Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Acting Shakespeare

I'm studying Hamlet with my senior English Lit. class right now. I somehow got to talking with them about my own experience with Shakespeare and I ended up telling them about the time, some 20 years ago, that I went to see Ian McKellen in his one-man show called Acting Shakespeare. It was a phenomenal 2+ hours of him riffing on everything Shakespeare. It was so good, in fact, that I went back the next night to see it all over with a group of my "Arts and Ideas" students.

The cool thing about his show was that towards the end he invited people to come on stage and act out a scene from Henry V with him. What a delight and privilege it was for me to do that! He was such a gentleman, helping the women up the steps to the stage, kissing their hands as we went. He got us into a huddle and coached us on acting out the end of the famous Battle at Agincourt. He was a gracious and charming man, and very accommodating. He even let one of my students go back stage and interview him after the performance.

My story to the kids this morning, though, was that I acted on the Boston stage (Charles Playhouse) with Ian McKellen, not the Shakespearean actor, but Gandolf of Lord of the Rings. They thought that was the coolest thing.

Well, it was, to be honest. Very cool =)

(I later discovered that I had seen him in A Winter's Tale at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford, England back in 1976 when he was at the beginning of his acting career.)

Photos from the "Official" Ian McKellen website

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Between the Woods and Frozen Lake

I was sick much of the weekend, but when I had to go over to check on my sister's cats I took the opportunity to drive by the nearby lake and see what sunset looked like there. In a word, beautiful. I love how the gnarly trees look against the frozen lake and sunset in the distance.

I was charmed by the skaters. Reminded me that I used to skate on this very lake when I was a young girl. Reminded me that it's been awhile since I've been skating. Maybe even 20 years. I used to love it. Almost all my skating experience has been in such a setting. I learned to skate on a pond behind a monastary in Ohio. Then we moved here to MA and we continued our skating experience on this lake. Years later, on a stand-out night in my memory, I skated on a woodland pond under a full moon with a "rainbow" ring around it.

Reminded me of the skating scene in Little Women...Jo and Laurie skating...Amy trying to chase after them...falling in...Jo and Laurie saving her... Something romantic about such scenes I think =)

Anyway, the lake was frozen over. Surprised me. I hadn't expected that for some reason, although it's been bone-cold, so I don't know why not.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Literature's Lessons

One of the reasons I love teaching literature is that it gives me an opportunity to look at the lives and works of people who speak the truth about the universe, and who challenge me to find the truth as well and then share that discovery with my students. At the end of Arthur Miller’s All My Sons, the mother asks her son, “What more can I do?” and he replies, “You can be better. Once and for all you can know there’s a universe of people outside and you’re responsible to it.” The people we study are those who, in the words of one of my college English professors, “have been walking allegories teaching this truth [for centuries]. Without their lives and their words our own understanding of the meaning of our lives would be limited. Without our lives and our words, the understanding of those around us and those in the future will be limited. We are responsible for changing or leaving untouched those around us.”

I love the fact that in a Christian school I have the opportunity…nay the responsibility…to change those around me. I love that I can choose material to bring to my students that challenges them to think about their world and their responsibility to it. When I teach American Literature, I begin at the beginning of American history, sharing the early literature of the time. Most of it is focused either on survival or religion. And most of what I chose to bring before the students is the religious writing, as it fits in so well with our specific purpose of educating for eternity.

The early settlers of New England came from England to practice their religion freely. Many were escaping persecution and death by coming to this country, which made our part of the country, in theory, a haven for many. The sad truth, though, is that even though the Puritans had fled their home country because of the intolerance of their religion there, they turned around and were equally intolerant of those who differed from their religious practices in the safe haven. It is an interesting, and sad, demonstration of how Christian principles can be misused by those who claim to be representing Christ but in fact misrepresent Him and His gospel of love. In our class discussions and homework assignment, I ask the students to consider their own commitment to Christ and Christianity. I ask them to look at how they represent Christ to others. What do their actions say about Christ? Are they telling the truth about him through their words and deeds? Or are they keeping the lie alive that so many believe about Christianity? I ask them to consider carefully their responsibility.

These conversations make me consider my own relationship with Christ and the way I am witnessing as well. I find myself asking why it is that we as Christians, especially adult Christians, find it so difficult to practice what we preach. Why is it easier for us to judge and condemn than it is to forgive and forget? Why do we find it necessary to force conformity on everyone else but make exceptions for ourselves? What is it about a close, closed community such as we once were—and still are, to some extent—that makes it OK to point a finger at those around us? Why can’t we practice what we preach, the Gospel of Love and Acceptance?

My hope, in exploring these issues with my students, is that they will consider seriously the implication of misrepresenting their Lord and Savior. For it’s not just a matter of others getting the wrong idea of what Christianity is all about. It’s a matter of us, ourselves, missing the point and purpose of the gift of Salvation, of us, in fact, possibly missing out entirely on that gift of Salvation. My prayer, is that as I consider these questions with my students, we both will emerge from the study stronger and better ambassadors for Christ and Christianity.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Rules to Live By

I spent a quiet day working around the house today, thanks to a day off from school to honor Martin Luther King, Jr. I've written before about my favorite MLK quote,so I thought I'd share what I heard from another influential African American. Colin Powell made an appearance on The View this morning and after a bit of chit chat, he talked about the code that he lives by. He said he has thirteen "Rules for Life" that he carries with him at all times. I was so impressed with them, that I wrote them down as fast as I could. He only shared three, but I thought they were excellent rules for healthy living.

No matter how bad things look today, they’ll be better in the morning. Have a certain optimism about life. When things are weighing you down, just assume they will get better and direct all your attention in that direction.
  • Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier. You’re always looking for something that leverages your force, your ability. As long as you’re constantly optimistic that things will get better, then that helps you make them get better.
  • Don't think that failure is permanent. Every day I fail at something. The challenge is what do you do with failure? How do you learn from it? How do you move on? Not how do you linger over it. So have your failure. Learn from it, roll it up, throw it over your shoulder, and don’t think about it again. Keep moving forward

Sunday, January 20, 2008

18-0, one more to go

So, the Boston sports writers are playing the MEME =) I'm listening/ watching (multi- tasking) to the post-game press conference of today's Patriots' win over the San Diego Chargers and one of the reporters asked Tom Brady if he thought he'd ever live to see the day where a team goes to the SuperBowl 18-0.

The answer for everyone, of course-- including Tom who was only a few years old 25 years ago--is no. I'm betting he wasn't thinking that 4 Super Bowls in seven years was in his future either. But here he is, MVP, offensive player of the year, receiver of every football/athletic accolade conceivable, on the verge of doing what has never been done before.

I'm not a big football fan. I learned it 25 years ago when I had a 10th grade English class of all boys. All they cared about was football, so I learned football so I could talk about things they were interested in. I remember having a Super Bowl part at my house (this was a boarding school) when it was so cold that everyone huddled under quilts for the duration of the game (the house was very poorly insulated and the wind cut through the walls with an icy cold). None of us then thought any further than the next day, to be honest. At least not during the school year.

When I moved back to Massa- chusetts to teach at the school where my father was principal (!), my football knowledge came in handy when teaching Patriots-crazed students. The school even took "field trips" to see Pats games, once in December when it was so cold tears stung our eyes and froze on our cheeks, and we could hardly walk out of the stadium on our block-solid frozen feet.

Happily, today, I was watching the game from the comfort of a well- insulated condo. Being at the game in person was kind of cool , but watching from home is preferable to me because I can do other blog about it. Yet another thing I wouldn't have dreamed of doing 25 years ago!

5 Things

Inland Empire Girl at her interesting blog Gathering Around the Table shared the following meme a few days ago. It says at the end to tag people, but like IEG, I'm letting anyone who wishes to do the exercise to consider themselves tagged.

These are the rules :
1. Link to the person that tagged you and post the rules on your blog.
2. A. Share 5 random and/or weird facts about yourself on your blog;
B. Share the 5 top places on your “want to see or want to see again” list;
C. Share 5 things you never pictured being in your future when you were 25 years old.
3. Tag a minimum of 5, maximum of 10 random people at the end of your post and include links to their blogs.
4. Let each person know that they have been tagged by leaving a comment on their blog.The tagees have a choice of which they want to include.

1. Share 5 random and/or weird facts about yourself:
a) I have taught English at all three of my alma maters: high school, college, and graduate school. I am now principal of my high school alma mater.
b) I once worked for the man in the oval office of the White House. This isn't a joke, but it wasn't for the president either. At my college, the English department was housed in a building called The White House (it was white, go figure). I worked for on
e of the professors whose office was an oval sun room in the front corner of the house. I enjoyed saying I worked in the oval office of the White House! I'd love to have a room/office like that now! It was so bright and sunny and had plenty of shelf space for plants =)
c) I've climbed, explored, or walked several major world landmarks: the Eifel Tower in Paris, the Great Wall of China, Red Square in Moscow, Tienneman Square in Beijing, the Leaning Tower of Pisa in Florence, the pyramids of Gisa, Westminster Abby in London, the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, and many more.
d) I've been in every single state of the US except Alaska. I've also been to Puerto Rico.
e) My hair is naturally curly, which today I embrace, but years ago I despaired of. Back in the day before flat irons and chemical straighteners, my sister used to iron my hair every morning. What a chore! And of course you couldn't iron the top, so it was never straight all over =(

2. Share your top 5 places you want to go or want to go to again:
a) Ever since reading Out of Africa, I've wanted to go to Kenya. I want to go on a Photography Safari there or anywhere in Africa. I spent a day in the Krueger National Park, but we were in a bus and we couldn't get out, or up close. And it was just a day (a fabulous day, mind you), and not nearly long enough.
b) I want to go back to Provence. I spent 10 days in Aix-en-Provence in 2004 and I am itching to go back. I was taking a class, so I only had a few afternoons to explore other areas. Next time, I'll not be tied down to a class, although that was a wonderful experience, too.
c) I'd like to go to India. Not only would it be a new country, but a new sub-continent as well.
d) I want to go on an Alaskan Cruise. I have several friends who have done this and they say it's spectacular. Plus, that would finish up my tour of the 50 states.
e) I'd like to go to Greece, and in fact may do that this summer. The orchestra I used to play (and travel) in is going in July and my niece will be playing. My sister's family is going to go, and I think I'll try to tag along. There's nothing like an orchestra tour to move you around a country...and I'd get to sight-see during the rehearsals and all the free concerts I wanted!

3. 5 things you never pictured being in your future when you were 25 years old:
a) I was teaching in a boarding school in Michigan when I was 25. At that time, I never thought I'd be anything but a teacher. I certainly never thought (or dreamed or hoped) that I'd be a principal!
b) I never thought I'd go back to my high school alma mater either, first as a teacher and then as principal.
c) I never pictured myself traveling the world for two years as a musician, playing in some of the world's best music halls, meeting famous people--musicians, politicians, world leaders.
d) I never imagined laptops, digital cameras, or cell phones...or the major place they'd have in my life and the way I live it.
e) I never pictured myself blogging or making friends with such interesting and creative people all over the world, in all walks of life. Even two years ago, I had no idea how much blogging would influence my life. I have my high school friends Morning Ramble and Eastern Sierra Sunshine to thank for getting me into this addiction.

Now, it's your turn. What are your 5 Things?

Thursday, January 17, 2008

A instead of O, two AAs rather than one

My mother called me this afternoon after she and my father read my post yesterday. She wanted to add some details to my story. Here's what she wrote:

The three of you were named after Grandma's mother whose name was Randi. And your name is spelled with the "o" because I wanted to make sure it was pronounced correctly here in the US. The Norwegian spelling is with the "a."

Then she said she wanted to send the post to our family in Norway, which is fine, but suggested that I correct the spelling first, so I have done that. I know how it is to have your name misspelled. It's not a big deal to me, but I like it better spelled correctly.

My last name is more difficult than my first. Here in the US, we spell it with a double AA in order to assist in pronun- ciation. But in Norway, it is a single A. Interestingly enough, my father's birth certificate has two AAs, but his brother has only one. Now that's confusing!

Photos: Bergen from atop Mount Floyen; family at the Viking Museum alongside one of the oldest Viking ships (built in 820 A.D.); with our Norwegian family in Skien (birthplace of playwright Henrik Ibsen); poppies and rock wall near Lysefjord in Stavanger.

If you'd like to read my first post about this Norway trip and see a picture of part of the big family group, go here.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Little Randi--in memorium

One of my all-time favorite family vacations was the trip we took to Norway two summers ago. We had the best time meeting people I'd only heard about for most of my life but never seen. All my immediate family went, except one of my brother-in-laws (who took care of all the animals of four households: 8 cats, 3 dogs, and a horse), so there were 10 of us for most of the two week trip.

We spent at least half of the time with relatives. My dad's parents were from southern Norway, so we made the pilgrimage from Oslo along the southern route to Bergen and back, visiting along the way. It was a delicious time on so many levels. One of the delights was a dinner with more than 50 aunts, uncles, cousins belonging to my grandmother's family. Such a gathering of family!

They obviously were very close, but they made us feel as if we were more than American curiosities. My parents had been over to visit them before, and a few of them had been to America to visit my grandparents, but this was the first time for the 3 grandchildren (my sisters and me) and the 4 great-grandchildren. (We all thought it the most beautiful place we've ever seen...not an ugly view anywhere!)

For me, there were two ladies who were of particular interest: the ones I was named after--"Little Randi" and "Ingeborg Randi." I'm thinking especially of Little Randi because my parents received a call today saying she had passed away. I felt so sad when I heard this. I immediately remembered her as I saw her last, so excited to see us, talking to us like crazy in Norwegian, oblivious to the fact that we didn't get very much of what she was saying. Every now and again she'd say "Ya, ya." And we'd laugh and say it back to her. And she'd laugh and smile...and all that mattered was that we understood clearly the meaning of family.

I feel her loss tonight.

Photos: The view from Ingeborg Randi's home; my nieces and "Little Randi;" my nephew and Little Randi; the three Randi's (Ingeborg on the right, myself on the left); lupin in an old church graveyard where several family members are buried.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Oh What a Beautiful Morning!

That's what I was singing this morning on my way to work. Lately, I've been driving to work just as the sun is rising, and as I'm going east, it's a beautiful view all the way from my house to the school. The school parking lot is usually aflame by the time I arrive on mornings when it's a "good" sunrise.

Today was not one of those sunrises. Instead, it was more subtle, more pinks and blues than oranges and reds. Put against a foreground of snow covered branches, though, and it was almost magical. I was shoveling the front steps when the most beautiful moment occurred, and I did not capture it as a result, but the sun all of a sudden kissed the tree tops with a pinkish yellow. Took my breath away!

A few hours later, the sun burst forth through the trees and this time, I grabbed my camera for a shot that, for all it's prettiness, doesn't begin to capture what was really out there. Still, it had me singing "Oh, what a beautiful morning!"

(The sunset was just as pretty...)

Monday, January 14, 2008

Snow and a Generous Woman

More snow! Beautiful snow! Generous snow that gave me a day off from school!!! We were expecting so much snow that they called school off before 10 last night, although we know hours earlier that it was all but a done deal. Of course the weather here is never as good or as bad as the predictions, but today it was enough to at least keep the promise of a snow day.

About 10 I went outside to grab some pictures and to move my car. I walked around the property for a bit and was walking to my car when I realized that a car was behind me (I didn't hear it because I was wearing a hood). I moved out of the way, then watched as a woman delivered a beautiful bouquet of flowers to one of my neighbors who had a birthday today. When she came back out, she saw that I was trying to clear my car and asked if I wanted some help. Not one to refuse such an offer, I watched in amazement as she got a "snow broom" out of her car and proceeded to clear it in about 2 minutes!

While I was exclaiming over the marvels of her "broom," two more people came out to clear off their cars. This lady, a science teacher in a nearby town who works parttime to deliver flowers, offered to help them, too. What was supposed to be a quick delivery for her turned into a 20 minute good samaritan visit to Park Place Condos! Yet another stranger doing a good deed.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

The Kindness of Strangers

Sometimes we think that "the world" isn't so good anymore. And certainly there's ample evidence of that. But every now and again, something happens to remind you that this isn't always true. Within the past three weeks or so, I've seen or experienced that evidence for myself.

One night I was sitting in my living room reading and listening to music when there was a knock on my door. As it's rare that this happens without my knowing it was coming, I was a little hesitant to go to the door. I opened it a crack to see a man I did not know standing there. When I asked how I could help him, he handed cell phone to me and said he'd found it in the parking lot, had called a number that just "happened" to be my sister and she told him which apartment was mine. I did not even know I was missing my phone, but was, of course, glad to get it back. I thanked the man and closed my door, only later thinking about all the things that could have gone wrong in that scenario, but thankful for the kindness of this stranger.

A week or so ago, I saw an unknown man at the front door of the school. As we are always on lock-down, I had to go see who he was and what he wanted. He had found a cell phone on the Boston subway (the "T") and, through a series of random calls, found out that it belonged to one of our students. Turns out this man had actually gone to our school when he was (much) younger so knew exactly where to bring it. He chose to go late to work so he could bring the phone to our student, knowing how important such a tool is for young people traveling alone on the train these days. Again, we were surprised and thankful for the kindness of what turned out not to be a stranger in the long run.

A few days ago, I checked the school's e-mail account, something I do about twice a week (mostly because we get more junk than anything else). As I was reading through the subject headings, I noticed one that said "Your student?" so of course I opened it to see what that could be about. The writer had been riding the "T" and had noticed an abandoned backpack. He opened it and looked through the books until he found a name and our school's name. When he got to work, he googled our school, found the e-mail address and wrote asking if we had such a student. He left his phone number and asked if the student could call him to reclaim the backpack. This stranger (he worked at Harvard University) risked a lot to open that backpack. There could have been any number of problems in doing so, not the least of which could have been a bomb. Instead of leaving it alone (or even turning it in to authorities), he chose to see how he could help. The kindness of this stranger was greatly appreciated by the senior to whom the backpack belonged.

Just yesterday, another stranger stood at the front door...with a cell phone in his hand. He had found it in a parking lot, and figured out that it belonged to our 8th grade teacher, who never knew it was missing until it was returned... Yet another kind a not-so-unkind-world after all!

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

May and Amaryllis

I've been trying to grow 5 Amaryllis this Christmas season. Two are re-blooming attempts from last year. So far, they both have long leaves, but only one has produced a far.
I keep hoping the other one will do something. Then I have three new bulbs, but only one is doing anything. It has four beautiful blooms on one talk stalk.

Tonight's picture captures the elegant Louisa May on the arm of the couch having the appearance of peering through the leaves at me.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Take Time to be Holy

I read an interesting article this afternoon in the Leadership Journal, an on-line service of Christianity Today. In it, editor Gordon MacDonald share his thoughts on the old hymn "Take Time to Be Holy." Here is what he says in part:

In the early 1880s, William D. Longstaff wrote a poem that later became a hymn called "Take Time to Be Holy." In my branch of church tradition, we often sang this hymn. As a kid I considered it uninspiring (sorry, Mr. Longstaff), and I groaned whenever the song leader announced it. Today, decades later, I have taken a fresh look at the song and reconsidered my earlier appraisal. There's substance here.
Take time to be holy,
Speak oft with thy Lord,
Abide in him always,
And feed on his word.
Make friends of God's children;
Help those who are weak,
Forgetting in nothing his blessing to seek.

There are three more verses to Longstaff's hymn, and the second verse is also worth quoting:

Take time to be holy,
The world rushes on;
Spend much time in secret
With Jesus alone;
By looking to Jesus
Like him thou shalt be;
Thy friends in thy conduct his likeness shall see.

Each line of that second verse prompts an objection from somewhere within and helps me to understand why holy people tend to be scarce.

"Take time …" But I don't have time.

"The world rushes on …" And I am busy rushing with it.

"Spend much time in secret …" Secret? I like to brag about anything I do with and for Jesus.

"With Jesus alone …" Huh? And turn off my iPod and text messaging?

"Like [Jesus] thou shalt be …" I'd rather imitate Bill or Rick or Andy.

"Thy friends in thy conduct his likeness shall see …" Don't expect me to be that kind of example.

Despite its Victorian English, Longstaff's hymn does a pretty good job of describing the essentials of what it takes to become holy.

Becoming a holy person is intentional; you have to work at it. When God says to Israel, "Consecrate yourselves," he is putting the ball in our court. In other words, pursue whatever it takes to be a holy man, a holy woman, a holy nation.

MacDonald goes on for a few pages, discussing what it means to be holy and why holiness is such a rarity. I found the article so interesting that I will share some of it with the staff tomorrow at our morning worship. If you're interested in reading the rest of this discourse, you will find it here. Meanwhile, enjoy the beauty of natural holiness in this morning's sunrise (the first outside of my condo, the rest at school about 8 minutes later).

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Birthdays, Vocabulary, and Free Rice

One of the things I love about holidays is the family time. I've had a fair amount of it the past three weeks, but of course it's never enough. Not when you enjoy being together the way our family does. Yesterday, we gathered at my youngest sister's home to celebrate her birthday as well as our father's. It was her actual birthday; his is three weeks away, but we wanted to celebrate while we had the whole family together.

We had a great time, talking, eating, and watching family videos. That's another favorite thing we do together. Most often we do this on New Year's Eve, but this was a good opportunity to look back on the fun we've had together, so we took it. We looked at our trip to Norway the summer of 2005, and when the "kids" were very young and sweet and cute and funny. My, that was fun!

On the way home, my oldest niece, the one who goes to college in TN (and who went back this afternoon) told me about a fun and challenging website that she recently discovered. It's called Free Rice and it combines a vocabulary game with a UN project to give rice to underprivileged countries. It works like this (from the website):
  • Click on the answer that best defines the word.
  • If you get it right, you get a harder word. If wrong, you get an easier word.
  • For each word you get right, we donate 20 grains of rice to the United Nations World Food Program.

"WARNING: This game may make you smarter. It may improve your speaking, writing, thinking, grades, job performance..."

It's quite addicting. After I got home, I went to the site and started playing. I couldn't stop! I wanted to keep earning free rice for someone. In the first hour, I got up to level 47 and had earned over 4,000 grains of rice. Very cool!

Friday, January 04, 2008

Beginning, Middle, and Ending

This morning's sunrise (first picture) and this evening's sunset (next two pictures) brought a beautiful old hymn to mind. It's one I've sung many times over in choirs, one that has a particular academy choir tour to Puerto Rico come to mind whenever I hear it. Paul Gerhardt's words (set to Jane Marshall's hymn tune) give me pause to think each time I hear them, particularly the line about how, with God, our days--beginning, middle, and ending--can hasten our journey towards heaven. It's a beautiful piece, one whose author has an interesting history gleaned from

"One of the great treasures of the Christian church is its hymns, and one of the greatest contributions to that treasure is that of the early Lutheran writers, beginning with Martin Luther and reaching a peak with J.S.Bach. Paul (Paulus) Gerhardt was born in 1607 near Wittenberg in Germany, and studied theology at the University of Wittenberg from 1628 to 1642. In 1651 he was ordained and made pastor of a church in Brandenburg, near Berlin. In 1657 he became third assistant at St Nicholas Church in Berlin. In his sermons, he maintained the Lutheran position against the Calvinists. He refused to sign a pledge not to bring theological argument into his sermons, and was deposed by Frederick William of Brandenberg-Prussia in 1666. His wife and four of his children died. In 1669 he was made archdeacon of Luebben, and died there 7 June 1676.

"Despite personal suffering and the horrors of the Thirty Years War, Gerhardt wrote over 130 hymns, expressing both orthodox doctrines and emotional warmth in response to them. His work, like that of Heerman cited above, is counted by hymnologists as transitional between the Confessional and the Pietistic periods of Lutheran hymnody. He has been called he greatest of Lutheran hymn-writers."

Awake, my heart, and render to God thy sure defender,
Thy maker, thy preserver, a song of love and fervor.
Confirm my deeds and guide me. My day, with thee beside me,
My beginning, middle ending will all be upward tending.
My heart shall be thy dwelling, with joy and gladness swelling;
thy word is my nurture; given to bring me on toward heaven.

Thursday, January 03, 2008


It's minus 1 degrees outside my window right now. Wind chill is, I'm sure, far lower. It was so cold in our building today after two weeks with the heat at a minimum. It took all day to warm up. I came home bone-chilled, feeling like the picture at left (one of the pictures on my computer wallpaper). Brrrrrrrrrrrr!

Typical New England, though, it is supposed to be in the 50s over the weekend and into Monday. There's a saying here: "Don't like the weather? Wait a day." It's true....fortunately =)

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

I Heard the Bells of Harvard Yard

Back on December 19th, Inland Empire Girl wrote about the background to one of her (and my) favorite Christmas Carols, "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day." She told how Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote the words to this carol during the Civil War in 1964 while he was reeling from the death of his wife and injuries to his son who was wounded while serving in the war. In the weeks that have followed, I thought about her post every time I heard the song (which was fairly often during the holidays). The words meant so much more to me knowing the story behind them.

Today, I had to go into Harvard Square to take my niece's cello bow to be repaired. I figured since I was there, and since I'd paid for an hour of parking, I might as well take advantage of being in one of the most storied places in this most storied city I live near (Boston...although technically today I was across the river in Cambridge). The bowmaker's shop was two stories above the Curious George book store (you can read the fascinating story of the authors here). It didn't take me long to drop the bow off, giving me some time to explore before I had to be back to my car.

Of course I had to stop in the book store and browse through the thousands of wonderful children's books there tempting me. I only bought one, though, and that was the beautiful Beatrix Potter: A Journal which Amazon. com describes this way: "This lavish, illustrated journal describes Beatrix Potter’s life as a young woman in Victorian England as she struggles to achieve independence and to find artistic success and romantic love. Using witty, observant commentary taken from Beatrix’s own diaries, the journal features a wealth of watercolor paintings, sketches, photographs, letters and period memorabilia to recreate the world in which she lived."

From there, I crossed over to Harvard itself and wandered through the famous Harvard Yard (pro- nounced "Hahvahd Yahd" if you are a true Bostonian). It was bitter cold, and the sky had a gray overcast to it, but it was still awe-inspiring to walk through the campus thinking about all the amazing people who have walked those same walkways. Sometimes I have to pinch myself to think that I've been one of them, albeit only for one class. It's inspiring and daunting at the same time to sit at the feet (in my case the bare feet) of the one who wrote the book you are learning from!

On my way back towards Boston and home, I passed by the home of Henry W. Longfellow on Brattle Street (hence the connection to the opening to this post). (Longfellow, by the way, started the first Modern Language Department at Harvard after doing the same for his alma mater, Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine.)

While I stood there contemplating the words and melody of that beautiful carol all over again, the bells of Harvard began to ring out the 12 noon hour. Can't get more serendipitous than that!

"Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
"God is not dead; nor doth he sleep!
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men!"