This is the story of lessons learned on Memorial Day weekend. Last year they came from running a 55 mile race in South Africa. Today they are just everyday lessons. But important nonetheless.
This year’s Memorial Day weekend race was much different from last year’s. Last year I ran Comrades. This year I ran a 5K. I was fourth in age group with three of us in my age group within three seconds of each other. I just happened to be at the tail end. Doesn’t change my love of running or of racing one bit. Before the race, my friend Travis introduced me to Emily. Emily commented on my strong handshake. Both Travis and I immediately went to the fact that I am and have been for four years part of a business school. Emily seemed to find that a reasonable explanation. I had not realized that my handshake would make that much of an impression on anyone. But apparently it did.
Then I went to mass. Mass was a lot of fun. Great singing today. I wore my socks from Nashville that Lauren had picked up for me when she ran the marathon there. A fellow parishioner who happens to be the wife of one of the guitar players in the contemporary choir at the 10:30 mass asked if I was a guitar player. I gave a muddled answer. Compared with the people who play guitar for the mass—no. Compared to someone with no experience—sure. The irony is that my friend who is going for 50 marathons in 50 states who gave me the socks is the person for whom I did pick up the guitar recently to write a thoughtful song about being present when things are not so good.
Next, I came home and made an omelet with greens and gouda. Good stuff.
Then, I went to see A Quiet Passion—a movie about the life of Emily Dickinson. The main reason I had wanted to go was because I had quoted Emily Dickinson in my high school graduation speech thirty years ago. I had quoted from the poem “My life closed twice before it’s close.” The movie was interesting for a bunch of reasons. Social context of the 19th century in the United States before, during, and after the Civil War. Context of what was understood about Christianity. Context of 19th century feminism. Context of 19th century medicine. Dancing—and the recollection that I don’t have basic formal dancing skills that seemed to be common back then as one character challenged another to be ready for a polka. Period specific and appropriate clothing was cool to see. The movie was slow—as life was in the 19th century compared with today. The camera moved slowly. There was not much background music. It was interesting to watch the character of Emily Dickinson shown as someone who valued family and never imagined herself outside the confines of her family experience. She was portrayed as witty. As sharp. As having a condition that could not be cured. As judgmental. She called herself vile. She talked about becoming what we most want to avoid. And the poem I’d quoted for my speech was read as the next to last poem of the movie—which was set up with the actress reading her poems throughout. Here it is:
My life closed twice before its close—
It yet remains to see
If Immortality unveil
A third event to me
So huge, so hopeless to conceive
As these that twice befell.
Parting is all we know of heaven,
And all we need of hell.
I cried when I heard it. From stuff other stuff I have read, not one quite knows what the two events that made her feel like she’d already died were. But she had quite a complicated and negative life despite being a recluse.
Finally, I came home and went to see Sound of Music in which one of my youngest son’s classmates was Maria for the first half of the play. She did a great job. The play reminded me of the importance of music in the household. The comment about Maria bringing music back to the Von Trapp household. And the joy that comes with music.
Then we had a party of kids and parents from the sixth grade class which was very nice.
In the morning, I will run again.
But the key is that today was learning. Learning that my handshake made an impression on someone. Learning about where my running is. Learning about what I think of my musical skills even if other people appreciate them more than I do. (And wondering how my friend is doing with her own exploration of the guitar.) Learning about Emily Dickinson’s life. Realizing how much I see in the struggles that she had and the desire to express herself. Relearning the lessons of sound of music—tell people what you are thinking and appreciate music.
Every day there are some lessons. Today there were many.