Saturday, April 10, 2010
So Live, That...
Every year the two most important days of your life go by. One is your birth day. The other is your death day. The one you know, and celebrate. The other passes unbenownst to you or anyone else.
I attended a memorial service Sunday night for a friend I've known for some two dozen years. She was a major figure in the classical music world, a member of the Boston Symphony Orchestra for 30 years, a highly respected violin teacher, and a much beloved mother, wife, and friend. She passed away in November after a seven-year battle with cancer. A life-long Christian Scientist, she had a profound relationship with God that eclipsed that of many a professed Christian.
The memorial service was held in Jordan Hall at the New England Conservatory of Music. Dozens of musicians from all the facets of her life presented a nearly three-hour long concert in tribute to their mentor, teacher, colleague, and friend. In between the musical pieces, friends, fellow musicians, and former teachers shared their memories of this amazing woman. As I sat there listening, I heard mention of a life lived with passion and joy. One speaker talked about her calling as a teacher, about the profound influence she had on his and others' lives, both musical and personal.
I can't say I was jealous of all that was being said, but I certainly was inspired. My friend lived her life in the moment, and for the moment. She knew that each moment mattered, and she made certain it mattered for all she spent time with. She knew, in the end, that God's love made all the difference in the world, and she made sure to let everyone else know that too. It was amazing, in that mostly secular setting, to hear person after person talk about God's love as it shone through their friend and teacher's life. The final speaker, my friend's husband, talked about her peace and contentment, right up to the end of her life. She died, he said, without regret.
Thursday, I shared William Cullen Bryant's "Thanatopsis" with the juniors. Bryant was an American poet, Massachusetts born and raised, who first made his mark on the literary world in the early 1800s at age 17 with the publication of this meditation on death. A fairly long poem, it addresses the natural cycles of life, the importance of living that life so that when death comes along there is no fear, no worry, only peace and contentment. I learned the last nine lines of this poem when I was a junior in high school. The words made an impact on me then, but I didn't realize what they really meant until later. And they've been haunting me since Sunday night. It was no coincidence that Bryant was in my lesson plans this week. In needed his reminder of the importance of living our life so well that when our time comes to leave this life, we can go peacefully, and with no regrets. Bryant put into words what my friend put into reality. Both challenged me to re-examine my own approach to life and living it to the fullest, and with confidence and joy:
So live, that when thy summons comes to join
The innumberable caravan which moves
To that mysterious realm, where each shall take
His chamber in the silent halls of death,
Thou go not, like the quarry-slave at night,
Scourged to his dungeon, but, sustained and soothed
By an unfaltering trust, approach thy grave
Like one who wraps the drapery of his couch
About him, an lies down to pleasant dreams.
When the juniors and I talked about this poem a few days ago, I paired it with the Mark Twain quote at the beginning of this article. We talked about the fact that we don't know the hour of our death and the necessity of living our lives so that our day of death is not an issue, our life is, and our relationship with God. It was a timely message for me that complimented the memorial experience on Sunday.