Much happened in my life in the past year that I haven’t mentioned in the blog. My attention was largely focused on the new novel, which underwent three major revisions, completely changing its focus from, first, what Cassia discovered about her hippie father to, second, what she discovered about her Greek-American family through his photos to, third, finally the way she emerged from the emotional loss and grew stronger and wiser as a consequence. Now that What’s Left (the third title, by the way) is finally released as an ebook (Cheers!), you can tell me if it was worth three years of angst, fasting, and flagellation on my part.
One personal accomplishment was my reading the Bible straight-through at the beginning of the year. I started with Everett Fox’s extraordinary translation of the Five Books of Moses and ended with David Bauscher’s translation of the New Testament from Aramaic, while covering most of what’s in-between in the New Jerusalem version. Wanted to hear it all afresh. My notes from the experience will probably fuel an upcoming series, likely at my As Light Is Sown blog.
Also on the religious front, I attended the entire Holy Week (what they regard as Passover) services in the Greek Orthodox tradition. Outwardly, it’s about as far as you can get from my quietist Quaker aesthetic, but again, it was a powerful way of hearing the story afresh. With the shortest service running about an hour-and-a-half and the longest well beyond that, the closest comparison I could come up with would be Bach’s St. Matthew Passion (nightly) or Wagner’s Ring Cycle, which runs shorter in time and isn’t repeated the next morning. It was a miracle the priest and psalmists had any voice left by Easter. And the final services border on chaotic, wax-dripping celebration. Well, that’s the short take. My one regret is that I’ll never again be able to experience this for the first time.
In late spring, I felt called to assist our neighboring Indonesian immigrant community as a number of Christian refugees face deportation to a land where they fear profound religious persecution. As many of us have found, accompanying them to monthly immigration appointments an hour from home has been a life-changing experience. The vigil outside the federal building has been the biggest ecumenical gathering in the state, with clergy and laity blending together. I’m getting teary simply typing this. A last-minute federal court stay has us hopeful, but nothing’s certain as we await the final rulings. I am so proud that my Quaker Meeting has stepped up to this challenge, supported by at least a dozen other congregations in our corner of the state. Whatever action we take, we cannot do alone, but we feel God’s Spirit leading.
At home, our garden flourished, especially with an unprecedented fall in which the first frost didn’t strike until November 8 — a full month later than normal. We still had our own tomatoes up to New Year’s Day.
The highlight for my wife and elder daughter was their escape to Macedonia, Crete, parts of Italy, and Istanbul for nearly a month — a grand adventure in parts of the world that are still affordable, scenic, filled with marvelous food and culture, and welcoming to Americans. Someday maybe they’ll have their notes and photos in order to share widely, but I was delighted to follow their encounters as they unfolded. Next time, I hope to tag along.
The was a year when death hit close to home. My mother-in-law passed in May at the age of 91. As my wife noted, “Dementia is a terrible affliction upon the human spirit, and this woman who lived through war and travail is now at peace.” The next month my co-clerk of Quaker Meeting was also terminally ill. I was grateful to be able to be at her side during her final days. And then my stepmother died in November. Meeting also lost three other Friends, and my role in officiating at two memorial services and assisting in a third also deepened my appreciation of our time here. And that’s before noting the loss of a dear bass from my end of my choir. I’ve known — and still know — many remarkable people, for sure.
For me, choral singing featured gospel music in the spring (for a choir drilled in Palestrina and Billings, Shakers and English pub songs, and nearly 30 languages, this was quite a shift! but it was also exciting and greatly improved our level, not that I thought we could go much higher). I took the fall off, but did join a small church choir for the community-wide Thanksgiving service and also participating in my first Messiah Sing two weeks later. What fun! Am looking forward to being back with my Boston-based group in two weeks — and to razzing my good buddy Mike, a tenor who wound up with a starring role in the 18 Christmas shows at Harvard’s Sanders Theatre. Gee, and that overlooks the cycle of Amy Beach compositions performed at the University of New Hampshire one town over through the autumn — I’m a huge champion of American Romantic composers, and having the opportunity of finally hearing her symphony performed live felt like overdue vindication. Yes, I am passionate about classical music.
As the year turns, we’ve had snow cover for a month now, and if you haven’t heard, nearly two weeks of uncommon single-digit and sub-zero lows (Fahrenheit, not Celsius). We’re going through the firewood at a faster clip than I’d like, but it beats having frozen pipes.
So that’s a sampling, but hardly the entire story.
Here’s wishing us all wonders and comfort and joy in the coming year. And peace and love, especially.