As I drove back home from home this past week (by which I mean returning to Saint Louis from my childhood hometown of Lee’s Summit), I started thinking about some seminal events in 2018. Truly life-changing events . . . or at least events that can help define a year.
Here are six.
Uncle Jim dies. My father died in December 2017, and his brother James Carter died in June 2018. Uncle Jim’s death means that the last of my parents’ siblings are gone. With my parents also gone, I am now the eldest. I’m not expecting to die any time soon, but the past few months have been filled with a slowly-dawning realization that my sisters and I, and our cousins, are now the generation that cooks the holiday meal, that leads the mourning at a funeral, That teaches the young, that carries the torch in many ways yet to be revealed. And like it or not, the next set of deaths will be in this generation of Carter and Blocher cousins, all of us in our 50s. God willing, the reality is a few decades away. The thought, though, is sobering.
Yufei. Disclaimer: I’m still negotiating emotion and affection and attraction and distance and . . . .
But something has changed in me, and I’m feeling a love I haven’t before. Yufei found me in New York City nearly two years ago, and to answer the Gershwin question “how long has this been going on?,” I’d propose that we date this relationship from early June this year, when I was in New York City for a week to see shows and have some holiday.
He makes me very happy. The world is different place with him.
Messing Award. For Summer 2018, I received Webster University’s Messing Award for an international project that promises to bring change in curriculum. My project dealt with music curriculum at our Vienna campus. Spending three weeks and a day in Vienna was a dream come true for me, and whet my appetite for even more time there if I can swing it some day. I had opportunity for a weekend side trip to Florence. And I walked and walked and walked and saw art and ate loads of pastry and drank some good beer and some fine Prosecco. July was a good month! The project reached a successful completion, and is now in implementation stage.
Living abroad, even for a few weeks, helps open eyes to a wider world. This certainly was the case with me.
Niagara Falls. I was not prepared for the soul-clamoring experience of taking the Maid of the Mist into the horseshoe of the Canadian falls.
At the time, I wrote
The stunning, overwhelming, terrible, heart-cramping beauty of Niagara Falls rendered me speechless today as we sailed into the mist of the Horseshoe Falls.
My face was wet from the spray, and from the tears I was shedding.
Nature is so powerful, so glorious, and so awe-filling.
Since that time, I have described this event to others as one that altered my view of nature, and thus of life. In some ineffable way, my experience on that boat changed me.
Variety Children’s Choirs. One of my projects this year is conductor of the Variety Club Children’s Choruses. We had our first concert earlier this month. The kids sang their hearts out. I’m eager to resume rehearsals in two weeks’ time.
Working with these kids, many of them without guile and eager to be part of something, has been a heart-warming experience. Their hugs are so genuine, and their pure joy helps me to feel the same thing. I’m glad to be giving back a bit!
Christmas Eve. I felt curiously sad on Christmas Eve (this is the first Christmas season without my father, and Yufei and I were apart this year and feeling it), and then arriving at church, quite disconnected from what had been my faith community for many years.
I came face-to-face with the reality of “you can never go home again.” This may have been the first time I truly experienced the strangeness of not being rooted in the place that rooted me.
I wrote to Yufei the next day:
You cannot go home again.
And expect it to be the same.
Intellectually, I get this.
You can almost always return to home, the place. But you can never return to home, the actuality. It’s gone. It was gone the day you left home.
And for me, now 25 years after I became Episcopalian, Grace & Holy Trinity Cathedral is the place home, but not the actual. The actual is in me. So too with Lee’s Summit. The house in which I grew up is long gone from the family. The house my parents bought when I started college was never home, and the town has changed too. My parents are now gone. The nieces and nephews are aging, and two have their own families now.
What I felt more keenly last evening at Cathedral was the change in the people. The folks who made up my faith community, my choral family of choice — they are gone or retired. This is nature of the cycle of life. The actual no longer exists.
From a site I read last evening while having a glass of post-midnight bubbly: “We’ll all just have to carry Home, the Actuality, around in us, until our own blood stops pumping. And the Home, the Actuality, will have some new and just-as-unrecoverable shape: whatever Home is, it’s not something out there to return to. It’s something inside, to which we can all return (or not) as we want, as often as we want.”