Golden Chances

This morning while I got ready for work, I listened to Josh Groban’s “Stages” albumI grew up listening to Broadway musicals on my mother’s hi-fi, and knew most of the words to every Rogers and Hammerstein’s show so when “If I Loved You” began, I put down my mascara and paused to remember.

Carousel_theatrical_film_poster_1956One summer night when I was a child, my parents allowed me to stay up late and watch the original version of “Carousel” on our black and white television.  For those of you who aren’t familiar with this musical, the original show debuted on Broadway in 1945, and was made into a movie starring Shirley Jones and Gordon Macrae in 1956.  It is a sweet and sad story of a jaded carousel barker and an innocent young millworker who fall in love at a Maine carnival.  The fake New England accents are atrocious.  The acting is stiff. But the dancing and music are stupendous.  It is worth an afternoon on the couch just to watch the choreography.

The real treasures in this movie are the songs.  I distinctly remember trying to hide my tears from my father during “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” He noticed that I was crying, gathered me up in his lap, and told me I should never be afraid of letting my feelings show.  Whenever I recall that moment, my throat tightens and my eyes fill up.  He had no idea how his kindness affected me.

I love all the music to “Carousel,” but for me, the true show-stopper is “If I Loved You.”  Oscar Hammerstein’s simple phrases woven through Richard Rogers’ melodic passages are poignant and speak straight to the soul:

“If I loved you,
Time and again I would try to say
All I’d want you to know.

If I loved you,
Words wouldn’t come in an easy way
Round in circles I’d go!

Longin’ to tell you,
But afraid and shy,
I’d let my golden chances pass me by!

Soon you’d leave me,
Off you would go in the mist of day,
Never, never to know how I loved you
If I loved you.”

 So this morning, when Groban and MacDonald hit the phrase “I’d let my golden chances pass me by!” my eyes began to smart and tear, and it wasn’t from my eye makeup.  Perhaps it is the blending of their two voices; a crystal harmony that hangs midair for a split second before falling to earth.  Or perhaps the sadness of the song brings me back to my childhood memory with my father.  Actually, I think it is influenced by all of the above, but mostly it is the theme of the song- the thought of letting one’s golden chances pass by- that cuts deep into my soul.

Golden chances are everywhere.  They are there when the crickets hush their dance before the thunder of a summer storm splits the sky. They are when we inhale the scent of freshly mown grass.  It’s a golden chance when we take late afternoon stroll with a loved one and watch our shadows stretch across the sidewalk.  Or when we bite into a freshly picked strawberry while it is still warm from the sun. And for sure, it is a golden chance to drowse by the ocean on a sizzling afternoon, drifting to the cadence of the surf and the calling of distant sea gulls.

It is so easy to get caught up in the spinning of our lives’ carousels and so easy to allow golden chances slip through our fingers. How easy it is to be too busy to listen to a first grader stumble through the pages of his reading assignment?  Or too tired to listen to a thirteen year old recount every detail of who danced with whom during her middle school mixer?  Or in too much of a rush to let the elderly person who only has five items in his basket go through the checkout before us?  When was the last time we put down our phone, closed our computer and shut off our TV in favor of listening with an open heart to a loved one?

Thinking about golden chances has changed my life.  I cherish those rare moments when I am with my siblings.  I linger over dinner with a friend.  I look for a chance to be a little kinder.  A bit more thoughtful.  A lot more attentive.

judahLast Saturday while Abby and John did errands, I took care of my two little grandsons.  Judah is four now and Abram fifteen months.  We played with blocks and cars, ate peanut butter sandwiches, and hunted dinosaurs in the dark corners of my apartment.  After lunch I looked at the crumbs on the floor and the half-finished milk warming in Judah’s cup.  I usually don’t sit down until everything is cleaned up and stowed neatly away.  But not this time.  Instead, I captured both wiggly little boys and squished the three of us into my rocker.  I rocked and started to sing old folk songs that my mother had taught me when I was Judah’s age.  The boys snuggled close and relaxed into my arms, their heads swaying gently on my shoulders as we rocked and sang.  Between verses of Bobby Shafto and Lavender Blue, I drank in the scent of these little ones, relishing every breath.  Abram fell asleep. Judah sucked his thumb.  It was thirty minutes of heaven- a golden chance that I will cherish forever. abram

I will probably always tear up when I hear “If I Loved You.”  Too many golden chances have already passed me by.  But we have today, and God willing, tomorrow.  The carousel is turning, the golden ring is just ahead, and my arm is stretched to grab it and never let it go.

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Sometimes You Are My Yoda

“Sometimes you are my Yoda.”

This came in an email from my daughter Abby.  We were discussing disappointment and in true Momma G fashion, I reminded her that we all have disappointment.  It is what we do with that disappointment that matters.

Everyone knows that Yoda is a character from the Star Wars movies.  He is known for his legendary wisdom and mastery of The Force.  Although I would like to be, I’m not a Jedi Master, but like Yoda, I prefer to tease out what is already in the hearts of the people I mentor.

Some people say, “When God closes a door, He opens a window,” but I don’t agree with that statement.  Sometimes things just don’t work out the way we wish.  I have a strong faith in a God who is real and personal, but I do not picture him a giant puppeteer who pulls our marionette strings to make us hop and dance in the direction He pleases.  I don’t see Him running before me, pushing aside boulders and fallen trees so the path before me is clear of obstacles, and I don’t believe He reverses the law of physics so I won’t get hurt when I trip on the top stair.

I often picture life like swimming in the sea. There are clear days with calm winds, when ocean swells lift you to the sky to kiss the sun, and then gently lay you back to float in the cool until another wave lifts you again.  But there are also days when black seas churn with anger and relentlessly pummel you again and again. After every wave you struggle to regain your footing and before you are totally upright, another torrent is unleashed, sending you to your knees once again. Time after time you fight against the assaults and time after time, you are pushed to your knees.

It is not by accident that we are pushed to our knees, for it is on our knees that we acknowledge our God and declare our subservience to His will.  This is a hard concept for Americans to understand, and even harder to embrace.  But by this simple act- falling to one’s knees – we are able to admit that we don’t know everything, we aren’t all powerful, and we all need help. 

Getting pushed to our knees sometimes hurts.  We get scrapes and cuts from rocks and shells that lie at the bottom of the sea.  It is humbling to struggle to our feet again, our stiff joints creaking in protest.  It is embarrassing, when we look around and see that others have watched us fall.

But here’s the thing.  With every failure we are given the opportunity to succeed. We may not get the prize we seek, but we get the chance to accept defeat with grace.  Mother Theresa, Gandhi, Rosa Parks, Helen Keller, Abraham Lincoln- these are all people who fell to their knees and rose again.  We remember them not just for their accomplishments alone, but for the people they became, despite or even because of adversity. They are gems- diamonds created by the pressures of life.

When I think of people who are diamonds such as these, I think of my friends Sue and Steve.  They have endured their share of life’s storms- a daughter born more  than three months premature, a son with leukemia, siblings with cancer- but I have never in my life heard them ask “Why me?”  Instead, they face challenges full-on, charging bravely forward, waving a flag of fortitude and brandishing a smile of courage and hope.  They reach out to others, offering comfort and support to those who may have similar challenges.  They listen with open hearts to those who need to talk, and offer salve to those who ache from battle fatigue.  Instead of allowing the wars they fight to make them tough and hard, they open their arms and expose their hearts.  Despite their own problems, they have stood with me during some of my darkest hours. They are heroes without the fanfare and I will love them forever.

So, when Abby emailed me with her disappointment, I did what Yoda would do.  I reminded her that it is okay that she has been knocked to her knees. I reminded her of who she is and what she believes.  I reminded her that she needs to dig deep to find that inner resource that God has already placed deep within her.  I reminded her that she will figure it all out.  And then I reminded her that she already knows all this.

Now, if you’ll excuse me,  I have to go polish my lightsaber.

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