Cherish Is the Word

Last week a passing comment: “Sometimes people will buy something quicker than they will take something for free.” The issue at hand was a high-quality bunk bed. Offers on Craig’s List went either unanswered or spammed. A move to the FaceBook Marketplace yielded better results with a price tag of $100, a huge bargain for the nurse with four children who sealed the deal.

In a more complicated setting, an art event that was advertised as free with a reservation was so overwhelmed with responses that a waiting list was needed. Yet actual attendance surprised many with empty seats. Donors had generously paid all the fees, so the disappointment was tangible on several levels. The consensus included the observation that sometimes people take more seriously their commitment if they have paid. (See paragraph above. My topic today is value.)

College tuition, a current political issue, has increased exponentially in the decades since I attended. Mine was perhaps $400 at its highest and included extra fees for flute instruction and a higher hour load (20 hours—what was I thinking?). That was the total, not a per hour amount. In my Dallas Morning News days, I wrote about the plan to eliminate tuition for two-year colleges, opposing it on several levels. Sadly, I can’t locate that link just this minute. The gist was that, yes, you only value what you pay for: “skin in the game” was a controlling image. The chancellor came out in favor of the plan on the opposite page, but so far I’m ahead though perhaps not for the stated reasons.

Control of value is an interesting topic. (For the record, I forbid the word “interesting” in student essays. It’s too empty.) The famous case of the De Beers diamond cartel, a word more appropriate than monopoly. This scholarly paper discusses the history. Simply put, they own the mines and hence the supply. Since the 1870s, diamonds have not been at all rare. Their intrinsic value is limited to industrial use, but their ultimate cost depends on the regulated supply offered to consumers. Alternatively, a nice road trip to Arkansas allows anyone to look for diamonds in the Crater of Diamonds State Park. Over 33,000 diamonds found! We went but didn’t find anything. Of course. The earth continues to churn the gems up, however.

Musically speaking, this exploration reminded me of a song I hadn’t thought of in decades: “Cherish.” Out of context, I can’t remember anything about the group The Association or what was happening for the weeks this topped the chart. But I do love the word “cherish.” It’s based on the Latin carus, which put me in mind of the gorgeous aria from Puccini, “O mio babbino caro,” (Oh, my dear papa—it’s not bambino, reminder) sung here by a little girl, Amira Willighagen whose story is told in this documentary, or here by Maria Callas. But back to cherishing: We don’t do it enough.

In the light of current events, we are remembering to care more, hoping to be better in the future. Human nature being what it is, and fear being the poorest motivator, value will continue to have its seekers and its merits. Perhaps it is all relative. I wonder if right now we are learning to value more important things because we are paying for them, earning the privilege of having them, in ways we might not have without, well, the light of current events. The greater danger, as I’ve heard from multiple sources, is that we won’t learn. As always, in all ways, I remain hopeful we will.

The Kiss: Lost and Found

Lost somewhere in my house is a Ziploc bag of diamonds and emeralds. Yes, real ones, mined from older jewelry and meant for future projects. Not a fortune, to be sure, but a few hundred dollars’ worth. Perhaps one day they will resurface, as things tend to do around here: “Oh, that’s where they were, all this time.” Still, they are a treasure that I long for.

What have you lost of value? I’m going to report on something I lost once but found–love, in a word. I have only been inside my own marriage, no one else’s. I wonder, however, if you still have a sense of passion. Ours declined, a daily lessening until it was no longer expected. Those “pecks” like chickens, more or less.

It was recovered with a kiss. I can give the day and even the hour when it happened, but just trust me: it was real. The reason would be speculation, but I believe it was a spiritual experience for one of us, shared with the other. I’d felt the same years earlier, shared it, but at the time, it didn’t take. This time it did.

Words fail sometimes, in the reality of experience. I won’t try to use any of them to describe the beauty, the height, depth and breadth of the moment. It’s where it belongs, in my heart. You can plan it, however, perhaps like this, to your beloved (who may not seem so terribly beloved just this minute): “Hey, this person I know says that we need to consider getting some passion back in our relationship. She says the key is a kiss, a real one, full of the passion from days gone by.” That’s all really. The awkwardness surrounding such a suggestion may mean you wait for that initial discussion to pass. Find the right moment. Don’t worry about giving a report. If you are happier, I’ll be glad.

A few kiss links for today: Gustav Klimt’s famous painting, a rather gilded kiss, with the lovers’ clothing richly colored and decorated with gold, silver, and platinum. I rather prefer Francesco Hayez’s older painting for its gorgeous blue satin and the man’s hand upon the woman’s cheek. Here we have Rodin’s sculpture, also famous and as passionate as marble can be perhaps. This nice collection includes some other favorite artists. To get you in the mood.

For the musicians: Schubert’s lied “Gretchen am Spinnrade” as sung by the great New Zealander Kiri Te Kanawa. Our Gretchen sits at a spinning wheel longing for her lover. She can work for effectively until she remembers his kiss. Then she—and the wheel’s spin—must pause until she hesitatingly begins again. That’s passion, people. Schubert was just shy of 18 when he wrote this song. Amazing.

But for Gretchen and Rodin’s lovers, loss is the real topic. You, however, can find and renew what may be missing. If my jewels turn up, it will be accidental. You, dear friends, can be intentional.




Sez who?

Last week I experienced a flurry of activity: I sewed a dozen masks and a huge window covering for a sliding glass door. I baked bread and a lemon meringue pie. I swept and mopped. I listened to four podcasts in one day while hoeing a flowerbed and spreading mulch. While taking a break from gardening, I talked a friend through the app SignUpGenius so she could set up phone calls with students who needed help with their thesis sentences. I participated in a training call for my media assessment job and ultimately analyzed 28 articles for slant. I watched an entire season of The Lost Room during one night—a long, mostly sleepless night. I wrote one sentence of a short story someone requested. Those were the things I reported because they were done within 24 hours.

Thinking I’d be clever, I posted this information on FaceBook because I had to speak to the Amazon guy when he delivered a large package that had been compromised. I was in painting pants (which is a genre I hope you’re familiar with), an old T-shirt with minimal underpinning (use less imagination or forget I mentioned it), no make-up (which also means no eyebrows), with my hair in a small bun on top (and the stragglers at 90 degrees out from my ears). I don’t think I actually smelled bad, but the front door was mostly closed anyway.

Obviously, there were many more activities in the week, from winding clocks to feeding animals, from cooking and eating to listening to a book on Audible and reading and praying and talking and sleeping extra. Texting, checking FB, watching news, doing laundry, and yes, cleaning my person including daily hair cuttings. The things we all do, every day, so regularly we call them the everyday chores. Maybe not the hair cutting. That’s never going to be okay until this is over.

I caught some flak. (Sorry, brief but necessary diversion: “flak” is the correct spelling. It comes from a word first used in 1940 when anti-aircraft fire was used, per OneLook, my favorite online dictionary which includes this condensation from the German Fliegerabwehrkanone literally “pilot warding-off cannon.” If you add the “c” it means something else entirely, a press agent. Don’t even think about taking the second “n” out of cannon.) Comments were many but fell into several categories. People with real jobs said they were doing real work. I know one person who has a truly international job and must be on the phone at all hours, for example. People who hadn’t done as much said I made them tired. People (a few) admired my energy.

The standout, however, was the person who commented she was also trying to get some writing done—a novel several decades in the making. My inclusion of that one sentence in the otherwise busy list meant something: of all the workaday report, just one sentence? And that was a hurdle. I thought of all the other unfinished or unbegun projects that bother me more than anything.

Luckily, one friend picked up the phone to tease me for making everyone feel guilty. I explained my intent. He reminded me he was teasing. When I shared the story of the fellow writer and lamented my things-undone-ness, he said he had gone through the same thing and came up with a term: Sez who? (Note the spelling.) He explained: We are too quick to say what we think we ought to be doing. It’s not helpful. It probably even holds us back. Do what you can, when you can. I felt encouraged. I agreed to work on the undone project I’d promised to do for him.

To polish what concerned me: Ask enough of yourself to be happy with yourself. Don’t should on yourself (or others). So far, I have the first three sentences for my friend, and I hope to finish the short story today. Once I get out of my pajamas.

“Oh How Lovely Was the Morning”

Picture first our living room: A long addition to a formerly small two bedroom, one bath ranch house with small windows at the top of the west wall. Paneling like none I’ve ever seen before, fake pine-decorated sheetrock—hard to describe, obviously, since it wasn’t even a veneer that could be called fake. A picture window on the right that faced east, where I sprouted my pinto beans. Some bookshelves at the end, and a place where the previous family had built in a television. Square tan linoleum tiles that needed to be swept regularly and waxed occasionally. The couch and a chair were covered in cheap faux leather, green, with button tufts, some of which were missing. Our father’s pride and joy was the coffee table. He had glued a piece of hot pink laminate a friend had given him into a rectangular frame he’d refinished.

Into this came two missionaries of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. My parents were heavy smokers and heavy coffee drinkers, so it must have been a bit unpleasant in that regard as well. All I can remember is a slide show, though this version from 1964 is a film called Man’s Search for Happiness. No one in my family joined the church then, or mine would be a much different story, of course. They weren’t spiritual people, really, but when I joined the church, my mother did tell me that she believed Joseph Smith really had seen the Father and the Son in that grove. She didn’t have any intention of joining the church even though that was true, but it did give me pause.

This spring marks the 200th anniversary of Joseph Smith’s decision to seek answers to his questions through prayer. He had read James 1:5, a simple instruction: “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.” What followed when he voiced his concerns changed not just him but the world. The privilege of seeing God has been reserved to very few throughout history, and none of us has any expectation of that privilege. What we can expect, however, is answers, just as surely as that 14-year-old did when he went to a quiet grove of trees to pray. Here is a link to his various accounts of what happened. This hymn contains today’s title.

At first, I thought Joseph and I were much the same, actually. No one disabused me of the fact that I had little in common with someone who was a prophet and who eventually died for his beliefs. I, too, prayed and received an answer to my questions. I, too, suffered some (not much, a little) persecution. I, too, was willing to die for those beliefs, though I hoped not to have to. C.S. Lewis wrote about this feeling in his brief book The Screwtape Letters, well worth reading because of his own conversion.

That brings me to my conclusion. The Greek word martyr just means “witness.” We are all, ultimately, martyrs for what we believe in. Rarely are our lives taken from us; we more often just trudge through them and sigh them away. How will we be remembered? Will we have a legacy? Whether we expect to step into another life or blink out of existence, we want to have made a difference. Yet, that may not be the right question to ask. Rather let it be, have I searched for the divine? Have I assumed it doesn’t exist? Have I asked?

Today’s illustration is a print I just purchased called “Moonbeam” by Iwasaki Tsuneo. It’s impossible to capture the sense of immensity in the scale of a computer screen. The print is 40 inches long, after all. At the bottom is a tiny being with (her) hand raised to the heavens from which streams a message. I love it. I believe such things happen. Whether you join the church or not, at least consider asking if that Being is there. Lift up your hand, or your heart, or your mind. It doesn’t matter so much as the fact that today–any day–is a lovely morning when you get one.