we hold on to the light:

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

-John 1:5

Contemplating an Unknowable Universe

“For my part I know nothing with any certainty, but the sight of the stars makes me dream.”

This quote by visionary painter Vincent Van Gogh pretty much sums up our collective fascination with the universe. One wonders if he penned those words after completing his masterwork, “Starry, starry night.”

Speaking of the stars, after several failed attempts due to engine issues and tropical storms, NASA’s rocket Artemis finally launched on November 16 on a 25 day, 1.3 million mile flight to explore the lunar surface. Artemis I is unmanned save for three “moonikins”- mannequins wearing the First Generation survival suits which the real astronauts will wear in Artemis 2 and 3. By the way, a standard NASA spacesuit costs 12 million dollars.

Artemis 2, scheduled for 2024, will be a crewed flight, whereas Artemis 3 in 2025 aims for a crewed moon landing, the first since 1972. Indeed, the lofty goal of the Artemis program is to “land the first woman and first person of color on the moon, explore the lunar surface, and lay the groundwork for sending astronauts to Mars.”

In light of this announcement, one can hardly resist remembering that long ago quote from the classic TV show, “Star Trek”: ” to explore strange new worlds, seek out new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before…” As a kid, I watched with fascination as Captain Kirk and Spock surveyed those brave new worlds. More recently, I watched with my grandkids as Buzz Lightyear of “Toy Story” fame went “to infinity and beyond…”

Infinity. The Universe. The concept alone is incomprehensible to the human brain, yet scientists attempt to explain it. According to them, the universe has not existed forever, but was born some 13.82 billion years ago, when all matter, energy, space, and even time- erupted into a titanic fireball called The Big Bang. I guess my question is- what set that event in motion?

In trying to understand the universe, scientists and astronomers have compiled some astounding statistics:

*There are 500 million galaxies in the universe, and 200 billion trillion stars.

*In our Milky Way alone, there are about 300 billion stars.

*There are more stars in the universe than grains of sand on all the beaches on earth.

*The biggest single entity that scientists have identified in the universe is a supercluster of galaxies called the Hercules-Corona Borealis Great Wall. It’s so wide that light takes 10 billion years to move across the entire structure. My question is – what’s behind that wall?

*The universe is so big that we are not able to see it in its entirety. The only region of space visible to us is called the observable universe. Estimates show that there are roughly 2 trillion galaxies in the observable universe alone.

*And here’s the real kicker: Scientists surmise that the universe is made up of things that cannot be seen. The stars, planets, and galaxies that can be detected through our telescopes make up on 4% of the universe. The other 96% is made up of substances that cannot be seen or comprehended, such as dark matter, dark energy, worm holes, and black holes.

Dark energy, dark matter, black holes, light years?! All of these incredible concepts may tend to make us feel very small, but really, they shouldn’t.

Amazingly, humans and galaxies alike are composed of about 97% of the same kind of atoms, otherwise known as the building blocks of life: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorous, and sulfur.

According to Nikita Gill in her poem, “93 Percent Stardust”:

“We have calcium in our bones, iron in our veins,

Carbon in our souls, and nitrogen in our brains

93 percent stardust, with souls made of flames

We are all just stars that have people names.”

Scientist and author Carl Sagan, who hosted the PBS series, “Cosmos” had this to say about the subject: “We are a way for the universe to know itself. Some part of our being knows this is where we came from. We long to return. And we can, because the cosmos is also within us. We are made of star stuff.”

I guess Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young had it right when they sang, “We are stardust, we are golden” in their iconic tune, “Woodstock.”

Star stuff, indeed. One only needs to step outside on a cold, clear winter night and behold the magnitude and magnificence of the stars to be in awe of the cosmos, and, truly, of us.

So I applaud the Artemis program and its brave attempt to understand the unknowable universe.

Poet Sarah Williams has said:
“Though my soul may set in darkness

It will rise in perfect light

I have loved the stars too fondly

To be fearful of the night.”

And in contemplating the immensity of the universe, Carl Sagan reflected:

“For small creatures such as we, the vastness is bearable only through love.”

The Reunion: It’s Been a Long Time

My class reunion was a few weeks away, and I have to admit, I was a little nervous. Who will I see? Will it be fun? And what should I wear- a suit, a dress, my prom gown?! Oh, the burning questions, and so many costume changes.

Finally, the day arrived. The fall evening was mild. The multicolored leaves graced the roadway to the venue- the site of my long-awaited 50th high school reunion- plus one! Last year’s gathering was postponed, a victim of the good old pandemic. But in the words of the Beatles, “It’s been a long time, now I’m coming back home…..”

A shuttle was provided from the hotel, and as we arrived, the wonderful planning committee were at the ready with plastic lanyards, providing both our names and our senior photos. Good thing! Wait, is that you?

How strange and wonderful to reconnect with people you haven’t seen in half a century. I spotted that childhood chum and relived memories of kickball games and hiking in the woods. I chatted with my camping pal from Girl Scout days. Another friend and I remembered hopping the bus to a nearby town to eat those iconic Tulip sundaes at the Woolworth counter. So many other smiling faces, recollections of classes, activities, times reaching back to elementary school. And questions like, what have you been up to all these years? And where do you live now?

Once seated, we were greeted by those great folks who spent the last years planning for this special event. An artistic classmate created a beautiful Tree of Life, emblazoned with the names of our ’71 classmates who have passed on, and I delivered a few comments: But though we grieve their loss, we know they are not gone, for they live on in our thoughts, and in our memories.

And then on the entertainment portion of the program! As the evening progressed, we ate ( oh, those yummy appetizers!), we drank ( oh, copious amounts of wine) and danced- ok, it was mostly the ladies, rocking to such ’70’s hits as Rod Stewart’s “Maggie May”: “Wake up, Maggie, I’ve got something to say to you…”, Ringo Starr’s “It Don’t Come Easy” ( No, it don’t !) and Three Dog Night’s “Joy to the World”:

“Joy to the World, all the boys and girls, joy to the fishes in the deep blue sea, joy to you and me…” In the exuberance of the moment, I think we were all just so happy to be alive, and to be there.

One classmate, a chocolatier by trade, even provided sweet chocolate treats to all the attendees- nonpareils appropriately decorated with our school colors of green and gold- those Golden Eagles!

And wait! Did I end up wearing my prom gown? No, but I could have, if it still fit me. It was that joyous and magical of a night.

So, cheers to the class of ’71! It was a sweet celebration.

The Yearbook

Recently rummaging through my basement, I came upon copies of my high school yearbooks. Unearthed from a cardboard box, they smelled of damp and the passage of decades. The one from my Sophomore year was especially moldy.

Paging through, I am touched by the young, innocent faces of my former classmates- some I remember, some I never met, and some, sadly, have passed away. In the photos, the young guys are dressed mostly in collared shirts and chinos, the girls in those cute short skirts ( mostly plaid), and knee socks. Amazingly, in my suburban northern New Jersey high school, girls weren’t allowed to wear pants or jeans until the first Earth Day in the spring of 1970. How times have changed! And the teachers, those ladies with their bee hived hairdos, the men, strictly in jackets and ties. Some of those professionals truly influenced my life, like the Creative Writing instructor who complimented the “sensitivity” in my poetry, or that Geometry teacher who claimed that my “perseverance would be a help to me all of my life.”

Those high school years, with all their hardships and heartbreaks, but also joys and triumphs, come rushing back. As a freshman, I remember the challenge of remembering my locker combination and actually getting it open. ( I was always such a mechanical zero!) Or making it to class on time through those unfamiliar hallways, especially after gym class ( oh, those showers and smelly locker rooms!)

The friendships and relationships, forged, and then broken. The struggles of trying to understand Algebra or to operate those antiquated typewriters in Typing class- but in retrospect, it was probably the most useful of all my high school classes! And the activities- marching in the Color Guard at football game or parades in the searing heat or biting cold. And all the activities that I didn’t get involved in, but should have- plays, chorus?

And I wonder- those student athletes- did they go on to careers in sports, or perhaps coach their kids in Little League? And what about the musically inclined- did they continue to play? What careers did these classmates pursue- business, medicine, law, engineering, teaching? And where did they travel from our little New Jersey berg- the beaches of Florida, a ranch in Colorado, the Texas desert? And what of their lives- how many marriages, divorces, children, grandchildren, and, in a few cases, even great grandkids have they had?

In many ways, it was a simpler time. Yes, the war in Vietnam was ongoing, but luckily my classmates were exempt from the draft, which was disbanded about that time. In the days before technology took over the world, there were no computers, no internet, no cell phones, and therefore, no way for mean kids to torture you on line, like the kids of today sometimes deal with. Yes, if your car broke down, you’d have to call your Dad, but there was always the pay phone.

And although violence obviously existed, there were no school shootings, no lockdown drills. And at home, we felt safe walking the streets at all hours. As kids, we played outside all day, hiking in the woods or starting kickball games in the road. We came in for lunch, then went out again until dark. The America of our youth, gone forever.

Looking through the yearbook, it seems to me a metaphor for life: all the people we meet, the struggles we face, the activities that we choose. The last page of my senior yearbook features a student on a motorcycle, heading down the road, with the caption from the popular Carpenter’s tune of the day, “We’ve only just begun to live…”

And so we had, but looking back over the prism of years, I wonder:

50 years on, what advise could we give to our younger selves, if we had the chance? Or are things meant to work out as they did?

This fall, I will be attending a class reunion, and meeting some of those classmates after many, many years. Perhaps we will rekindle some friendships or relive some memories. Or maybe just reminisce about that yearbook called Life.

Life is a Game of Jeopardy

It’s a sultry July evening, and I’m entrenched on my sunporch, the ceiling fan whirring, the sounds of summer outside- night birds calling, cicadas humming, those crickets just beginning their seasonal chirping.

I turn on the TV to that familiar ditty- it’s Jeopardy, America’s favorite game show, challenging contestants, along with millions of viewers, for 38 seasons. Fun fact! That iconic Jeopardy tune, entitled “Think”, was written by media mogul Merv Griffin (who also created the show) as a lullaby for his son.

Yes, Jeopardy has been an American staple since 1984, hosted by Alex Trebek, whom we sadly lost to pancreatic cancer in November 2020. Since then, hosting has been shared by Ken Jennings, who famously holds one of the winning streaks of 74 games; and Mayim Bialik , who has a Ph.D in neuroscience, although I fondly remember her as the star of “Blossom”, a TV show about a spunky teen back in the early ’90’s- a show my daughter adored. Controversy about these two hosts abounds, Jennings for some “insensitive tweets” he made, and Mayim for her wardrobe on the show: “Stop judging my nerd wardrobe!” Recently, there had been some discussion about finding a permanent host, but personally, I’d be fine with either of them. Luckily, just tonight, I heard the online news that the two will indeed continue their hosting duties.

Settling in for the show, it’s always fun to see what the Jeopardy categories will be. On a recent evening, they ranged from ” The Old West”, to” Health and Medicine” , to” Build a Bear!” If the category is science, math, or sports, I’m often clueless ( What exactly is Relative Atomic Mass? And who won the 1953 World Series? ) But with literature, history, or music, I have a chance of guessing the correct answer. So when the question came up, I was excited to know who was inducted twice into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame- as both a band member and a solo artist ( Stevie Nicks), and that I knew the last lines to this novel:” So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” (“The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald.)

And how do they come up with all those categories, anyway? Interestingly, there is a Jeopardy Writers Room, where eight writers and seven researchers work five days a week, developing myriad and relative topics, which are then fact checked for accuracy. Each season, an impressive 13, 800 clues are written.

Calling all Jeopardy nerds! Do you have what it takes to be a contestant?

Alas, it’s harder than you think. First, you’d take the Anytime test posted on line. If you pass, you’d then be entered into a random selection process for an invitation to interview. Even if you pass the audition, your chances of being on the show are only 4%. But hey, maybe you’d be selected and win two Daily Doubles, or be like recent contestant Amy Schneider who amassed winnings of over a million bucks.

For me, it sounds like too much trouble. No, I’m content to watch the show from my back porch, challenge those brain cells, and be entertained by that host of fascinating contestants- the brainy corporate lawyer from California, the quirky economics professor from New York, and that savvy stay-at-home Mom from Illinois. The players truly come from all walks of life. And speaking of life, it occurs to me that life is like a game of Jeopardy.

Like life, Jeopardy can often be surprising. The contestant in the middle, the one who rarely answered any question correctly, ends up winning.

Like life, there are tough failures- the Jeopardy champion, the one who has won for weeks, fails to answer a seemingly easy question, and loses.

And like life, it goes too fast. In only half an hour, it’s over.

Or at least until tomorrow. But twilight has descended, my drink is empty, and outdoors, the nightlife is gearing up to quite the cacophony.

So I say goodbye to Jeopardy, but, hopefully, there will be plenty more summer evenings that I can spend testing my knowledge ( or lack thereof) watching America’s favorite game show.

“You Say It’s Your Birthday?”

“Write what you know, Paul.”

On our recent trip to England, we were fortunate to visit Liverpool, the home of those Fab Four lads, the Beatles. Driving past Penny Lane, our tour guide recounted for us the back story of that famous tune: Paul McCartney, in a quandary about what to write for a school paper, was advised by his English teacher to stick to the personal, the everyday, for inspiration. Thus, Paul wrote about a bus shelter “in the middle of a roundabout”, where he waited for his friend, John Lennon. Close by was a barber shop “showing photographs of every head he had the pleasure to know.” In a neighboring pub, Paul and his mates would enjoy “a fish of four”, or, in other words, that iconic British treat of fish and chips. Around him were all the sights and sounds of his youth, so, for Paul, Penny Lane “was in my ears and in my eyes.”

Thus, the inception of one of the Beatles most famous songs.

Paul McCartney is much celebrated in the media this month, as he just celebrated his 80th birthday. Sir James Paul McCartney, born June 18, 1942, is, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, “the most successful musician and composer in popular music history.”

Yet, it all began in that working class port city, where the young band got its start in clubs like the Cavern ( which we also toured), singing the likes of “I Saw Her Standing There” and “Love Me Do”, written by McCartney at age 16.

As a kid, the walls of my childhood room were plastered with photos of the “cute Beatle”, ripped from the pages of “Tiger Beat” and “16 Magazine.” In a sense, I grew up with Paul McCartney and the Beatles.

From the heartbreak of love gone wrong: “Yesterday love was such an easy game to play/ Now I need a place to hide away/Oh, I believe in yesterday…”

to all the ups and downs of the decades to follow, expressed so well in “The Long and Winding Road”: “Many times I’ve been alone, and many times I’ve cried/ Anyway you’ll never know the many ways I’ve tried…”, we saw our lives reflected in McCartney’s music and lyrics.

Paul McCartney may be a famous singer songwriter, worth 1.2 billion ( he spent his 80th birthday on vacation with his family on a yacht off the coast of a Greek island, and owns fabulous homes world-wide) but he, too, has had his share of tragedy. His mother died of breast cancer when he was only 14, and he lost his wife, Linda, to the same disease. His friend and bandmate, John Lennon, was murdered at a young age, and George Harrison, too, died from cancer.

Maybe because he is, according to Robert Frost’s poem, “one acquainted with the night”, McCartney has always had a sympathy and a fascination with the unloved and forgotten. In “Eleanor Rigby”, he asks, “All the lonely people, where do they all come from/ All the lonely people, where do they all belong?” And he questions in “Lady Madonna, children at your feet, wonder how you manage to make ends meet?”

When faced with troubles, as we all are, the universality of his lyrics touch our hearts. Paul especially displayed his compassion when he visited Julian Lennon shortly after the breakup of his famous parent’s marriage. “Hey Jude, don’t make it bad/ Take a sad song, and make it better…”

Probably his most celebrated song, “Let It Be”, was written after his mother appeared to him in a dream offering a solution: “When I find myself in times of trouble/ Mother Mary comes to me/ Speaking words of wisdom, Let it Be…”

Despite all that loss, McCartney has remained upbeat and philosophical, suggesting, “Just remember the great stuff…”

Which brings us to today. I’m personally happy that Paul has reached the venerable age of 80, and that he is still touring ( we saw him in Washington some years back. He gave a fabulous performance, singing until midnight and returning for four encores!)

He just headlined at the Glastonbury Festival to delighted crowds, the oldest singer to ever perform there.

Today, “Macca”, as he is affectionately known, has a happy family life with his wife, Nancy, his five children, and eight grandkids who call him “Granddude.” Sir Paul has been knighted by the Queen, and is the recipient of countless honors and awards.

But many of us still remember him as that floppy haired kid so many years ago on The Ed Sullivan Show. So, I’m glad it’s your birthday, Paul. You’ve touched our lives with joy.

Adventure in Britain

“England swings like a pendulum do

Bobbies on bicycles two by two

Westminster Abbey, the Tower of Big Ben

And the rosy red cheeks of the little children.”

That little 1965 ditty by Roger Miller runs through my mind as I reminisce on my recent visit to the United Kingdom. No, I didn’t see any bobbies on bicycles, but there were scores of Her Majesty’s red coated troops marching in line, practicing for her upcoming Jubilee. And there were plenty of rosy-cheeked school children waiting in their adorable uniforms at bus stops around the country.

Our adventure began with a cruise on the Thames, gliding past the historic and imposing Houses of Parliament and the striking Big Ben, interspersed with such modern structures as the London Eye and the humorously named Shard ( which resembles a shard of glass), then finally sailing under the lovely blue hues of the Tower Bridge. That evening, we discovered The Rose, a spirited pub for that iconic British meal of fish and chips.

Come morning, we met our guide for the bus trip that would take us the width and breadth of the United Kingdom. Jon, a handsome red bearded Australian, looked like a character from Game of Thrones. He was a fount of historical facts and pithy comments, but it was his cheery demeanor which really made the trip. Each morning’s trip began with Willie Nelson belting out “On the Road Again”, followed by the Beatles “Here Comes the Sun”, which was usually the weather, despite the UK’s reputation of rainy conditions. In fact, Jon had a play list appropriate to every situation and location.

And, oh, those locations, so beautiful and too many to recount.

As we motored north to the stark Salisbury Plain, we approached the ancient, mysterious 5,000 year old monoliths of Stonehenge. Walking by those huge stone structures, there were so many questions: how did they get there, by whom, and why?

Nearing the Cornish coast, we visited the charming seaside village of Polperro. Old white-washed fisherman’s cottages interspersed with flowers led to dramatic rocky ocean scenes, something out of a picture postcard. It was there that we sampled pasties, those delicious British pastries filled with various meats, cheeses, and vegetables. And devoured the best salted caramel ice cream ever!

In Glastonbury, we toured the haunting remains of the monastery, founded in 712 AD but stripped of its valuables and left to ruin after Henry VIII made himself head of the Church in 1539. What stories those stones could tell!

As a Beatle lover from childhood, I always imagined that Liverpool, the hometown of the Fab Four, was a dirty, industrial place. How wrong I was!

Liverpool was cool, vibrant, and busy. We were able to photograph the bronze statues of the “lads” on the banks of the Mersey, see the iconic Cavern Club, and drive past Penny Lane, the impetus for McCartney’s famous tune.

In the lovely Lake District, the inspiration for such Romantic poets as William Wordsworth and artists like Peter Rabbit’s Beatrix Potter, we enjoyed a scenic boat cruise on the dreamlike Lake Windermere, past lovely homes, pretty sailboats, and deserted islands.

Upon entering Scotland, we drove past the legendary Loch Ness, but alas, I was unable to spot Nessie!

Ah, Scotland- the land of the kilt, the bagpipe, and that famous local delicacy, the haggis- a savory pudding containing body parts of sheep mixed with spices and oatmeal. Yuck, you say? I sampled it and found it quite tasty. And speaking of sheep, there were literally millions of them in Britain, their fluffy white forms dotting the rolling green hills.

Of an evening, we were treated to Scottish music and dance, then it was on to Edinburgh, where the streets looked like something out of Harry Potter ( and J.K Rowling actually did derive some of her inspiration from the city). We passed the birthplace of poet Robert Burns, whose quote many centuries ago still rings true: “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry….”

Our final stop in Scotland took us to the Isle of Skye in the country’s northwest corner, a region so remote and beautiful that it looked otherworldly. Sky, and mountains, and rocky plains led to the stormy Atlantic.

“All the world’s a stage, and all of the men and women merely players”, famously stated the Bard, William Shakespeare. In Stratford-Upon-Avon, we toured his home and the charming cottage of his wife, Anne Hathaway. Apparently, their marriage wasn’t made in heaven, however, as upon his death, he left her his “second best bed.”

As our trip concluded, it struck me that, as Shakespeare said, we on the tour were like actors in a play. We had met some friends and made some memories, then it was on to the next act of the play. We played our parts, then left the stage- and the coach.

Always appropriate to the moment, as a closing, Jon, our intrepid guide, played Andrea Bocelli’s haunting rendition of “Time to Say Goodbye”, followed by Green Day’s “I Hope You Had the Time of Your Life.”

We surely did.

April Musings

I was channel surfing recently when I came upon the old film, “Testament,” a 1983 movie about the aftermath of a nuclear holocaust on a typical American family. The viewer doesn’t see any explosions or destruction; instead, the film, acclaimed at the time of its release, focuses on the quiet and heartbreaking story of a family and community suffering with the results of tragedy.

As the film opens, the father, played by actor William Devane, goes off to work in San Francisco, never to return. The mother, actress Jane Alexander and her three kids, are spending a typical afternoon watching TV when suddenly a reporter breaks in with the urgent message: “This is not a test!” Immediately after, the screen goes blank.

Outside, sirens go off as the shocked community pours into the street. How could this happen? As the days and weeks go by, people are felled by the insidious effects of radiation poisoning. A young Kevin Costner plays a father who loses his infant daughter, and distraught, soon leaves town with his bereaved wife. One by one, members of families perish. Cut off from the outside world, cemeteries fill up and hope dwindles.

Affecting as always, I found myself crying during the movie. And I had a thought: I hadn’t seen this film offered on television for decades. What TV executive now decided that its message was current, even timely? For there is a maniac loose in the Ukraine. At the risk of being morbid, and unthinkable only months ago, the threat of nuclear war has become a reality.

Sun Yzu was an ancient Chinese general, and the author of the famous military classic, “The Art of War.” His words seem particularly relevant:

“An evil enemy will burn his own nation to the ground….. to rule over the ashes.”

When will this madness end?

In the meantime, after an especially cold and unsettled April, spring is finally arriving. But wasn’t it British poet TS Eliot who said, “April is the cruellest month”? Interestingly, Eliot penned those words in his 1921 poem, “The Waste Land”, because, as spring brought signs of new life and renewal, Europe was a crumbling, dying mess in the wake of World War i.

Ironic, how history repeats itself.

But, despite the tragedy in the world, spring HAS arrived. The flowering pear trees in long columns on the main street of our little town create a lacy, magical scene, while the brave yellow daffodils flutter in the breeze. Flowering bushes in shades of pink and fuchsia color the landscape.

Poets and philosophers throughout history have sought solace in the coming of spring, despite TS Eliot’s sardonic stance.

Chilean poet and politician Pablo Neruda wrote, “You can cut all the flowers, but you can’t keep spring from coming.”

Persian poet Rumi believed passionately in the use of music and poetry as a path to reach God. In his words,

“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and right doing there is a field.

I’ll meet you there

When the soul lies down in that grass

the world is too full to think about.”

And former First Lady, Lady Bird Johnson remarked, “Where flowers bloom, so does hope.”

This April, we could all use a little hope.

Putin’s War: March Madness

March Madness! Originally used in association with a basketball elimination tournament, the term “March Madness” could aptly be used to describe what’s going on in the world today.

As a child growing up in the 60’s, a “Cold War” with Russia was a constant concern, and in October of 1962, the Cuban Missile Crisis brought us to the brink of war with the Soviet Union. Bomb shelters were erected across the nation, and schoolchildren were told to hide under our desks in the event of a nuclear attack ( as if that would have saved us from the inevitable radioactive fallout). On that fateful October day, I have a clear memory of my elementary school teacher announcing, “Before this day is over, we may all be blown off the face of the earth.” Obviously, that Doomsday forecast was avoided when Khrushchev and Kennedy reached an accord, ushering in several decades of relative calm.

So, sixty years later, to see Russian tanks rolling through the Ukraine is beyond belief, a nightmare come true. Since Russian President Vladimir Putin’s unprovoked attack on its peaceful neighbor over two weeks ago, the world has watched in horror as Russian forces bomb cities and murder thousands, committing the very definition of war crimes: “willfully killing or causing suffering, widespread destruction and seizing of property, deliberately targeting civilian populations.”

To quote French writer Voltaire: “Nothing is more dangerous than ignorance and intolerance armed with power.”

To date, President Volodymyr Zelensky and Ukrainian forces have done a surprisingly formidable job resisting the Russian attackers, killing thousands of soldiers and putting a dent in the Russian war machine. But with no end in sight, 2.5 million Ukrainians have fled the conflict, leading to a humanitarian disaster.

Unlike the wars of the early 20th century, technology, in all of its forms, delivers war atrocities to our living rooms and phones on a daily, even hourly basis, searing horrible scenes of destruction into our minds:

  • Images of a family, two parents and a child, massacred as they attempted escape, their suitcases left askew on the road
  • Mothers and children embracing fathers, who are left behind to fight
  • the parents of a 23 year old Ukrainian soldier who was killed in fighting outside Kyiv, grieving at their son’s funeral. The mother strokes her son’s face lovingly, while the father stands by, covering his face in sadness
  • the grainy image of throngs waiting to board a train- so reminiscent of similar World War II photos of multitudes escaping Nazism.
  • In an example of particular brutality, at the bombed remains of a maternity hospital in Melitopol, workers carry a pregnant woman from the ruins. She later died.
  • And who could forget the little Ukrainian girl in a bomb shelter, encouraged to entertain the crowd by singing “Let it Go”, a tune from the Disney film, “Frozen.” What grandparent couldn’t see their own grandchild in that little one? In one piece of good news, 7 year old Emelia is now safe in Poland.

Yet the horror continues. When and where will it end? What is Putin’s game plan? If the war escalates and Putin attacks Poland, what will NATO and America’s response be? Will we be drawn into the conflict? The threat of chemical and nuclear weapons, once unthinkable, is now a real possibility. What will stop this madman, and will this March Madness cease?

We can pray for peace, and offer humanitarian aid. But perhaps history can offer some promise of solace. As peace activist Mahatma Gandi said:

“When I despair, I remember that all through history, the way of truth and love has always won. There have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time, they can seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall. Think of it… always.

That visionary, John Lennon, had it right when he said, “All we are saying, is give peace a chance.”