All, Culture/Life, Faith

Friendship and the ‘Whys?’ of Life

You know those seemingly random encounters that just really leave an impression? Conversations with strangers waiting in line somewhere or sitting next to you on a plane? Meeting someone at a party or other event?

You’re with these people for a minuscule amount of time–minutes or hours–yet there seems to be a genuine connection … and then you part ways.

Have you ever wondered about these meetings of happenstance? What was the reason? Why this person at this time?

Do you ever think that if life circumstances were different a real friendship could have developed? That if this were the movies a real friendship would have developed?

What are we supposed to make of these meetings?

I wish I had an answer, but the truth is that we may never know the why or wherefore in this life.

However, if the encounter seemed more than coincidental, it probably was more, and we should first just be grateful to God because “all good giving and every perfect gift is from above” (James 1:17).

If the experience made such a mark on your heart and mind, who’s to say that it didn’t resonate with the other person as well? Maybe there’s a lesson that can be learned from the other person or maybe it was simply supposed to be an experience of pleasure and cheer conversing with a fellow human being.

“If you could only sense how important you are to the lives of those you meet; how important you can be to the people you may never even dream of. There is something of yourself that you leave at every meeting with another person.”

-Fred Rogers a.k.a. Mister Rogers

Or have you ever wondered why some friendships last a lifetime and other friendships, so important for a period of time, seem to fade?  Again, there doesn’t appear to be any rhyme or reason.

The Thinker-Rodin
Rodin’s “The Thinker” Source: openclipart.org

Sometimes, the years lend perspective, and we can look back and see how God allowed those friends to be in our lives for a reason — for mutual need or help.  “Some people come into your life for a reason; others only for a season.”

I also believe that if the friendship was true, you can pick up where you left off should your paths cross again.

Yet all of these meetings and partings with strangers, acquaintances, friends — they have the capability of leaving behind a yearning ache in your heart.  Humans are by nature social and relational.  We are made for fellowship and for communion with God and with one another.

Sadly, in a sinful, broken world, “good-byes” and “what ifs” can leave their painful, wistful imprint.  Because we can’t see the future and we don’t know when or if we will be re-united.

But we must hold on to hope and to trust in God’s goodness.

Though only in my twenties, I have lived long enough to know that sometimes those people who you thought you’d never see again re-emerge in unexpected times and places.  So say “see ya later” instead of “good-bye.”

Pray for your friends, acquaintances, and those “could-of-been” friends you randomly meet.  If someone is on your heart, reach out in a tangible way — call or write that person.  Heed the old saying, “If you want a friend, be a friend.”

If the circumstances surrounding that incidental encounter are such that it would be appropriate to try and strike up a true friendship, be courageous enough to do so.  You never know until you try.

Finally, I strive to hold on to the consoling hope of heaven.  If we cooperate with God’s grace and mercy, we can hope to be re-united with those for whom we’ve cared and those we’ve loved, however briefly, on earth.  In heaven, we will have an eternity to love God and love one another.

“Friendships begun  in this world will be taken up again, never to be broken off.”

-attributed to St. Francis de Sales

 

All, Culture/Life, Family

Supporting the Troops

Summer is a time filled with patriotic holidays.  Memorial Day, Flag Day on June 14th (which I just learned is also the U.S. Army’s birthday), and, of course, Independence Day/4th of July.

I was raised in a patriotic household.  We were taught to show respect for the flag.  Stand up and place our hand over our heart for the Pledge of Allegiance and the National Anthem.  Never let an American flag drag on the ground.  I always loved learning about American history, especially the colonial and Revolutionary War era.

We were taught to honor the military. Many of my family members served in World War II.  This blog is named for my great-uncle George, who was so convicted of the need to fight that he went to Canada and joined the Royal Air Force before the United States even entered the Second World War.  My mom is proud to share a birthday with the U.S. Marines Corps. (November 10th, in case you were wondering.)

My interest in history and my involvement in performing arts came together in the selection of a topic for my senior thesis in college.  I wrote about the founding and the importance of the USO in World War II.  For those of you who may not be familiar, the USO stands for the United Service Organizations.

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Image credit to the USO.

 

It was originally a conglomeration of six religious and charitable organizations that joined together to provide physical, emotional, and spiritual support for the military.  There were USO canteens and centers, mostly at transportation sites where service members could write letters, take a shower, nap, drink coffee or have a conversation with a USO hostess.  These centers also hosted dances and social events for the military.

Bob Hope-USO
Bob Hope entertains troops in WWII. Source: Wikipedia.

There was also the Camp Show side of the USO that performed for the soldiers both domestically and overseas.  Some of the performers included Hollywood luminaries like comedian/actor Bob Hope and the singing group, The Andrews Sisters.  The USO still provides support and entertainment for our military to this day.

 

I had just turned 11 years old when the terrorist attacks of 9/11 took place.  Growing up in a post-September 11th world amidst ensuing security concerns and the subsequent and on-going war on terror, I think awareness of what it means to be an American and respect for our troops have definitely played more prominent roles in my life than they possibly would have otherwise.

One of the main post office buildings in my hometown is named in memory of a school classmate of my brother’s.  This friend was a Marine who died fighting in Iraq in 2004.  He was a faith-filled, honorable young man.

As a I grow older, my support and gratitude for the military only continues to deepen and become more personal.

As we all know, summer is also wedding season.  This June, I was honored to be a bridesmaid in two weddings of very close friends.  One of my friends married a former Marine and the other married an active-duty member of the Navy.

The latter friend’s wedding included all the pomp and circumstance of the military, such as the sabre arch under which the newly married couple walked upon exiting the church as well as the ceremonial cake cutting with a sword.

Let me tell you: the patriotic, hopeless romantic in me was eating all of this up.  I challenge any red-blooded American woman not to feel at least a twinge of a heart-flutter when she first sees a man in uniform.  They just look so dang sharp.

But I digress…

On a more serious note, meeting, celebrating, and dancing with these guys at the wedding and knowing they are all serving our nation made things more real, more personal. I consider my friend’s now husband also one of my friends.

My friend is now a military wife.  She will be experiencing all the unique challenges, joys, and fears of that role.

I half-jokingly told one of my friends/fellow bridesmaids that now all these guys  are on my worry list and prayer list.

But seriously…

Do we really stop and think about the sacrifices of the military and their families?  We cannot and must not be indifferent.

They are volunteering to go fight, knowing the life-threatening dangers they will be facing, while many of their peers are clamoring for “safe spaces” on college campuses in order to hide from anyone or anything that might offend them or challenge their opinions.  Quite the dichotomy.

Yet they can protest and call for safe spaces because of our military-protected freedom.

“Land of the free because of the brave.” Some may think it sounds cheesy but it is true.

And how are we using that hard-won freedom?  Are we using it responsibly, working for the common good? Do we engage with our political opponents respectfully or do we resort to mean-spirited, personal attacks?

Do we show respect when the National Anthem is played?  Do we proudly display the American flag? Do we learn the true history of our country, warts and all, appreciating the good while learning from the mistakes? Do we remember our troops and their loved ones in our prayers?

Do we thoughtfully and actively participate in the voting process?  Could we perhaps donate our time or our money to a worthy organization that supports the military?  Do we thank service members when the opportunity presents itself?

How can we be more patriotic and self-sacrificial Americans?

To all veterans and active-duty service members and to your families and loved ones: THANK YOU!!!  Americans can never adequately express the debt of gratitude we owe to you.  God bless and protect you all!

American soldiers
Photo credit unknown.
All, Art, Culture/Life, Faith, Tales from the Tutu Side

The Gift of Dance

In the words of Porky Pig, “That’s all, folks!”

Porky Pig 2.png
Enter a caption

The final curtain has fallen on the 2016-2017 ballet season in my neck of the woods. As I think back over the past months, one of the outstanding take-aways for me is gratitude for the opportunity that ballet affords me to encounter other people and, hopefully, to have a positive impact on them.  This interaction happens primarily through the performances themselves.

After one show, an audience member told one of the company’s directors that watching one of the pieces was the first time she had felt joy in two weeks!  What a blessing that we as dancers and artists have a platform to uplift others!

In addition to regular ticketed shows, I’ve also had the chance to dance in numerous outreach performances at elementary schools and at senior living communities/assisted living facilities.

Let me tell you that these are special audiences, and they make these performances some of the most meaningful.

I could write a whole separate blog post about the exuberance, hilarity, and joy of the shows for kids.  They really do say the darndest things!

But dancing for the elderly has been truly moving.  Their faces brighten when we simply walk into the room.

Occasionally, we have been able to chat with the residents of the assisted livings and retirement communities after we’ve performed.  Invariably, we receive nothing but love and encouragement from these lovely souls.  In return, we are able to listen to their stories, such as tales of their own involvement with dance, or we simply offer a friendly smile and a warm hand-shake.

It is such a humbling and beautiful experience to be able to put dance at the service of others in this way.  Like other careers, the dance world can sometimes lead a person to be self-absorbed and to focus on self-aggrandizement in a demanding and competitive environment.  These outreach shows can be a good check on that attitude and a reminder that dance, like all talents, is meant to be shared and to benefit others.

Often in these facilities, we are dancing on carpet or on parquet or a combination of the two.  Sometimes we have to dodge low-hanging chandeliers (a particularly humorous situation for an above-average-height dancer like me).  In any case, definitely not ideal surfaces or conditions for a performance.

But that is not the point.

Of course, from a business angle, we are there to promote our company and our upcoming shows.  However, from a human and personal angle, I’ve come to realize that the purpose of these shows is not flawless technique or mistake-free dances. Naturally, I want to do my best, but the reason for these shows, especially the ones at retirement homes, is to uplift hearts and to spread joy.

Particularly in some of the facilities caring for lower-income senior citizens, our dancing, and simply our presence, is needed and appreciated.  One of the most memorable shows for me was at an organization that cares for children, elderly as well as mentally-challenged adults.  Some of the audience actually had tears in their eyes while we danced.

Even in places where the residents are more well-off financially and physically, our shows can be a morale boost.  One woman, whose granddaughter happens to be a professional dancer, explained to us that she had decided to wear a skirt that evening because she “was going to the ballet.”  She also repeatedly said that she was tired of “only looking at old people!”  Clearly, she was excited to see some youthful faces!

These authentic interactions, whether while dancing or in post-performance conversations, are an affirmation of the dignity of every person.  They are an opportunity for us as dancers to partake in an act of mercy for a group of people that is all too often disrespected and neglected.

I am so deeply grateful that our visits to these various places put a little more love into the world and, hopefully, a ray of sunshine into others’ lives.

“Whatever you did for these least brothers of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40).

These shows are truly a gift for both givers and receivers.

 

Beautiful Ballet Pic
Image credit to Musetouch Visual Arts Magazine

 

All, Faith, Family

A Time to Trust

The French language has two words that both signify “to know.”  Savoir indicates knowing of or about something or how to do something while connaitre implies more intimate knowledge: to know a person or to be familiar with someone or something.  One could say that savoir is a more academic, aloof “knowledge about” while connaitre indicates a relationship.  Both words mean “to know” yet the level of knowing is as different as the shallow and deep ends of a swimming pool.

Belief also, I think, is a bit of a sliding scale. There is a vast difference between giving one’s intellectual assent to something –a savoir-type of belief– and a deep-down-in-the-heart-and-soul, connaitre-type of belief.

You might be thinking to yourself: “this parsing of words and meanings is all fine and good, but what is the point of all this?”

Well, this sliding scale of knowledge and belief is, arguably, a good description of faith in God and of spiritual progress.

I am in a season of life when many things are changing in little and big ways both for myself and for my family.  Sometimes I wish I could just wave a magic wand and fix some of the challenges with which we are presented.  I am recognizing more and more my “control freak” tendencies.  Sometimes it is hard to know where one’s responsibility lies or how much responsibility one holds.

When we’re children, if we are blessed with a loving family (which thankfully I was), our world is filled with security and comfort.  We are shielded from the nastier sides of life and obviously the big, stressful decisions do not rest on a child’s shoulders.  However, as we grow up, the monumental realities of life, both good and bad, become inevitable acquaintances.

Yet, we are still meant to have that child-like peace and security.  Christ tells us, ” ‘Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven'” (Matthew 18:3). God is our Father and we are His beloved children.  Yet so often we can accurately be called “ye of little faith.”

I think the only way to develop that child-like faith, that unwavering trust, which brings peace and lifts burdens, is to have a personal relationship with Jesus.  To get to know him through prayer, Scripture, the sacraments, and through the wisdom of others.  To not simply know or to believe in a savoir, detached manner, but to believe and to know in a relational, connaitre manner.

To truly believe in His goodness and love, His promises and His providence.  To remember His blessings and help in past insistences.  To remember that He is our Savior and our Friend, Who always, always has our best interests in mind.  And also, to remember that just as God is working in your heart, He is also working on the hearts and minds of those around you, and maybe, just maybe He is asking you to have a little more trust in them as well.

Fr. Jacques Philippe writes in Searching for and Maintaining Peace: A Small Treatise on Peace of Heart, “In order to resist fear and discouragement, it is necessary that through prayer–through a personal experience of God re-encountered, recognized and loved in prayer–we taste and see how good the Lord is (Psalm 34).”

In A.J. Russell’s daily devotional book, God Calling, one of Christ’s exhortations is to trust Him for everything.  That really hit home with me recently.   When He says everything, He literally means everything!  From the majorly consequential to the little trivia of everyday living.  All our hopes, desires, worries, and concerns for ourselves and for others.  EVERYTHING.

Another frequent assurance in the book is that “All is well.”  A reminder that Jesus is the One with the final say.  And He is working all things for our good (Romans 8:28).

My great-Uncle George, for whom this blog is named, certainly must have had a goodly amount of trust in God when he decided to go to Canada and join the Royal Air Force during World War II.  That was, undoubtedly, one of the biggest decisions of his life.

If I let it (and I am trying to do so), this season of life can be an opportunity to strive to develop this type of trust in the Lord. But I have a sneaking suspicion that this will also be a life-long lesson.  It is hard for us prideful humans to let go of control, but so often when we finally do surrender a person, a situation, a problem to God, the solution readily becomes evident.

I will leave you with some words of encouragement from the Psalms:

“Commit your way to the Lord: trust in him and he will act.” (Psalm 37:5)

“Be still and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:11)

Serenity Prayer

 

 

All, Art, Tales from the Tutu Side

Corps-eography

Performing is one of my favorite parts of being a dancer.  After all, performing is really the purpose, the point of it all (pun intended).  All of those hours of training and sweating and rehearsing in the studio, while rewarding in themselves, are meant to lead to the sharing of those honed skills and artistic gifts with an audience.  Ballet is indeed a performing art, and one could say that a performing art is a relationship, a relationship between the performers and the audience.  Performing is simultaneously one of the most gratifying, humbling, and exalting experiences in the life of a dancer.

 

Music major quote
These words can definitely be applied to dancers as well.  Image credit to Classic FM’s page on Facebook.

 

 

Moreover, during performance weeks, the regular class and rehearsal schedule is almost always different due to theater time, costumes fittings, etc.  I like the change of pace.  It is a welcome break from the usual expectations of the day-to-day.  There is also a palpably different energy surrounding performances.  Excitement and nerves are in the air.

Here where I dance, we just completed another performance.  I danced as a sylph in the corps de ballet of “Chopiniana” also known as “Les Sylphides.”  The ballet does not have a narrative.  The only plot line consists of a poet (the only male role in the ballet) who is dreaming of and dancing with a “flock” of sylphs.  The ballet was created over one hundred years ago and is of the romantic style, meaning that the tutus are long and the arms and heads are held in a particular way.  It is much softer and more ethereal than other styles of ballet. I truly feel as if we are a painting come to life.

The corps de ballet is the large group of dancers that are often on stage with and behind the soloists and principals.  Though the corps members are not the “main” dancers in any given ballet, one would feel their absence were they not there.  A well-known example of corps de ballet work is the dance of the Waltz of the Flowers and the Snow scene in “The Nutcracker.” Those particular two pieces are extremely aerobic and physically taxing.  But the true on-going challenge for the corps is pronounced right there in its name. “Corps” means “body” in French, and that it is the task of the corps dancers: to move as one living organism.

The corps work for “Chopiniana” was not as technically or physically difficult as Flowers or Snow or other corps roles, but the challenge was the meticulous care put into making sure the small details, the slow movements, the spacing, were uniform and correct.  Even eye-lines and head angles were under scrutiny.

Being in the corps teaches one to be a team player and to be spatially hyper-aware.  If, during a performance, the person in front accidentally goes off the intended mark, one must follow in order to keep the integrity of line.

I once saw the corps of Nutcracker described as the “unsung heroes” of the ballet because they had danced in every show.  That is another challenge or benefit (depending upon one’s perspective) about dancing in the corps.  Unlike principal and soloist roles, which often have multiple casts for a run of a show, the corps is usually the same for every performance. I read once that a professional dancer said she was in her best physical shape when in the corps because she was so strong from dancing in every show.

The next time you attend a ballet or watch one on video, I encourage you to be more aware of the corps de ballet.  Pay attention not only to its actual dancing, but also to its smaller movements, its poses, its angles and headlines.  Many hours of rehearsals and painstaking polishing of details went into that seemingly effortless final product.

Even though it may be an “unsung hero,” the corps is an integral part of a performance and without it the beauty and richness of many classical ballets would certainly be depleted.

 

Swan Lake photo from Ellman's
Image credit to Ellman’s Dancewear Facebook page.

 

 

All, Bookworm, Faith

Musings on Narnia

NOTE: I wrote these reflections a few summers ago after I had re-read “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.” I thought that they would possibly make a decent blog post, so now that I actually have a blog I decided that I would share with y’all.  Edits and additions have been made.  Hope you enjoy these ramblings/informal book report from a bookworm! 😉

I feel like the older I become the better I can appreciate C.S. Lewis’ genius, his societal commentary, and the very spiritual Christian insights he incorporated into his writings.  He is, undoubtedly, one of my favorite authors.  The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (the third book published in the Chronicles of Narnia series but the fourth in Narnia chronology), like all of the Narnia books, is simple, beautiful, profound, and enjoyable for both children and adults.

During the first chapter, it struck me how much pointed humor his series contains.  When I was younger, I could not appreciate it as much, but now some comments stand out to me that were previously less conspicuous.  An example is Lewis’ description of Eustace’s family: “They were very modern and up-to-date people.  They were vegetarians, non-smokers, and tee-totalers.”  This is not intended as a compliment.  Eustace is obnoxious, bratty, and arrogant.  He has no imagination, believing solely in science and rational facts.  He and his family have abandoned the timeless truths and principles of wonder, respect, and belief in a Higher Power.  They are politically correct, but they are insufferable.  It’s not that being a vegetarian, a non-smoker, or a tee-totaler was necessarily wrong.  The problem is more that they have no permanent foundation of beliefs for their lives.  Instead, they go along with the latest trends, whatever is in vogue at the moment.eustace

Eustace ridicules Lucy and Edmund for their belief in Narnia.  Even when Eustace experiences the wonder of Narnia firsthand, having entered this other world through an enchanted picture frame, he seemingly cannot give his assent to the substantiality and rationality of this fantastic realm.

Eustace continually tries to hold Narnia to the limited standards of his legitimate but incomplete world of science-only.  A world of chivalry and monarchy where a girl is given deference over men when it comes to living quarters is unfathomable to him. (Lucy was given the use  of King Caspian’s room while Caspian, Edmund, and Eustace bunked below the Dawn Treader’s deck.)  Eustace tries to tell King Caspian that this is demeans girls, not seeing how this simple distinction does not diminish femininity but actually shows respect for Lucy.

How often do we behave in a way similar to Eustace?  We measure God by our own limited, finite vision, experience and life.  Often we are blind to His work in our lives even when it is right in front of our eyes, like Eustace when he first enters Narnia.

We must strive to adopt the attitude of Edmund and Lucy Pevensie, who not only continually pondered and spoke of Narnia, but also always hoped and expected to experience it once more. Their faith was rewarded, and, thankfully, Eustace was pulled along with them for the adventure of a lifetime.

The crucial moment that begins Eustace’s journey of conversion is when he is transformed into a dragon.  Having wandered away from his traveling companions during a respite on an island, Eustace stumbles onto a dragon’s lair and falls asleep upon a mound of enchanted treasure.  During his sleep, he undergoes a metamorphosis into a dragon: “Sleeping on a dragon’s hoard with greedy, dragonish thoughts in his heart, he had become a dragon himself.”  His outside now reflected his interior disposition.

However, Eustace’s time as a dragon is a bit of an epiphany for him.  He recognizes how beastly he has been behaving and for the first time experiences true loneliness and a longing for companionship. Once he is able to communicate who he is to the others, he becomes most helpful, bringing them food and a massive tree from which to fashion a new mast for the Dawn Treader.  He also offers his services (the fire in his belly) as a source of warmth on cold nights.

Eventually, Eustace is transformed back into a boy, and the process by which this is wrought is filled with Christian symbolism.  Aslan, the mighty lion and Christ figure,  appears to Eustace and tells him to “Follow me.”  Aslan leads him to a well that is filled with water and directs him to bathe in it after undressing first, meaning after removing his dragon skin.  Eustace tries three times to scratch away his skin on his own, only to find that there is more underneath.  At last, Aslan says that Eustace must be undressed by him.  When recounting the encounter to Edmund, Eustace explained that this process hurt, but it was a good pain: “And when he [Aslan] began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt.  The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off.”  Aslan then tossed him into the well water, which also smarted and hurt at first but then became “delicious.”

One can easily compare this scene to repentance and Baptism. We must first shed the “dragon-ish” parts of ourselves, namely,  our sins and shortcomings through repentance.  However,  we cannot remove them ourselves.  If we try, we are only frustrated by our failure.  We must let Jesus and His grace work the transformation in us, a process that can be painful sometimes but that ultimately brings joy and peace.  We are ready to accept God’s forgiveness and be made clean in the waters of Baptism, which we will ultimately find “delicious.”

Eustace is frequently described by Lewis as a “beginner.” Baptism is meant for Christians at the beginning of their faith journeys, either as infants or as adult converts.  In fact, it is one of the Sacraments of Initiation.  Lewis says that Eustace was mostly a completely changed person after his encounter with Aslan, but he still had slip-ups and it would be more accurate to say that he was becoming a better person.  When we first make a commitment to Christ and to the faith, we often do have setbacks and slip-ups but we are now striving and improving and have hope rather than remaining in our mess.  Indeed throughout our whole lives and faith journeys, we must continuously strive for conversion and re-commit ourselves to Christ through prayer, the sacraments, and acts of charity.

Lastly, Eustace’s conversion was prompted first by being immersed in a world of believers, by being immersed in the world of Narnia.  Lewis mentions that the good effects of Narnia began to work on Eustace without him even realizing it; case in point, when he is struggling to climb a mountain, he perseveres to the end instead of giving up like he would have been wont to do before experiencing Narnia.  This small event exemplifies both the importance of evangelization as well as the reality that both our chosen companions and environment have an affect on our attitude and ways of thinking.  Secondly, his conversion was motivated mainly by an experience of hardship, that is, becoming a dragon.  Eustace’s suffering impelled him to make an examination of conscience, so to speak. He realized his nastiness and wanted to be reconciled and be friends with his companions once more.  So often in the real world, it is suffering and trials that drive people to conversion or to a re-awakening of faith.  We take a hard long look at ourselves and our lives and realize where we have fouled up and who we have wronged, and we desire to make amends.

These musings only cover a small portion of the insights contained in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader as well as the whole Narnia series.  If you have never read these books or if it’s been a while since you’ve read them, pick them up again and discover the beauty that C.S. Lewis has to offer!

narnia

 

Images taken from the Chronicles of Narnia page on Facebook.

 

 

All, Culture/Life, Family

“Off to the Fair!”

Now that we’re in the “bleak midwinter” (even though winter has felt very spring-like in my neck of the woods), I thought it’d be fun to do a #throwback blog post of sorts about visiting my local county fair this past summer with my brother.

Going to the county fair was an annual event growing up in my house.  My mother’s grandmother lived in the country, and my mom has many sweet memories of visiting and playing on the family farm with her cousins.  My father also lived on a farm when he was a small boy.  Consequently, both of my parents wanted my brother and me to experience even a taste of what they knew as children.  Though never huge, our county fair used to be much larger than now with numerous rides and games and live musical acts. I remember always listening for the screams of the people riding one particular ride that would swing them back-and-forth to an almost vertical line.  It was one of the tallest rides and looking and listening for it was a staple part of our fair experience.  Of course, every year had its own special memories and moments. One year, we even were able to watch a lady being shot out of a cannon!  Pretty dang amazing. One of the funniest memories I have of the fair is a cow sneezing on my brother.

Sprawled out in wide, expansive green fields beneath the grand Blue Ridge Mountains, the tents and rides were truly in a picturesque setting.  The earthy animal smells and sweat only added to the whole exhausting, exhilarating experience.

My parents weren’t able to join my brother and me this year; nevertheless, I was so glad to return to the fair as we hadn’t gone in several years. It was a steaming hot and humid August day, the kind where you just surrender yourself to the heat and feel your clothes slowly dampen with streams of sweat, when my older brother and I set off.  Due to a change of location, our fair had been greatly downsized, but some of our favorites were still there–the animals, the local art and photography exhibit, the farm-grown vegetables exhibit, the massive John Deere tractors with tires as tall as I am. We saw pigs being hosed down -did I mention it was hot?-fluffy baby chicks, and adorable miniature therapy horses, among other farm denizens.  The day we went there was even a blacksmith demonstration taking place.

Although my brother and I both agreed that we are glad we grew up with the fair as it used to be, going back lifted my spirits.  I am finding more and more that I love being out in the country and surrounded by nature, its simplicity and its bigness.  To borrow a phrase from Fulton Sheen, “the fecundity of life” is everywhere.  That day at the fair, I found myself feeling friendlier toward people and more confident–no expectations or pretensions of mankind.  It seems to me that man can be more himself and yet be drawn out of himself more readily in the country.  I loved seeing the 4-H club kids tending their animals and the sweaty, rosy-cheeked babies reaching out to pet their furry friends.  I was ready to move to a farm and enroll my non-existent, future children in 4-H.

At the risk of sounding melodramatic, that day I felt the country stir my soul and speak to my heart.  Out in God’s country, it’s not as if one’s problems or worries vanish, but suddenly, it’s like the weight of them is lifted.  One knows that they will be solved and that one will have the strength to handle them.  There is more freedom and space to breathe.

I would love to live in a more rural setting one day and when I am hopefully blessed with children, I would not completely disregard the idea of them participating in 4-H.

Man today is so deracinated (to use a fancy, college word), meaning he has lost his connection to the soil, to nature and its rhythms, to nature’s Creator and as a result, he is losing touch with himself and those around him.  Of course, both country and city-living have their pros and cons and one shouldn’t idealize or romanticize either one, but I think it would do this stressed-out, over-technological, consumerist society a world of good to return a bit more to the serene glories as well as the raw realities of the country.

In the meantime, please enjoy some photos from my brother’s and my excursion to our county fair!

 

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A beautiful summer crepe myrtle!
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A soft sheep sans his wooly fleece!
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A ribbon-winning rooster named Frank!
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Adorable baby chicks, which we were not allowed to touch.
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A fluffy rabbit!
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This picture may be my favorite!  This little piglet decided to rest in the water dish.  I guess the heat was too much for him!

 

P.S. The title for this post is the name of a chapter in the children’s literature classic Charlotte’s Web, one of my favorite books!

 

All, Culture/Life, Faith, Family

Fighting for Life

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are LIFE, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness” (emphasis added).  These immortal words are proclaimed in one of America’s founding documents, the Declaration of Independence, yet they are still not wholly lived out in our country due to such tragedies as abortion.

The topics of abortion and the pro-life cause are, undoubtedly,  multi-faceted, sensitive, and complex subjects, which encompass science, religion, philosophy, morality, economics, and politics.  There are so many angles from which one can look at these issues, and they are obviously much too big and important to begin to cover sufficiently in one blog post.  All that being said, I would like to endeavor to put in my two cents and write a bit about what has resonated with me most of late regarding these topics.

Firstly, I know many of you reading this may not agree with the pro-life position.  All I ask is that you consider some ideas behind a differing point of view.

Secondly, this post is not at all meant to be a condemnation of those who are suffering from their past decisions regarding a pregnancy.  If you or someone you know is need of information regarding resources for post-abortive women as well as men, you can find them, here. on the website of the organization, Silent No More.  Please know that you can find healing and restoration.

Though I was not personally present, I was so heartened and energized by the recent witness of the 44th annual March for Life on Jan. 27 in Washington, D.C.  For those who might not be familiar, this massive pro-life rally is held each year on or around the anniversary of the Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion nationwide.  People from all over the country gather, no matter the weather or inconvenience, in order to protest peacefully this ruling that has since resulted in millions of deaths through abortion.

Have you ever wondered what all those babies would be doing right now?  What would they be contributing to society?  In our own lives, what cherished loved ones are we missing because they were aborted?

To me, it defies logic for a society to mourn with a woman who suffers a miscarriage and yet still say that a woman has the right to terminate her own pregnancy.  The objective value and worth of the unborn child did not change, only the subjective desires surrounding the pregnancy.

To paraphrase a quote I once read, let’s remove the crisis from the crisis pregnancy not the pregnancy itself. Shouldn’t we be working to alleviate the circumstances that lead a woman to consider abortion instead of just pushing abortion as the way out of a difficult situation?  Shouldn’t we be working to support those facing unplanned pregnancies in adverse circumstances, helping them to have the resources they need to choose life?  Shouldn’t we be advocating adoption?  So many post-abortive women testify to the fact that they felt they had no choice; they were coerced into abortion by boyfriends, husbands, parents, etc.  They did not have a support system and they did not want to do what they did.

Shouldn’t we be working to dismantle the diabolical lie that abortion is somehow a “right”? The truth is that a woman, indeed no person, is empowered or liberated through the degradation or demise of another person and certainly not through the purposeful death of an innocent child in the womb.  Women are not empowered when their unique and life-giving ability to carry a child is treated as a problem or a weakness or a hindrance to their supposed success in life.  The truth is that abortion hurts women.  Again, many women attest to the fact that they suffered emotionally, psychologically, physically and spiritually for years following an abortion. Often, it took a long time for them to make the connection that their difficulties were connected to their abortions.

Perhaps it is time that we remember that early suffragettes, such as Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who fought for true women’s rights, were themselves against abortion.  And that a main catalyst in the work of Margaret Sanger, the founder of abortion giant Planned Parenthood, was racist eugenics.

The pro-life movement is not perfect, but despite its flaws, its work is crucial.  I think Vice President Mike Pence’s speech at the March for Life was particularly encouraging to those devoted to the cause of life.

He said,

“…life is winning in America.  And today is a celebration of that progress that we  have made. You know I’ve long believed that a society can be judged by how we care for its most vulnerable, the aged, the infirm, the disabled, and the unborn.

We have come to an historic moment in the cause for life.  And we must meet this moment with respect and compassion for every American.

Life is winning in America for many reasons.

Life is winning through the steady advance of science that illuminates when life begins, more and more, every day.  Life is winning through the generosity of millions of adoptive families to open their hearts and homes to children in need.  Life is winning through the compassion of caregivers and volunteers at crisis pregnancy centers and faith-based organizations who minister to women in towns across this country.

Life is winning through the quiet counsels between mothers and daughters, grandmothers and granddaughters, between friends across kitchen tables, and over coffee at college campuses.  The truth is being told.  Compassion is overcoming convenience.  And hope is defeating despair. …

So I urge you to press on.  But as it is written, ‘Let your gentleness be evident to all.’ Let this movement be known for love, not anger.  Let this movement be known for compassion, not confrontation.  When it comes to matters of the heart, there is nothing stronger than gentleness.

I believe that we will continue to win the hearts and minds of the rising generation if our hearts first break for young mothers and their unborn children, and if we each of us do all we can to meet them where they are, with generosity, not judgment.”

This blog is named after my Great-Uncle George, who held so strongly to his convictions that he joined the Royal Air Force in Canada in order to fight in World War II even before the United States entered the fray.  He was bold enough to act upon his beliefs.  Those who believe in the pro-life cause do so with conviction and with passion.  It is something very near and dear to their hearts.  Let us follow the example of Uncle George who courageously fought for what was right even when others around him were not yet doing so.

And let us be encouraged by the words of Jesus, “Whoever accepts a little child in my name, accepts me.” (Matthew 18:5).

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All, Culture/Life, Faith

“Bid our sad divisions cease”

Pope St. John Paul II was known to speak about advancing the “culture of life” over the “culture of death.”  There are many perspectives from which one can view these phrases.  The “culture of death” can refer to the acceptance of abortion, assisted suicide, and the death penalty.  Whether you agree or disagree with these practices as political and social issues, I hope most people would concur that it is tragic when death is imposed as the solution to a situation.

Besides physical death, however, there are other ways in which this culture of death is pervasive, namely, through the destruction of people’s dignity.  Human trafficking and pornography are just two examples.  In both of these cases, human beings are reduced to objects to be used for other people’s pleasure.

A more everyday example is in the increasing divisiveness we are witnessing in families and in the culture at large–the “us vs. them” mentality that has people demonizing and demeaning those who disagree with them, sometimes in very cruel and defamatory ways.  People so often fail to truly try to put themselves in the other person’s shoes or to try to understand the other person’s vantage point.

There is a way to disagree with someone, even about contentious topics like the ones mentioned above, without being disrespectful or assuming the worst in the other person.  Discussion is important and disagreements are inevitable, especially as some of the issues the culture is facing go to the very heart of even what it is means to be a man or a woman.  But it is also crucial to develop prudence, to know the time and the place in which it is best to speak one’s mind.  Moreover, it is sometimes better to remember the old adage, “if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.”  One’s beliefs may very well be closer aligned with truth and virtue than those of the person with whom one is speaking but acting like a sanctimonious know-it-all will never influence anyone positively.  No one as an individual person, no matter how correct his beliefs, has a monopoly on goodness.  We all sin; we all make mistakes; we all have bad habits, and something we may easily forget, we can all learn from each other.

On the other hand, political correctness and attempting to sugar coat the realities of life are also a discredit to people. Common sense cannot be lost.

If we can speak with humility and love and try to understand the other person then maybe some of this awful divisiveness can be overcome, and a culture of life can begin to be built little by little.

One of the last verses of the Christian Advent hymn “O come, O come, Emmanuel” states, “O come, O King of Nations, bind in one the hearts of all mankind. Bid all our sad divisions cease and be yourself our King of Peace!”  These words, which will always be applicable to the human condition, seemed this year to be even more like a prayer fitting our day and age.

Let us pray and let us work to make 2017 a more peaceful, respectful, loving year, despite our differences.

candles

 

 

All, Culture/Life, Tales from the Tutu Side

The Nostalgia of Nutcracker

bishops-wifeIn the 1947 Christmas film The Bishop’s Wife (which I highly recommend if you haven’t seen it), one of the characters, a college professor, suggests that the holidays are a good time for looking backward. Nostalgia and memories certainly seem to be an integral part of this season.  Emotions, both joyful and painful, can flood one’s heart and mind alongside these memories.  Images of lost loved ones, remembrances of past friendships, family traditions, funny stories, and everything in between.

A large part of my nostalgic reminiscences this year has involved dance and “The Nutcracker,” undoubtedly, because I recently performed in this ballet for the first time in many years. It was truly a joyous experience to be a part of it all again.  Nutcracker, as with all shows, can bond people together and facilitate camaraderie.  Carpooling to and from theaters in and out of town, hours-long rehearsals, waiting around in dressing rooms, cheering on friends and colleagues from the stage wings, enduring and laughing at all the random mishaps, mistakes, and bloopers that inevitably occur when all the various dance, stage production, and musical elements are combined.  And, of course, the unpredictability, nerves, and exhilaration of performances.  All of this can come together to produce memorable moments.

Naturally, performing in a Nutcracker again evoked memories of the people and places connected with my past Nutcracker experiences.  So many people who were my best friends, my teachers, so much excitement, laughter, hard work, tears, so much of what my life and my family’s life was like at that point. Looking back through the lens of intervening years and experiences, I can now appreciate even more the sweetness of those times.  It would be fun to have a time machine to transport me back if just for a day.

But I am also reminded of this Lewis Carroll quote: “It’s no use going back to yesterday because I was a different person then.” My friends and I were still kids, dreaming about what we would all be and do. We were different people back then–not just age-wise but emotionally, spiritually.  Nevertheless, I believe the heart of those friendships is still there.   I still truly care about all those people, even though I have lost touch with some of them, and I would welcome the serendipitous crossing of our paths once again.

“Some people come into your life for a reason, others only for a season.”  And some, I have learned, may enter, exit, and then re-enter one’s life when one isn’t expecting it…just like a dancer on a stage.  It is cool to be old enough to have gained the perspective to see how God can intertwine various aspects, experiences, and people in one’s life.  Some people that I danced with years ago and but with whom I lost touch, are now back by my side in the studio on a daily basis.  I consider it a providential gift and a happy surprise when occurrences such as that happen.

One shouldn’t live in the past because doing so blinds one to the blessings and lessons of the present moment.  However, now and then, perhaps during the holidays, it is good for one’s spirit to indulge in nostalgia and to travel down memory lane, to cherish what one had because it most certainly contributed to the person one is today.

Cheers to you, Nutcracker, and to all my friends, old and new, who are ineffably a part of those oh so memorable days!

 

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All, Art, Tales from the Tutu Side

Moments of Wonder

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Edgar Degas’ Dance Class, Bing Images

 

 

Ballet is a teacher, a teacher of life lessons as well as of quirks unique to the art itself.  Returning to dancing full-time after a college hiatus has reminded me of many of these lessons, both sweet and sour.  For example, I had blissfully forgotten just how gosh darn sore one’s toes become and how much one’s feet can ache after being crammed in pointe shoes for hours on a daily basis.  The flip side of that, however, is the liberating feeling of removing said shoes and being able to spread one’s toes wide apart again.  In ballet, the old saying, “beauty is pain” can very often be all too true.

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Pointe shoes!

Furthermore, training and performing in any dance form and especially in ballet, at least at a school or company worth its salt, teaches a person to push himself/herself.  To perform and even to take class every day, one must have a solid work ethic and a whole lot of discipline.  Moreover, one must allow oneself to be vulnerable for one is continually being compelled to move out of his or her comfort zone, through self-motivation, teacher-prodding, and new and challenging choreography.  Trying and failing and trying and succeeding are part and parcel of the life of a dancer be he/she student or professional.  Practice that pirouette again.  Hold that balance a bit longer.  One more time.  A little more effort.  And most importantly, don’t forget to put heart and soul into the movements as well.  No automaton dancers.  One’s passion for ballet is what one can draw upon to inform the artistry and grace that gives life to the technique.

Despite the mechanics, the technique, and the arduous work that I know goes into ballet, sometimes it still seems like magic to me.  When I watch someone execute a step flawlessly or when the movements feel natural and good in my body or when I see the amazing feats of grace and coordination in balletic partner dancing, I find myself thinking of the tremendous gift that is dance and ballet and of the goodness of life.  I experience a moment of wonder.

Some of these moments have recently come during rehearsals of “The Nutcracker.”  This time-honored ballet favorite is familiar even to those who are not ardent followers of the dance world.  Many professional companies perform dozens of shows of “The Nutcracker” each year during the Christmas season.  Between rehearsals and performances, Nutcracker can easily consume a dancer’s life for three to four months.  Dancers sometimes joke about being sick of hearing the music over and over.

However, I never get sick of it.  Though the choreography of “The Nutcracker” differs company to company, Tchaikovsky’s incomparable music is the one exquisite and steadfast component to any production.  Perhaps because it has been a long time since I have danced in “The Nutcracker,” I have a re-awakened and heightened appreciation for its beauty.  Regardless, while listening to this grand score, I have found myself with goose bumps and not being able to suppress smiles.

One day as I was dancing to “Waltz of the Flowers,” I found myself almost becoming emotional while I was moving across the studio.  My stamina and breath were flagging toward the end of the nearly 7-minute piece, but the music was swelling and building, and in that moment, I realized that I had to allow the music to carry me through to the end.  The music and the realization that to little children in the audience, I really will be an enchanted flower dancing across the stage.  I am a character in a fairy tale.  And to me, that is pretty cool.  Again, a moment of wonder, of magic, and of appreciation for the gift of imagination.

The famous ballet choreographer George Balanchine said, “See the music, hear the dance.” This quote captures in a nutshell the relationship between dance and music, namely, an intimate one that enhances both sides.  I believe a prime example of this quotation is in “The Nutcracker.” The music is so rich and diverse as is the dancing, which includes several smaller dances or variations that reflect different nationalities. The music seems to be telling the story. There is the spiciness of Spanish, the sophistication and sensuality of Arabian, the breathless exuberance and strength of Russian, the excitement of the snow scene, the joy of the waltz of the flowers, and the majesty and romance of the Sugar Plum Fairy and Cavalier’s grand pas de deux, among all the other colorful, beautiful parts.  Throw in costumes and a set and the end result is truly awe-inspiring. (To learn more about a grand pas de deux, please see my previous post, Lessons in Love & Chivalry from the World of Ballet.)

These little moments of wonder are inestimably valuable, especially in our day and age.

Amidst the hustle-and-bustle of our daily lives, the concerns we may have about national and international events, and the modern technology that allows us to have a geyser of information and facts at our beck and call, it is rejuvenating and calming to allow ourselves to feel wonder and awe at the simple things in life and at the beauty of the world around us.  Remembering this can help us on those inevitable days when our occupation or our particular stage in life can be overwhelming or feel monotonous. I know I am trying to recognize more and more the little things in life and to thank God for them.

As a closing thought, if you have never listened to Tchaikovsky’s musical masterpiece of the Nutcracker or if you have never attended a live performance of “The Nutcracker,” do yourself a favor and remedy that situation.  It will be well worth your while.

You can watch an excerpt of “The Nutcracker,” filmed for television in 1977 and performed by Mikhail Baryshnikov and Gelsey Kirkland, two icons of the dance world, here.

All, Family

It’s All in the Family

 

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Welcome to Uncle George!  Right now, you may be wondering about the origin of the moniker for this blog.  As with all things seemingly out-of-the-blue, this name has a backstory.

Uncle George is my great uncle, one of the brothers of my late maternal grandfather.  Growing up, I heard the story of how Uncle George, eager to serve, protect, and defend, did not wait for the United States to officially enter World War II but instead decided to travel to Canada from his home state of Louisiana in order to join the Royal Air Force.  To me, this anecdote shows that Uncle George was a man of strong convictions, but, more importantly, that he had the courage to act upon those convictions.

The photograph in the featured image of this blog and in this post’s picture is a photo of my Uncle George in his aviator apparel.  An inscription on the back tells us that this particular photo was taken somewhere in southern England where he an instructor in bomber pilot training.  His Royal Air Force insignia is also visible near to the picture frame, and beside the photo is a pair of his ice skates.

Fortunately, Uncle George did not die in combat, but, tragically, he did lose his life during training.

Uncle George was a writer, a young journalist engaged to be married to a young woman, who was a fellow journalist.   Often when I have displayed a penchant or an aptitude for writing, my mother has spoken about Uncle George and his story.

It is a warm and comfortable feeling to think that I have something in common with a relative who, unfortunately, I was never able to meet–a man of conviction who loved writing.  It is a link to our family’s past, a legacy that helped to shape my family and myself.

So this blog is named for Uncle George.  Through my writing, I hope to share some of my own convictions, some of what is important to me, be it serious or light-hearted or somewhere in between.  In doing so, I hope to honor Uncle George’s memory.

Please come along for the journey.  I hope that this blog makes you smile, makes you think, touches you in some way, helps you to understand another’s viewpoint even if you don’t agree, and maybe brings a bit of joy to your day!

Thanks for stopping by, and Happy Reading!