The Song Remembers When: Remembering Grandpa

Just so you know, this is going to be a more personal post than what I usually write.  Much, much more personal.  You get to see my vulnerable side – which isn’t something that I let show through very often.  But it’s my blog and I can write what I want.  🙂  You’ve been forewarned.

A few years back (ok, 20 years back) Trisha Yearwood had a hit single entitled “The Song Remembers When.”  It’s a gorgeous song.  In case you haven’t heard it, I’ve included the mp3 below:

 The Song Remembers When

Granted, this is a love song, but I think the concept relates to a lot of situations.  Music has a way of releasing the mind’s floodgates and in the process frees a torrent of memories and emotions.  That’s what happened to me last night.  But before launching into that, we have to talk a little bit about dreams.

A lot of questions, uncertainty, and superstitions revolve around dreaming.  Whether people dream in color or in black and white, whether the people who do the dreaming actually remember what they dreamed, what the meaning is of recurring dreams, what causes déjà vu, etc.  Personally I can say this: I always dream in color, I remember what I dream about, I speak English to English speakers and French to French speakers who appear in my dreams, and occasionally, Wolof gets thrown in the mix (but not too often).  Some people say that it’s impossible to read in dreams, but I know for a fact that that’s not true because I’ve read things in my dreams that appear in both of my primary languages.  I have also had a myriad of “déjà vu” moments throughout my life – those are always pretty cool.  Some of my dreams have served as warnings about very real events in my life, others have proven quite revelatory – in many senses of the word – and all of them are very vivid.  We’ll chalk that up to my artistry and my highly-developed and keenly sharp intellect. 🙂

Since my arrival in Dakar, my grandfather has been in a handful of my dreams, and he’s shown up twice just within the past 2 weeks.  And I’m not talking about those nostalgic dreams where you’re transported back into your childhood or not-so-distant past.  No, these dreams have been based in my present-day life in Senegal, a context which fully embraced the fact that he is no longer alive.  His first cameo this month occurred a couple of days before I went on the night outing with the Samusocial volunteers and helped take care of the street kids.  In the dream I was walking in the street when all of a sudden, I got goosebumps on my arms and I felt that someone was walking next to me.  Not that that’s anything new, because you’re never alone on the streets of Dakar.  But this was different in the fact that the person was walking very close to me.  My “bubble” isn’t very big – even around strangers – so it’s a pretty significant thing when I feel that someone has invaded my personal space.  I turned to see who it was, and there he was, walking right next to me.  He still had his white hair, but his face was filled out to it’s healthy proportions (he’d lost an alarming amount of weight the last 2 years of his life), he stood straight and tall, he had no problem keeping up with my pace, and his eyes sparkled and they were happy.  He looked so good!  We struck up a conversation as we weaved in and out of the crowd.  I don’t remember what we talked about, but my eyes kept wandering to his mouth and neck.  Why?  Because I was amazed to see that he didn’t have to put his hand to his throat and cover his trach (due to complications from the polio he contracted in the early 1950s, he had to have a tracheotomy when I was a toddler).  For the last 27 years of my life he had to cover the pipe in order to make his voice loud enough to hear.  Otherwise it’d come out in a barely-audible whisper or a little whistle.  It was so incredibly easy to understand him!  I remember grinning from ear to ear in my dream because I was so happy to see him.  I woke up before we got to my destination.

The second dream I had occurred just last week.  It was a little strange in the fact that I was kind of a spectator, but I was watching myself go through a bunch of things that have happened during my stay here – mostly the annoying and dangerous ones.   They weren’t happening in chronological order, either.  Reflecting on it now, I guess they were kind of presented in order of severity, with the most dangerous events happening last.  The last thing that I saw “on replay” was getting hit by that motorcycle.  It was unearthly surreal to watch myself fly backwards through the air (quite literally) after the impact.  I’m not kidding when I say it was like watching a slow-motion replay of a nasty, nasty football injury.  And in my years as an athletic trainer and traveling with sports teams, believe me when I say that I’ve seen – and studied – a good share of replays.  My spectator-self felt pain sear through my leg and feet all over again, and I was dumbstruck to see that what should have happened when I landed didn’t – i.e. crack my head open on the pavement and hear the sickening snap and thud from landing on a twisted, badly broken leg.  My head didn’t even touch the ground.  My spectator-self was aware of the thought that I had as I stood up a few seconds later – i.e. There’s no logical reason as to why I’m not knocked unconscious and laying in a pool of my own blood right now – and I was again amazed to see myself walk out of the path of traffic, and then a few seconds later when I was a safe distance away from the road, open up my backpack to inspect my miraculously undamaged laptop.  Unbelievable.  Spectator Lark thought, “All of these things [the events that I saw on replay] were pretty serious, but they should have had worse outcomes than they did.  It’s almost as if someone was there protecting me.”  I turned my gaze away from my other self walking the rest of the way to Wolof class (grimacing the whole way but without limping) and I looked over at the road where I was hit.  I saw my big, strong, white-haired, healthy Grandpa taking his last few steps across the road to the opposite side of where my other self was, meet a throng of other individuals who seemed to know me, turn around and watch me silently.

My spectator-self started crying and I wanted so badly to run over to him, hug him, and tell him how much I love him.  I wanted to thank him for protecting me.  But I couldn’t.  It was like I was stuck behind a glass wall.  I couldn’t do anything but call out his name.  Fortunately he heard me and turned to where my spectator-self was.  He smiled a little sadly, but warmly, at me and I waved to him.  He didn’t wave back, but he stood there looking at me.  I wanted to tell him how sorry I was that I never got to see him before he died, how sorry I was that I’d been so sick with mono and that in the months between the end of March and July that I wasn’t allowed to see him for fear that he’d get an infection (he was hospitalized unexpectedly in April).  I’d planned to spend sometime with him in April, but that never happened.  I wanted to tell him how sorry I was that I had to leave for Florida the morning after he was hospitalized the second time and that I didn’t make it back from Florida in time to see him before he died.  That of all of his kids, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and great-great grandchildren, I was the only one that didn’t make it back in time.  The look in his eyes willed me to not cry, but I couldn’t help it.  I cried anyway.  He just continued to smile at me, and then I woke up.

Whether that’s what actually happened on those days is another story.  However, these dreams and previous ones have shown me that our loved ones are always near by and that they don’t leave us stranded.  They’re still interested in us and our happiness despite the fact that they’ve moved on before us.

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So Grandpa has been on my mind a lot lately.  And while the grand majority of my memories of Grandpa are positive and beautiful, some are also quite bittersweet.  There are a lot of things surrounding Grandpa’s last few years and his passing that I still have a hard time processing (obviously).  In fact, I think it’s safe to say that of all the things that give me a “hard time,” those things in their conglomerate take the cake.  Big time.  So I tend to bury it, mostly by throwing myself into my studies and my teaching.  But sometimes it catches me when I least expect it.

Last night I was listening to some music on my iPod and one of Grandpa’s favorite songs came on.  Open floodgates.  Open tear ducts.  Hello near-sleepless night.  Hello morning headache.

Out of all my favorite memories of Grandpa – and I have a lot, mind you – I think some of the starred ones revolve around music.  He always had the radio on – in the house, in his wood shop, in the car.  It was almost always tuned to Rochester’s KNXR, or, when he played his CDs, it was almost always Lori Line piano music, Big Band hits, 50s and 60s music, or Julio Iglesias.  I have awesome memories of several times when he put on “some dancing music,” whisked Grandma from her chair, and danced around the kitchen with her.  And then he’d find my mom and my aunt and dance with them.  And he’d grin the whole time.  One of my favorite such memories occurred after Grandma died – I think I was still in high school (or maybe I’d just started college) – and both of my sisters were home for  the holidays.  He came into the kitchen holding his little white CD player, plugged it in and pushed play.  I have no idea what we were doing in there, but my mom, sisters, aunt, and I were all in there.  Pretty soon we heard Roy Orbison’s silky baritone voice singing “Blue Bayou.”  Grandpa flashed his smile and grabbed one of my sisters and started dancing with her.  Dad came in and started dancing with Mom, Aunt Gloria jived in the corner waiting for her turn.  We let the whole CD play and we all got our turn dancing with Grandpa and Dad.

We had a lot of family celebrations – birthdays, anniversaries, weddings, etc – that involved  going to a venue that had good food and a dance floor.  He and Grandma were very good dancers, and I always enjoyed watching them dance together.  We also went to a lot of concerts with them.  Charlie Pride, Shoji Tabuchi, Ray Stevens, Big Band bands, the Osmonds, Bobby Vinton, Mel Tillis and other singers who had shows in Branson.  Two of my favorite Branson memories are when Charlie Pride came down into the audience, saw Grandpa, pulled him up right next to him, and one the very last word of the song put the mic right next to Grandpa’s mouth and expected him to sing the last word.  It was a LOW bass note, but Grandpa nailed it!  Charlie Pride was pretty impressed and the whole theater erupted in applause.  The other one was at Bobby Vinton’s Blue Velvet Theater.  He, too, had come down into the audience, saw my grandparents (they were sitting at the end of the row) and had them stand up to take picture with him.  But Grandpa didn’t stop there – he grabbed Grandma around her waist and started dancing with her in the aisle.  Bobby (yes, we are on a first name basis) smiled really big and kept right on singing.  Can you imagine being serenaded by Bobby Vinton himself while dancing to one of his songs?  Yeah.  Tell me about it.  Grandpa loved taking me to see Lori Line (a concert pianist who hails from the Twin Cities) – in fact, my very first “date” after I turned 16 was with Grandpa and he took me to a Lori Line concert.  She was touring in Wisconsin the weekend after my birthday, so he drove down and picked me up and we went to a really old, beautiful theater in Baraboo.  He took my sisters a few times, too.  But he and I went a lot, even after he got remarried.  Those were always a lot of fun.  He always loved her hear her patriotic medleys and her renditions of “Music Box Dancer” and “How Great Thou Art.”  For my 18th birthday we went to The Fireside, a place that serves a really nice dinner and after dinner the guests file into an small, fairly intimate auditorium to watch a play – usually a musical.  The stage is circular and the seats are situated all around it.  That evening they had an almost-one-woman play about the life and music of Patsy Cline.

G&G Bobby Vinton

Other times he’d sit at the kitchen table when he wasn’t busy and he’d stick in one of his many Julio Iglesias, Elvis, or piano CDs.  He’d blast Julio Iglesias’ rendition of “Crazy,” and he’d sit back, rest his shoulder against the wall, and drink in the rich, velvety saxophone parts.  His eyes would brighten, and a small, contented smile would crease his face.  Sometimes when my family went to visit – particularly when I was older – he’d have me sit at that table and then slide his newest piano or classical CD over to me.  We’d put it in and enjoy it together – Grandpa would drink either a small glass of apple juice or chocolate milk, and I’d grab the Club Crackers (Keebler Club Crackers, mind you) and drink whatever he was having.  He also bought me my first radio for my 10th birthday or thereabouts, and he’d often dub-off cassette tapes and later CDs with some of his favorite music.  Then he’d give them to me at various times during the year, whether it was my birthday/Christmas or not.

Last night after being sideswiped by “Crazy,” I looked at the playlists on my iPod and I realized that in many respects, I see Grandpa in them.  Other family members have also influenced my music tastes, but by and large it was Grandpa who taught me to really love music.  So he really isn’t that far away…

Lesson for the day = songs really do “remember when.”

 

 

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Suzanne

 

Suzanne

Suzanne

Suzanne is the cleaning lady’s 9 month-old daughter.  She accompanies her mother, Victorine, to the apartment each Saturday and she plays on the floor while her mother cleans.  Sometimes when I’m not extremely busy I’ll let her play with my computer, listen to some music (she loves cello music, btw), and today we played on the piano for a while.  She doesn’t gabber much, but today I got her talking and it was fun to hear her coo.  I think the piano did it.  Suzanne’s a good-natured little girl, and she’s pretty fun to be around.

Here are some more pictures of her.  Enjoy.

Playing with my hair and tapping my head

Playing with my hair and tapping my head

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The Piano Guys

So here’s an unsolicited and totally unabashed plug for The Piano Guys and their new CD. The following songs were the only things that kept me sane during my final paper writing marathon.

A Thousand Years

Arwen’s Vigil

Code Name Vivaldi

If you have time, check out their YouTube channel – you won’t be disappointed!  Their music has also given rebirth to my desire to learn to play the cello.  But alas, that won’t be happening anytime soon… I mean I can’t find enough hours in the day to do all of my homework and get enough sleep, so how in the world would I find time to take cello lessons?  Although I have to admit to having surfed the internet on more than one occasion to see how much cellos cost…  And heads-up to the Mayberries: I found some really awesome – and high quality – drum sets for kids that are totally affordable.  Amber will buy the oompaloompas, and I will give your children art and drum lessons.  You’ve been forewarned…

Saving Lives

Pete’s Dragon. You know, the movie, one of Disney’s most iconic films of the late 70s and mid 80s.  My sister hated it; I loved it.  Seriously, who wouldn’t want to have a dragon as their friend?  Move over Calvin and Hobbes, Pete and Elliot were the first dynamic duo and they could sing, too!  Although I have to admit I wasn’t, and am still not, a fan of Elliot’s pinkish-purple hair.  But the storyline is great, and I love Mickey Roonie’s role as Lampie.  Mom and Dad bought us the story book when we were little and I always giggled at the picture where Pete and Elliot are hiding out in the cave playing tic-tac-toe on Elliot’s stomach.

But this isn’t a post about magical dragons.  This post is much more substantial than that.  I mention Pete’s Dragon because that’s the first time that I recall being introduced to lighthouses and the important role they play in bringing sailors and boats safely to shore.  Remember the part when the lighthouse wick went out during that storm – which happened to be the exact moment when what’s-her-bucket’s boyfriend (or was he her husband?) was trying to sail into Passamaquoddy’s harbor?  And prior to the storm Pete and Elliot had had a falling-out so they weren’t talking to one another, but Pete had to convince Elliot to blow fire and re-light the wick?  And Elliot was too portly to fit in the tiny little doorway?  And he almost didn’t light it in time??  Talk about a nail-biter!!  If it weren’t for the lighthouse, what’s-his-bucket would have been smashed into smithereens on the rocks and then the movie wouldn’t have had a happy ending…

Ok, yes, I’m being overdramatic and a little sarcastic, but considering the fact that I still remember that scene after so many years tells you that it made an impression on me.  The light saved that guy’s life.  So thanks to one of my favorite movies from my childhood, I’ve always had a mild interest in lighthouses.  Well, I guess to be more accurate I should say that I always thought they were cool.

All of that changed one Sunday evening during my freshman year at BYU.  Every Sunday our ward would gather for ward prayer in the common area in Hinckley Hall (the best dorm in Helaman Halls, by the way).  Each week one person or a group of people gave a spiritual thought or performed a musical number, the bishopric shared announcements, someone prayed and then we went back to our rooms for the evening.  One Sunday four men sang a hymn – I’ve included the lyrics below – and then they talked about what the words meant.  Their rendition was very simple but thanks to their singing talent and execution, it was extremely powerful.  I’m completely serious when I say that I have never had such a touching and powerful experience while listening to a hymn as I did that night.  It was unbelievable.  Absolutely beautiful.  It touched me to the very center.  Unfortunately no one thought to record it; we should have because I am always disappointed when other individuals perform the same number.  The guys from my ward sang in such impeccable harmony, with such precision and with such feeling that I don’t think I’ll ever find a rendition that will match it.

Prior to that evening, I’d never heard the hymn.  But since then, thanks to the music and the lyrics, that hymn has been one of my top five favorites.  What is it, you ask?  It’s actually quite popular and the meaning is fairly well-known.  It’s the only hymn in the LDS hymnbook written in Barber Shop harmony: Brightly Beams Our Father’s Mercy.

Today I ran across a YouTube video of four men from Utah State singing the song.  While their recording does have some issues – their precision and diction is off in some places – their harmony is beautiful.  It’s the closest rendition I have found to what I heard that night at BYU.  My guys sang with much more passion and feeling, but I still like this one.  You’re welcome to listen to the mp3 as you read the lyrics below.

Brightly beams our Father’s mercy
From his lighthouse evermore,
But to us he gives the keeping
Of the lights along the shore.

[Chorus]
Let the lower lights be burning;
Send a gleam across the wave.
Some poor fainting, struggling seaman
You may rescue, you may save.

Dark the night of sin has settled;
Loud the angry billows roar.
Eager eyes are watching, longing,
For the lights along the shore.

Let the lower lights be burning;
Send a gleam across the wave.
Some poor fainting, struggling seaman
You may rescue, you may save.

Trim your feeble lamp, my brother;
Some poor sailor, tempest-tossed,
Trying now to make the harbor,
In the darkness may be lost

Let the lower lights be burning;
Send a gleam across the wave.
Some poor fainting, struggling seaman
You may rescue, you may save.

After the group finished singing, Scott, the one that put the group together, told us that he sang that with his companion and another set of missionaries at a zone conference.  After they sat down their mission president stood up to give his remarks, but instead of launching immediately into his topic he asked the missionaries if they knew what that song meant.  Evidently they didn’t, so he explained it to them.

Many people may not be aware that the lighthouse system – if we can call it that – doesn’t consist solely of a lighthouse on a craggy outcropping of rock.  In fact, by themselves, lighthouses don’t serve much of a purpose.  Lighthouses signal that dangerous rocks threaten the safety of the boats and the people that they carry.  But in the dark, a captain cannot see where those rocks are, nor does he know whether the rocks are all above water or if some are submerged.  In order to navigate the seen and unseen hazards that often create narrow, maze-like paths before they open up to a harbor, additional lights are spread out on the shore and in the water.  The lower lights designate safety whereas the main lighthouse stands as safety and the destination.

But there’s even more to it than that.  In order to prevent the ship from hitting rocks, the captain must align his vessel so that the lower lights line up with the lighthouse in a straight trajectory.  That may mean that he has to completely change his course, i.e. if he’s coming in from the west but the lights only line up from the southeast, he must to maneuver the ship to that bearing.  In other areas of the world, the lower lights act like the lines painted on either side of the interstate: they outline the route the ship is to take in order to reach land.  As the captain follows the lights, he will have to make constant corrections in his trajectory in order to stay within the boundaries set forth by the lights along the shore.

In the context of this hymn, Christ is the lighthouse and we are sailors.  Christ is the ultimate destination, He is the harbor.  The individual who seeks to be in His presence obviously sets his sights on Him.  The “sailor” may have to change the course of his life – or just make tiny course corrections – and sometimes that can be seen as a burden.  But if he doesn’t want to sink his ship, he has to do it.  And because ol’ Scratch likes to rear his ugly head at unforeseen moments, God places other people in the water and along the shore to act as guides and to be examples of good, wholesome and righteous living.  In essence, they help God pull the sailor into safety during the last leg of his journey.

We are the sailors.  The lower lights are the Prophets, Apostles and those chosen to stand in positions of leadership.

That analogy is beautiful by itself.  But the symbolism goes two ways.  Just as we are all certainly the sailors, God also works through us; we are our brother’s keeper and therefore, we are also “the lights along the shore.”  In order to be that guide, example and beacon in the immediate darkness, we have to not only align ourselves in places of safety, but we have to stay there!  We have get on the path and we can’t budge.  We have to shine in the thickest fog and in the blackest night.  We have to stay anchored during ferocious storms and we have to stay focused on the tempest-tossed boats that are beleaguered by time, the elements, and weaknesses.

It doesn’t matter if that vessel is the smallest and rustiest fishing boat or the largest and most impressive aircraft carrier.  Their human cargo is precious.

It doesn’t matter if we’re a tall, short, weather-beaten, or a sparkling new edifice.  We share the same light that glows from the Lighthouse.

To the “fainting, struggling seaman” whose eyes are “watching, longing” for us, our light is his hope.  Hope leads him to the Lighthouse and ultimately, the harbor.  Regardless of what we look like, how long we have been shining that light or how bright our beam is, to him we are beautiful and heaven-sent.

These images often work themselves into my thoughts, and I find myself pondering the various stormy waters or pitch-black nights that I’ve had to sail through.  I am grateful that the Lighthouse never stops sending His beam out across the waves.  I’m grateful for those individuals who are called to be the lights along the shore.  But most specifically, I’m in debt to loved ones who have set their sights on Christ and who have been and continue to be tremendous examples of obedient, faithful disciples of the Savior.

This concept of lighthouses and lower lights took on a new meaning for me when I was working in the French education system in Marseille, France.  My friend and former French 101/102 student, Helle Brimhall, stayed with me for a week during October 2008 and one day, we took a sightseeing boat around the coast of Marseille.  The guide pointed out the place where the oldest lighthouse had stood during the middle ages and into modern times; it was destroyed, but another more modern and smaller lighthouse took it’s place.  As we made our way out of the Vieux Port, toward le Château d’If, and then out into open water, I noticed that we passed several “miniature” lighthouses.  Some were located on the dykes and barriers that were scattered along the shore and in the water, some were on small outcroppings of rock protruding out of the sea, one was on the battlements of the l’Ile d’If, and a couple were anchored securely in the water and were floating out on their own.

The smaller lights guiding ships to the harbors of Marseille

When I returned home that night I looked at a satellite picture of the Marseillaise coast and sure enough, I saw that several lower lights lined up with various docks for cruise ships, cargo vessels, sailboats, etc.  Several more exist outside the confines of this photo.  I learned that certain lower lights flashed different colors or at different frequencies, and the ones that matched led to a specific dock.  A few months later I saw a detailed map of the city which included maritime routes and legends and I saw something that amazed me.

The lower lights have names.

Some are named after locations in France, objects, colors, etc.

But the majority of them have female names.

My favorite smaller light off the coast of Marseille: Sainte-Marie

When I saw that I almost cried.  Please don’t get me wrong, I’m not discrediting the good that men can do.  My life has been deeply blessed by the examples and service that honorable men have been and have done for me.  But as I have served in various capacities for academic and religious settings, I have witnessed the realization of many miracles that have come about by the selflessness of women.  When reflecting upon my own life I am cognizant of the many women who have sacrificed for my behalf or the behalf of their families.  In both situations I quietly observed them and saw them building foundations of faith.  Their diligence, whether performed specifically for me or not, has helped motivate me to strengthen my relationship with God.

I have also observed and counseled with women who feel that they or their efforts aren’t good enough, that they’re unworthy of blessings or God’s love, that what they do doesn’t matter or that no one notices their sacrifices.  And as I hear them express these feelings or as I see it in their behavior or body language, it saddens me.  Someone always notices their efforts.  They can be and are examples to others – the thing is that 99.9% of the time they’re not aware of the lives that they are touching.

So what have I learned throughout this 11 year journey?  Here’s a short list:

  • God does not leave us stranded.  He provides means by which we can return safely to Him.  We’re the ones that have to align ourselves with Him, but the pathway is clearly marked.
  • He places specific people in our lives who we can look to as examples and support in our journey, and
  • in turn, we become part of the lifeline for someone else.
  • Our efforts to follow the Master and to not give in when Scratch comes calling do not go unnoticed.
  • The lower lights have names and are identifiable.  We aren’t just numbers or unspecified objects – God knows who we are and knows our individual names.
  • The people who are looking to us for strength and as an example know exactly who we are and,
  • when asked who has impacted their life for good, they can and will name names.

But perhaps most importantly on a personal level, I learned that I need to express my gratitude to He who is the Lighthouse and to those lower lights who have joined in the effort to “rescue” and “save” me.  They come from all walks of life, from many different faiths, and are all very dear to my heart.

And to you, dear reader, keep shining.

**The photos in this post are all taken from the internet.  All of the lighthouses shown here are actually the “smaller lights” that guide the ships to the harbors of Marseille, France**