The darkest day

Holy Week is usually one of my favorite, most distinctive weeks of the year. I did not grow up going to Maundy Thursday or Good Friday services – I’m not sure why that wasn’t part of our faith tradition, but it wasn’t. For a generally cheerful person, I’ve always had a soft spot for candelight and minor keys. And Holy Week is full of contemplative music, hard realities and truths that you don’t really want to hear but desperately need to. In a usual Holy Week, I would have been at church Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday & Good Friday (and probably practiced trumpet for Easter at all of them!)

This year is, of course, different. This year, there was no sitting in a darkening sanctuary listening to the 7 Last Words of Christ and watching the light in the parking lot flicker, as I have every single year for two decades. There were no Taize pleadings to Jesus to “remember me when you come into your kingdom”. The days and weeks have begun to blur together in a sameness only relieved by the gradual, gorgeous unfolding of spring.

But even in a normal Holy Week, there is always this Saturday. Today was actually bright and fair, with brisk winds and waxing sunlight, budding trees, vibrant forsythia and the burgeoning promise of a world soon to bloom. There was little dark about it, other than the day’s statistics on the number of dead mowed down by this novel virus. But today, in the liturgical calendar, is the worst day. Worse, maybe even than Good Friday. In the Easter story, today is the day after Jesus died, while his body lay unprepared in a tomb that wasn’t his. It was the day when the disciples and the women woke up – if they slept at all that night – to a world where hopes had turned to ashes. This day abounded in the bitterness of betrayal: Judas’s betrayal (another unburied body). The betrayal of all the plans. They MUST have thought on this day that Jesus could not possibly be who they hoped he was. He was dead, and the Messiah had not yet brought liberation to the people of Israel. They must have felt sick – how much of what he had taught was true and reliable? How much of their sacrifice had been worthwhile? Had they thrown their lives away on just another pretender? And … what exactly was going to happen next? Were they going to follow him to a criminal’s execution? Would anyone be left to be the son to Mary?

Of all the many dark days whose story is painted in the Bible, this Sabbath might be the very darkest. Hope was irrevocably lost. The worst had well and truly happened. The body was cold. More was likely on the way.

It feels a bit like that now, in this pandemic time. All through January and February, watching the headlines, I thought that this virus would burn itself out or be contained, just like SARs or MERs were – or stay distantly awful like Ebola. Like the apostles – or even Jesus himself in Gethsemane – I hoped that this would once again pass us by. But here we are, locked in our homes, in fear and in shock that our world can be so abruptly transfigured. Fear crawls on the back of astonishment, worrying us about how much worse this will become. Will it be my parents who die? Or me? Will I still have a job? Will this be the next great depression? Of all the people I know and love, who will die and be counted in the daily statistics tallied at 3 pm by the governor? When will I venture onto Facebook and learn that I will never again see someone? Or worse, when will that phone call come through that isn’t just a “How are you doing?”

We are in the deep darkness of the Saturday after Good Friday, friends.

But. There would be no Christianity and no Christians if the story really ended as badly as it appears to – if there were no chapters after “So they went and made the tomb secure by putting a seal on the stone and posting the guard.” There was real loss on that Saturday. Judas. Jesus as a living man. Mary never again held her son. The world was never the same again. But in this dark hour, let us remember the Easter story, that out of this darkest of days arose a new hope, so powerful as to reshape the entire world for the next 2000 years. Even death was not the end to this story, as it will not be the end to ours.

Tomorrow, when we rise to pancakes and baskets, we may feel like our cries of “He is Risen” are hollow. Like Easter itself is diminished under our collective grief and fear. But that’s just the thing about Easter, my friends. Without Good Friday and Holy Saturday, it’s just a confection – full of sugar and without sustaining substance. The power comes when we have despaired, and sat with our grief. Then we can truly become part of a world made new, in ways that we could not even imagine possible on Palm Sunday.

Were you there when they laid him in the tomb?

Easter Weekend updates

This weekend felt like the first time in WEEKS we’ve all been together. (I know it’s not true. It feels true.) I went to Seattle, then I went to California for nine long days. Then I went to Madrid. Then Adam went to Seattle. The busy times are tailing off, but not over. We have another weekend of apartness coming up. I have a customer coming onsite (which is very time consuming, if not as bad as traveling). But the light at the end of the tunnel is growing.

Learning to speak in math sentences
Learning to speak in math sentences

Big news this weekend came from the Russian Math department. Thane has shown a great passion for math, over several months. He LOVES to get a new concept and will go on at length about how much he loves math. The other day he calculated a fraction faster than either Unka Matt or I could. But he’s not so much into doing worksheets at school of the various concepts… so how to support him? It turns out there’s an advanced school about five miles from our house. (Maybe less.) I took Thane in for an evaluation on Thursday. The principal was very impressed with his acuity, and welcomed him into the advanced class with no prior tutoring needed. She’d like to see him in the competition team this summer, which sounds super fun, except for now I’m afraid that I’m becoming “that parent”. I just want to be the “that parent” who supports their child’s interests, not the one who demands genius ahead of joy. So we’ll give that a shot for a few weeks, and then decide about the summer.

Lined up and waiting to go hunt!
Lined up and waiting to go hunt!

Saturday was just lazy and lovely. It started with the annual neighbor egg hunt. (The moms had stuffed the eggs the night before.) The kids crawled all over the hill and the grownups clutched our coffee. Grey has grown two inches this year. (I last measured him on his birthday.) I watched the “big boys” (ten year olds), mine with the white and blue-checked Easter basket I bought him when he was born, and wondered how many years we have left of Easter Egg hunts. I tried to enjoy it extra, just in case.

Grey, reclining with eggs and loot
Grey, reclining with eggs and loot

In the afternoon, we went for a leisurely hike around the Winchester reservoir. I brought the foraging book with me for the first attempt of the year. It’s still very early for even the early early spring stuff. I thought I might see some wild garlic or ramps. We saw neither on our trip, but we did find a huge patch of wintergreen. We’d seen something earlier that I THOUGHT was wintergreen, but it didn’t have the identifying minty smell so we passed it by. My caution was vindicated because it wasn’t wintergreen, this stuff was! We carefully harvested a very small amount of a very large patch. Of course, I hate mint and it sounds like the most useful thing to do with wintergreen is infuse alcohol so… well… it was fun to gather. I have it soaking in water to see if we can make a weak sort of infusion. If I’d gathered more I could’ve made a jelly, but I didn’t.

Bridge building
Bridge building

The Easter celebrations in our church were good ones. We are still a little raw from loss, I think. This was our third pastor in as many Easters. But there were pancakes and music and children and cries of Alleluia! We had a superb dinner with friends afterwards, which was oh so good in both food and company. I learned a lot about Danish wedding customs!

How was your weekend? Did you enjoy the pascal celebrations?

I have pictures of the weekend which you can see here! If you’re particularly strong of stomach, I recommend the video of Grey reciting his “poem” with the classic refrain “I shall not pee. I shall not pee.”

Bonsoir from Montreal

9:45 pm. Dinner included escargot and duck confit. The waitress had trouble coming up with the right English words to describe the menu. Yes… I and my beloved and cherished husband are in Montreal for a week celebrating the fact that my parents are taking care of my children for a week. Bliss!!!

But although I could tell you about Montreal so far, I’ll save that for another day. Like maybe tomorrow. Instead, I’ve been using my lounging-around-in-leather-armchairs time to catch up on a few (hundred) pictures! I promise that I’ll include more verbiage, er, sometime this week. But for now, here are all the times in the last month I’ve bothered pulling out my nice camera, heavily influenced by wanting to play with the 35mm lens I got for Christmas!

So first, here are a bunch of pictures and videos, mostly of my boys playing games and with minis. (Mostly because the boys were sitting stillish, and I wanted to try out the focal ranges with the minis.) It also includes PIEMAS!

Check out the geeky goodness here!

Then, we have Easter. The first set is a neighborhood egg hunt. The next set is the actual celebration of Easter in our church. (Well, to be precise, the leading up to the celebration of Easter. Once the service got started I was awfully busy with the trumpeting.)

Cultural and religious celebrations of Easter abound!

I hope that tides you over until I can get you something more substantive!

March Snow

If there is anything a New Englander can learn about March, it is that suffering is finite. Here we are, in the middle of Lent, and the skies opened and dropped 16 inches on us Friday – a far cry from the predicted tally. It was a stark contrast to the “Shut everything down a day in advance” that we experienced with Nemo, though. My son’s school was closed. But Boston schools carried on. We all shrugged and went to work and pulled out our well worn shovels and started shoveling. But not the frantic, precise shoveling of January, where every snowflake promised a near-permanent constraint of movement for the remainder of winter. But a lackadaisical, good-enough attitude far from the typical dour perfectionism of New England.

Not long after the last flake fell, the melt began. No matter how well or poorly you shoveled, the heat of the nearer sun wipes away the sin of a bad job like grace at Easter. The shlump of heavy snow falling persists. My sons wander around in shorts and tshirts to our various engagements, and I let them because it’s downright warm! Like 45 degrees! No matter the high drifts to left and right.

Death, thou shalt die. And snow, thou shalt melt.

In less existential news, I have been following the Four Hour Body diet with near-religious adherence for four and a half weeks. Many days, not so much as a stick of artificially flavored gum has passed my lips. I have waved away carbs and fruit. I got a gym membership, and have worked out with unusual consistency for me. I have eaten eggs and beans for breakfast. And lunch. And dinner.

For my pains, I have… not lost any weight. It’s hard to tell, of course. There’s so much signal and noise with weight. Drink a huge glass of water, and you gain almost a pound. Weigh yourself in the morning and you’re down two pounds. But on my “cheat day” I weighed myself and my weight was back where it was when I started. After a full month, I consider this a sign that this diet does not work for me. Any of the modifications to the diet that I might try come back to calorie restriction PLUS food type restriction. In studies, 10+% of compliant participants fail to lose any weight. I suppose I simply have to acknowledge that I am in this minority and change methodologies.

So I have to decide whether I really want to lose weight, and if so what different methodology I should use. I’m thinking pure and simple calorie restriction is probably the best choice.

I’ve been travelling what feels like a lot for work lately. I was in Minnesota for two days last week. I found it particularly moving to watch the snow fall from a 20th story corner room. The city appeared and disappeared as the snow picked up, and the winds moved white drifts between the buildings. I found it hard to turn off the lights, remove my ability to see (contacts) and shut my eyes. It was fun to see the same storm twice.

I’m headed out again for almost three days in another week. I’m hoping that’s it for a while! At least the next trip is training, and in Tampa.

In other news, one son is reading. One son is building beautiful things with magnetic shapes. We have rejiggered our dining room to look like we live here and are not squatting in someone else’s house.

And it is March. Both Easter and Spring will come soon, and wipe the snow and cold away. And we will walk with bright hearts under a hot sun again.

Holy Saturday

Holy Week – the week leading up to Easter – is full of named days and church services. It starts with Palm Sunday, with loud Hosannas and praises and donkey-riding-reeactments. Then there’s Maundy Thursday – the day we celebrate the Last Supper. This is followed by the ironically named Good Friday, the day on which Jesus died. Then everyone comes out in their finery to celebrate the resurrection on Sunday, even those who only come to church once or twice a year.

The pastor prepares for Easter
The pastor prepares for Easter

If you know a church musician or a pastor, this week is something of a marathon. There’s usually a huge push… Palm Sunday has big spectacle, then there’s a service on Thursday (with communion), on Friday (in the dark and quiet), and on Sunday with the biggest party of the year in the sanctuary. For many, there’s also a Sunrise Service in the wee sma’s of Easter morning. If you’re a pastor, that’s five big sermons (or meditations, or whatever) in 7 days. If you’re an organist or pianist, not only is it a lot of music you have to put together but it’s some of your hardest and most important of the whole year. Most of the liturgical professionals I know are completely wiped out after this week.

The Good Friday service is my favorite of the year. In our church, it’s the same down to the word, year after year. The only thing that changes is the name of the president and the UN Secretary General. We read through six scripture sets, extinguishing a light after each is read until the sanctuary is in total darkness. (Or rather, lit only by the extremely bright light that illuminates our parking lot. The year that it cycled on and off during the service was memorable to me.) Between those readings is only music and your own thoughts and prayers.

I have gotten better at this, over time. The first few years, I could hardly sit still and think, looking over and again for stimulation or change – unused and uncomfortable with the silence of my mind. This year, I sat heavy in my pew and was surprised when the time came to read again.

The other surprise is that, in those few words read over and over, I can still hear new things. This year on Good Friday, I heard something I’ve never heard before. It was in the voice of those many people who ask Jesus, “Are you the Messiah? Are you the Son of God? Are you the King of the Jews?” Before, I only heard the leading, lying question trying to get him to implicate himself in front of the Romans in order to remove a nuisance. But this time, I heard another thing.

They really wanted to know. Moreover, some of those asking really, really wanted him to answer yes. This was the moment so many of those followers had been waiting for. This man whom they had watched work miracles – who a short time before had met with Elijah and Moses – would declare himself! He would be a second Moses, liberating the people from the domination of the Romans! He would show not just the hungry multitudes but the halls of power who he really was and what he could really do.

And it wasn’t just those Pharisees and soldiers asking and half hoping to hear a yes, nor only his disciples. Jesus is sent to Herod, who is totally excited because he’d been hearing about this guy and really wanted to see it for himself. If Jesus had given Herod anything to hold on to, he wouldn’t have been sent back to Pilate to die. Even if Jesus had just told a good story or two, or a minor miracle, maybe he would’ve gone on to great things within the Roman Empire!

All these people wanted Jesus for all these different things: for entertainment, for political need expediency, for rebellion, for leadership. Many of these people who looked to Jesus for deliverance were good people, who were asking for needed things. None of them were looking for Jesus to, oh, conquer death and provide atonement for sin. It just wasn’t on the agenda. Overthrowing the Romans: plausible. Dying and coming back from the dead: not plausible. (In this my reading of the Greek and Roman classics has been edifying. Virgil talks about Prometheus (Tityus), and the vast torment of being immortal while your liver gets ripped out and eaten every day. In their immortality the very power of those ancient gods is limited because – do what they will – they cannot die.)

After a few hundred years of this happening every day, immortality might stop looking so good.
After a few hundred years of this happening every day, immortality might stop looking so good.

I have heard before how unexpected the path of Jesus was to his followers: how this was not the outcome they expected. This is not in the stories. You’d don’t lose all the way, and end up winning. You don’t quietly accept shame and ignominy. (I promise you now that silence is not how Odysseus or Aeneis or Xerxes would have dealt with being mocked and abused.) But I had never before heard that note in the voice of his accusers, betrayers and killers. They were hoping he would prove them wrong.

“Look at you now!” they yelled at him. “You said you were going to destroy the Temple and rebuild it in three days. Well then, if you are the Son of God, save yourself and come down from the cross!” Matthew 27:40

I had heard the mockery in it before. I had never before heard the half-hope that he would.

This is Holy Saturday. It deserves a cooler, more depressing name, like “Black Saturday” or “Golgotha Saturday” or “Despair Saturday” or “Holy crap he actually died, what do we do now?” Saturday. It’s the only full day that Jesus was actually dead. It always seemed to me like a day where were should just stop – like a day where we should rend our hair and mourn and walk around in a shocked trance.

Of course, I did nothing of the sort today. In fact, I had a lovely day that included a nice lie-in, breakfast in bed, a spring-flower walk, an Easter egg hunt in a local part (which was a dud), followed by an impromptu Easter egg hunt in my backyard with the neighbors (which was not) and a family movie. Great day, in fact.

But there in the back of my mind was the set-apartness of this day. If you go from Palm Sunday to Easter, or from Christmas to Easter, or from Easter to Easter… you miss the best part. On Easter, Jesus does something that humans could not do: to be raised from the dead. But on this Saturday, he was doing something the little “g” gods of mythology could not do: be human enough to die and be dead.

Tonight is dark with the grim settling reality for those who loved Jesus. That really happened. He really died. When we thought he would wage his mysterious eloquence against the powers of the world, he shut up and went silent and the fickle crowds abandoned him – including us, to our everlasting shame and horror. We sold him out. We fell asleep. We lied about knowing him. We shouted “crucify him” from the crowds and threatened a riot. We gambled for his clothes and put sour wine on a stick for him. We made fun of him. We did little to be proud of this week.

But tomorrow will come with the vast surprise of resurrection (as it has every year for almost 2000 now), and a confusion of pancakes and chocolate and bunnies and preludes and trumpets and ham dinners and nice dresses and really tired clergypeople with adrenaline highs. We will take the purple off our communion tables, welcome back whatever we gave up for Lent, and catch the baseball game in the afternoon.

But – hopefully – we will remember that the miracles we look for are not always the miracles we get. The miracles we get may be far bigger, far more profound, and far less predictable, and less comfortable, than we ever dreamed.

High Notes

It’s Holy Week and I am, as usual, late to the music stand with my Easter selections. Every year I go to the same box of music that I’ve had since I was 14. It has a “color printed” word art sheet on the front – done with Lotus Amipro – that says, “Classical Trumpet: It Ain’t No Oxymoron!” This was my way of expressing my individuality and ironically bad grammar as a youth. Shockingly, I was never one of the cool kids…. Anyway, I’ve played Handel or baroque music nearly every Easter for the last five years because: I know it, it sounds great, it goes with the other music nicely, and I own it. I would pretend that I decided this year that my church had been subjected to enough baroque brass music, but in reality I had played through everything I owned that was baroque and not lento and that I could play.

Yes, I did miss my senior prom because it conflicted with my orchestra concert - how did you guess?

I really wish the publishers would come out with a book called, “Really Flashy Awesome Easter Music for Trumpet Players Who Play Twice a Year But Were Good Once”. I would buy that book, and love it forever.

What I settled on were some Sacred Harp tunes – which are not really THAT Eastery, but at least provide some variety from “The Trumpet Shall Sound”.

By the way, you’re all invited to my church this Sunday for our Easter celebration (with pancake breakfast starting at 9!). I’ll have some awesome music! (If I learn it in time and have a good lip day). And your reasons for not coming because you’re heathen/pagan/on another coast/bursting into flame when you enter a church… well, they can stop you if you don’t WANT to come, but we’ll welcome you all the same if you secretly DO want to come.

I didn’t feel like I had quite enough material in my “complaining about Easter repertoire” up there to make it’s own post, plus I’m about 6 posts behind in my head, so I though I’d throw in a picture that – on another day – I might turn into a vast discussion.

In truth, I’m endlessly amused by the stuff Grey draws. It goes from heartwarming (two happy smiling characters, labeled “Rich” and “Poor” cheerfully exchanging a full bag of coins), to funny (like the favorite animal as the hydra one), to extremely nerdy. The other day he came home with this “board game”. He made it at afterschool. The design and drawing are his, and he made clay tokens to represent the players. I took quite an extensive video of him explaining it to his beaming father. In this picture you can see the game board, the three auxiliary cards and the clay figures.

Grey's Game
Grey's Game

OK, I’m off to go ice my lips!

Now what?

I’m pretty sure I have several posts lined up in my mental list. Sadly, now (45 minutes before bedtime) on Sunday night when I finally have time, I’ll be darned if I can remember any of them. Isn’t that always the way? Ah well.

Easter was lovely. The weather was superb. The kids were incredibly cute and well behaved. I was in some of my finest trumpet form in years, and played some of the hardest repertoire I’ve attempted in quite some time. We went out to dinner tonight at a local restaurant, and then wandered around our local town square in the warm twilight. There was tag, the scent of magnolias, holding sticky sweet little hands, and an evening ending in ice cream. It was a delight.

I’m figuring this is the last time Grey will believe in the bringers of gifts: Santa, Easter Bunny. He wrote the Easter Bunny a note, “How do bunnies go across water?” he asked in it. He asked me if the Easter Bunny was real. I asked him what he thought. He pondered, and said that maybe it wasn’t a bunny, but a person who sneaks into our house to leave the gifts. I don’t invest a tremendous amount of my personal credibility in these myths, nor do I have them well constructed. I’m pretty sure Grey is at the “trying hard not to notice” stage.

Grey has been really awesome lately. I’ve had a lot of fun with him. The other night he decided to make a chocolate cake. He got out a recipe and all the ingredients. He needed some help with some techniques (greasing the pan, measuring fractions), but he did a remarkable amount of it himself. I was really proud of him. So I decided any kid working with flour regularly needs their own apron.

It’s surprisingly hard to find an apron for boys, but I managed:

Awesome apron
Awesome apron

Don’t boys play chef anymore? Sheesh.

We also have had our last swimming lesson of the winter. Grey started them in fall, and ever single Saturday morning has been spent with swimming lessons, followed by lunch, followed by aikido. However, Grey is staring down his first ever graduation: preschool. In July he will go to summer camp instead of preschool. And part of the YMCA summer camp is swimming lessons! So although Grey is not yet 100% independent in water, I figure we might just be able to get our Saturday mornings back. That would rock. I think Thane may be sad, though. He really liked their babysitting. And he has to be potty trained in order to do swimming lessons which… well, we’re nowhere close to that.

This summer camp sounds awesome. They have weekly field trips, go to swimming lessons, go to the town pool on another day, and play play play. I’m totally jealous. I’m also totally ready for him to be starting Kindergarten in the fall. I think we’re all ready and excited.

Thane has a little less going on, being two and all. He’ll move to transitional preschool this summer (yes, the sound you’re hearing is the “kaching!” going off in my head as the boys move to less expensive forms of child care….) His language is totally exploding. He’s putting together complicated sentences with unusual verb forms and complex structures. “You would have done it, mommy.” He likes to mimic his brother, who is remarkably tolerant about it. He has a 24 piece dinosaur puzzle he puts together over and over again, with remarkable dexterity.

My sweet Thane is a natural singer. He sings ALL THE TIME. He sings nursery rhymes. He sings folk songs. He sings while he puts the puzzles together. He sings at night. He sings in the morning. He sings the doxology before dinner (which he will refuse to eat). He sings Ring Around the Rosy. He sings “Star of the County Down” and “These are My Mountains”. I love his singing.

Grey and Thane are the best brothers you could possibly expect them to be … which is to say, not perfect, but they have a lot of fun together.

Fort Fun!
Fort Fun!

So that’s what’s going on over here. Hopefully this week I’ll find some time to remember what I was going to write about and write about it… but I wouldn’t hold your breath.

PS – I do remember one bit. I was actually in California for two days this week. That’s really surprisingly disruptive.