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December 18, 2019

from Keeping Time, by Ann Copeland

Fast forward to the early twenty-first century, late Advent, a drizzly evening in Salem, Oregon. In the large house at the end of the street, set in among evergreens blinking with red, green, and silver lights, some thirty or forty folks of various ages have gathered for the annual party. Most have been connected to Willamette University for years, as has our host. Some, new to the faculty, bring small children. Others, newly retired, bring themselves and anecdotes about elderly parents or grandchildren. Many bring just themselves. The deadline for getting exam results to the registrar’s office is tomorrow or the next day. Nonetheless, this evening’s space is reserved; it holds the desire to gather and to sing.

After milling about and chatting over mugs of homemade Northwest Cioppino, accompanied by wine, cheese, bread, and too many sweets, we gather in the long living room near the large twinkling tree. Song sheets appear. I go to the piano. Seated around in chairs and on the floor, guests call out numbers of the songs they want. If the key is too high and they change it on me, I try to fake along, often failing, but nothing stops the singing.

I love this version of surround sound: the spontaneous hamming up of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” and “The Little Drummer Boy,” the variations on “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” the quieter rendering of beloved Christmas hymns, “Silent Night” always saved till last. Sometimes Charlie brings out his penny whistle or recorder. Sometimes Jo plays her flute. Now and then we also have Delana’s harp.

This is no utopia. We’ll all return very shortly to the contradictions, ironies, puzzles, and pain that mark adult life. For the long moment of this evening, however, usefulness, duty, and deadlines are held at bay while voices merge in song.

—Ann Copeland, Keeping Time

December 17, 2019

from The Dancing Clock, by Nancy Gerber

The past is like an old faded photograph, familiar yet unrecognizable because so much has changed.

The future is like one of those instant Polaroid snapshots before it brightens into focus, blurry and impossible to read.

Every day is precarious and fragile as we dance with time, a most unrelenting, demanding partner.

—Nancy Gerber, The Dancing Clock

December 16, 2019

from Keeping Time, by Ann Copeland

Pressures abound today to reinforce our sense of darkness and disconnectedness on many levels. Dead ends. Final losses. As I write these words, newspapers and TV carry tales of the looting and pillaging of the National Museum of Iraq whose records and artifacts recorded the history of a civilization that began to flourish on the fertile plains of Mesopotamia more than seven thousand years ago. Links have been broken, destroyed forever.

Closer to the heart, in personal lives, there is no denying links broken, as any adult knows. A sense of disconnectedness is our human m├ętier. A page is torn from a sacred book, a particular path of religious commitment loses its power, connections to loved ones are severed by illness, death. History, our times, our individual lives educate us to sustain only guarded optimisms, skeptical faith. And yet . . .

That “and yet” informs my efforts here and in the essays that follow. We possess the power to forge connections across time. In our blackest moments, we may read final loss. Yet the adventure of tracing connections, discovering links, rediscovering meaning can yield surprise and discovery for even the most dubious.

—Ann Copeland, Keeping Time: A Life Making Music

December 11, 2019

from The Dancing Clock, by Nancy Gerber

And so, who am I?

If I discard the roles that have defined me—daughter, wife, mother, friend—and try to name who I am apart from those roles, I would say this: I am a seeker, a collector, and a grazer.

I am a seeker of questions rather than answers, of meaning and meaningful experiences, of what it is that makes human beings tick, the beating heart that keeps us going day after day in the face of troubles, illnesses, uncertainties, disappointments, personal and professional challenges. Yes, it’s a desire to cling to life, to navigate the rushing waters that threaten to capsize us, but it’s also more complicated than that. What drives people to make the choices they make? How do human beings cope with suffering and trauma?

I am a collector of words and all things related to words: novels, stories, poems, journals, diaries. Reading and writing are the modes I use to approach the questions about meaning, motivation, and survival that trouble and animate me.

I am a grazer. I like quiet and solitude so that I can contemplate my questions, so that I have ample time to read and write. I’ve lived through sixteen years of parental illness—first my father’s, then my mother’s—years that were difficult and sad and isolating and emotionally draining. I like to be still, to gaze inward and travel in the realms of imagination and desire, to gather my energy to meet the ever-present demands of living.

—Nancy Gerber, The Dancing Clock

December 6, 2019

from Memorizing Shadows, by Heidi Elizabeth Blankenship

You must learn
to be
where your heart is,
wherever your feet take you,
in the present.

—Heidi Elizabeth Blankenship, Memorizing Shadows