Wednesday, December 26, 2012


Every time we tell our New York friends that we're staying in the city for Christmas rather than traveling to our home in Arkansas , we get the same response. . .
"You'll love it!  New York is magical at Christmas; the lights are amazing."
So, I've paid attention. Not that I would have missed the lights without the heads-up, but I might not have looked closely enough, beyond the obvious.

The most obvious, of course, is. . .

While crowds craned their necks and positioned their cameras to capture the grandeur of the tree's 30,00 lights, I spotted a nearby angel quietly, delicately heralding the season's joy.

A few days later, I discovered more angels, floating among branches of the annual Christmas tree at the Metropolitan Museum of Art; each watchful face, illumined by the softest glow of candlelight.

Lights have stopped me in unlikely places, stopped and reminded me.  

At Zuccotti Park where the Occupy Wall Streeters camped out for weeks, impassioned with their ideas for economic equality and reform.  White lights remind me of deeply-held freedoms. . . to speak, to assemble, to petition.

At One World Trade Center where violence altered the world, lights remind me of lives lost, yet lives which lead us into the future.

And in a quiet chapel at Trinity Wall Street Church, a simple row of flickering candles invites me to sit, reflect, and light my own.

For gratitude.
For peace.


Sunday, December 16, 2012

Their Names

On Sunday mornings Drew and I drop by the corner Starbucks for coffee, a pastry and a New York Times, then cross the street to a bench in City Hall Park.  Today is cloudy with a chilly mist saturating the air, so we opt to find a warm spot by the window.  Drew orders while I pick up the paper.  The headlines hit me.  My hand covers by heart. I shake my head.  I start to cry.

Of course, I have heard of the shootings at the Newtown, Connecticut school, the statistics of 20 children and 6 adults killed.  But numbers don't impact like names.  I can't read them.

I think of my own classes of kindergarten and second graders in past years, gathered on the floor for  Morning Meeting, busy with projects around the room, cuddled up in corners with favorite books.  Then I imagine a man with a gun at our classroom door.  The terror, the helplessness, the responsibility for those little lives, of wanting to protect, grip my chest.

I fold up the paper, shove it across the table.  While I can make the imagined scene go away, the bad dream disappear, teachers and students at Sandy Hook Elementary lived it. And died.

Their names make the horror real.  I must read them.  I must allow myself to feel the pain, to share in the collective pain and grief that we all must feel.  So we can become their advocates.

I look up past my coffee cup, through the window to the top of City Hall.  The flag flies at half mast.

For Charlotte, Daniel, Olivia, Josephine, Ana, Dylan, Madeleine, Catherine, Chase, Jesse, James, Grace, Emilie, Jack, Noah, Caroline, Jessica, Avielle, Benjamin, Allison, Ms. Davino, Ms. Hochsprung, Ms. Murphy, Ms. Rousseau, Ms. Sherlach, Ms. Soto and the mother of the gunman, Ms. Lanza.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Children's Voices Singing

You might think that by attending a second grade winter concert on Tuesday, a first grade concert on Wednesday, and a  kindergarten concert tomorrow that our grandchildren must be performing.  With no grandchildren living in Manhattan, though, I must have another reason.  It's simple. . . I love to hear children sing. And fortunately I have many opportunities. With Drew being Head of School at Léman Manhattan, I get to hear students not only sing, but play instruments, display art work, act, read poetry, run up and down the basketball court and more.  It's glorious!  

Children singing during this holiday season reminds me, in a weird way, of chocolate-covered pretzels,  sugary sweetness and salty excitement rolled into one.  Depending on the song, their voices can reflect the unbridled joy of "Jingle Bells," (especially the big "HEY!"), or the hopeful innocence of "What Can We Do to Make Peace?"*  These songs were among the ones that the Léman first graders shared in their Songs of Peace concert.   (Click on the video to experience their "Jingle Bells" joy.)

Kathy Hart, lower school music teacher, collaborated with the first graders to write their own song, "Winter With Friends" for the concert.  She wrote the music, lyrics for the chorus, and students added their ideas for winter fun.  This is one of those "salty with excitement" songs, literally including a line about potato chips.  Here's a taste of their creativity, which they performed with actions!

(Ms. Hart)
I see snowflakes floating down from the cool gray sky
Looks like winter is coming to our town
You better get ready to:

Make snow angels
Have a snow fight
Build a snow house with an underground pool!

Go snow tubing
Play ice hockey
Go ice skating with friends from school

(Ms. Hart) - Chorus
Play in the snow all day, invite everyone in 
There's nothing like winter with friends

Build a snowman that  
Eats potato chips
Pile the snow high and jump right in!

Drink hot chocolate
Eat some cookies
Dig to China and make new friends


Learn to snowboard, mountain ski
Get your sleigh
And crash into a tree!


Enjoy winter. . .
Enjoy winter. . .
Enjoy winter with friends

To balance the salty with the sweet, the children sang "Pacem (A Song of Peace)."**
Indeed there can be nothing sweeter than the soft, lilting and ever hopeful voices of children, blended as one in song, to offer the world what it so desperately needs. . . PEACE.  The first verse is followed by two questions, which the children ask each of us.

In the silence of the morning when the dawn has just begun,
As the moon is softly fading with the rising of the sun,
If you listen to the sparrow and the gentle mourning dove,
There's a message in the song they sing; it is peace they're singing of.

"Pacem, singing pacem."  Can you hear the song?
"Pacem, singing pacem."  Will you sing along?"


*by John Ferrell
** by Andy Beck and Brian Fisher

Thanks to Brylee Maxfield, Communications Manager at Léman, for the video


Thursday, December 6, 2012

In the Company of Trees

Trees have been on mind lately.  Not that I've consciously been thinking about them; perhaps that's the problem.  They keep cropping up like an unexpected friend, the one you've been meaning to call, but just haven't found the time.  It's only in hindsight that I see the pattern, the not-so-coincidental encounters, like yesterday. . .

I had settled into my aisle seat on Southwest flight 1445, heading back to NYC from our home in Arkansas, and needed something to read.  Not yet in the mood to finish the last chapter of Eleanor Roosevelt's autobiography, I pulled "Spirit" out of the seat pocket in front of me.  The title of an article in the SW magazine intrigued me, "The Old Man and the Tree," by Sarah Perry.  Jonathan Bartlett's illustration immediately drew me into the story.

Frank, the old man, had cared for and developed a 50-year relationship with the Yarmouth, Maine elm (or Herbie, as the community liked to call him). Frank passed by Herbie every day, just to say "hello." He brought school children to visit, to link hands and surround the massive trunk, to give Herbie a hug. 

"What is it about a thing as seemingly insignificant as a tree that can inspire such devotion?" Ms. Perry asked.

Not that I'd use the word "insignificant" when referring to a tree, but I did have a similar thought about a month before when I stood in front of a tree in Brooklyn. (No, not THAT tree.)  Drew and I happened upon the Camperdown Elm during a Sunday afternoon walk in  Prospect Park.  Not particularly striking, with arthritic-looking limbs held together by taunt wire cables, this elderly arbor clearly showed its 140 years. 

Yet much like Herbie, it had been saved, tended to, even cherished by a community and revered in verse by a poet, Marianne Moore, who wrote, "It is still leafing; still there. Mortal though. We must save it.  It is our crowning curio."

Shortly after that chance meeting, there was yet another.  I was visiting the 9/11 Memorial with my friend, Margie, on a sunny autumn morning.  I had been there before, so as Margie absorbed the experience for the first time, I observed details I had missed.  I noticed people gathered around one particular tree, one of the 412 spread throughout the plaza, touching its bark, fingering its leaves, standing, gazing at it with a worshipful reverence. 

The callery pear is the only surviving tree recovered from the destruction of the World Trade Center. When it was pulled from the rubble, it had one living branch; it is now thriving.  I felt a peacefulness as I watched the Survivor Tree  providing its quiet comfort to, and in turn being comforted by, the people in its presence that morning.  
Then, last week our son, Jason, wife Kate, and three children invited me to help decorate their Christmas

As Jason lifted Nate up to place the glittery red star on the tree's top, and the little fingers placed ornaments on her limbs, I saw a relationship beginning.

A relationship. . . .

In the busyness of my life, I obviously needed reminders to re-establish relationships with the calming presence of neglected "friends."  As if the universe wanted to give me one last nudge, I received a card from our daughter, Katherine.  Inside were two tea bags -- and two autumn leaves, red and yellow,  from the tree in her yard.  



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