Monday, April 30, 2012

It All Started with a Dog

It all started with a dog.  My dog, Toffee.  A few of his ancestors many dog generations ago, but within my own lifetime, got smuggled out of Cuba for committing the Communist “sin” of being decadent.  The rest got killed.  Toffee is not decadent.  He is a blessing.


How good that we have a new breed of dog now, the Havanese.  My own particular specimen has done a world of good, and he doesn’t even know about it.  This reminds me of something Jesus said about your left hand not being supposed to know the good that your right hand does. 

But before I get too far into this story, let me begin again, this time starting with a popular German vegetable. 
The king of German vegetables - white asparagus

This week I discovered the ideal discussion topic for my English class – asparagus.  It’s asparagus season right now in Germany, the season you find white asparagus in all the restaurants, and white and green asparagus in all the supermarkets, along with Hollandaise sauce , the traditional accompaniment to white asparagus, already prepared and sold in cartons on a shelf next to the asparagus. 

The BBC ran a story on German white asparagus, complete with a podcast, perfect for me to share with my class.  The narrator mentioned in his story that Germany has a less sophisticated cuisine than Britain because Britain’s culture is more eclectic. He was referring to all the people from all over the world who have been pouring into Britain from Britain’s former colonies over the past few decades – Indians, Pakistanis, Jamaicans, Irish, Italians, Nigerians, to name a few.  It must have escaped him that the same is true for Germany, only the immigrants are not from former colonies.  They are economic refugees.
Thanks to Toffee, I have made friends with Katie and Sophia, some immigrant children in my neighborhood, which is full of immigrants, including me.  I've written about these girls before, so click here if you want to read more about them.  Katie and Sophia ring my doorbell regularly, asking to take Toffee out.  For them it is an honor, and for me a break from our normal routine of taking the dog out, three times a day, day in, day out, whatever the weather.  A couple weeks ago when they came to the door, I announced to them that Toffee was an uncle – his sister had given birth to four little puppies. 

“Can we see them?” they begged. 

“I’ll ask,” I promised, and then phoned my friend Denise.  One of her dogs is Toffee’s mother, and the other Toffee’s sister.  We had to wait a couple of weeks until the puppies’ eyes and ears were opened, but this week they were ready for company.   The girls arrived punctually at the appointed time and I phoned Denise to see if it was still OK to come.

“Oh, it’s been so busy,” Denise said.  “I haven’t even had lunch yet, and we have more visitors coming later today.  Could you come a bit later?”

“We’ll drive slowly,” I said.  “And we’ll only stay a few minutes.”  To kill time, we all sat on the floor and played with Toffee for a while.

“Toffee is the only dog my mother likes,” said Katie.  “If I could have a dog, it would have to be someone like Toffee.”

I told the girls about our mating Toffee with another Havanese dog last week.  These girls, age 9 and 10, know about the facts of life, and wanted to know if the dog has gotten pregnant.  “It’s too soon to tell,” I said.

We piled into the car and drove off to Denise’s.  While waiting at a stop light, Katie said, “My uncle lives over there in that building,” pointing to a brick apartment building.  I had thought she and her mother were the only people from Cameroon in Cologne. 

“I didn’t know you had an uncle here,” I said. 

“I have lots of aunts and uncles here, all in Cologne” she answered.

“I only have an aunt in Germany, far away.  Every one else is in the Czech Republic,” said Sophia.

I have no relatives here, nor does Peter, my German husband.

Despite my driving slowly, we arrived way too early, so I decided to take them with me into the supermarket at the corner.  I wanted to buy green asparagus for the weekend.  Peter prefers green asparagus, even though he’s German and most Germans, especially older ones, eat only the white variety. 

“I’ve never eaten asparagus,” said Katie.  “Me neither,” said Sophia.  But they spotted the asparagus before I did.

Finally, we had killed enough time, and we walked over to Denise’s.  “Do you think I could take photos with my cell phone?” asked Sophia.

“I don’t see why not,” I said.

But all thoughts of photos were gone as soon as we saw the puppies.  It was the same feeling as when we first saw Toffee.  Four tiny little creatures, so perfect, so helpless.  They fit into the palm of your hand.  All was hushed and reverent as two girls and two women sat on the floor, holding the little puppies in turn.  After a few minutes, Bijou, their mother came and nursed them as we sat in awe, watching.  This was her first litter, and it was as though she always nursed babies.  Less than a week ago I had witnessed her brother Toffee mating for the first time, as if it were the most natural thing in the world. 

“It feels so holy in here,” I commented.

“One evening this week I came in here and did nothing for an entire hour except and sit and watch these puppies,” said Denise.  She seemed to be in no hurry.

“We have guinea pigs too,” she told the girls.

“I have a guinea pig at home,” said Sophia.  “We used to have two, but one died.”

“Would you like to see our guinea pigs?  We have hens too.”

“Oh, yes!” 

So we all went out into the back yard, the girls clutching their handbags in case anyone should break into the house and steal them.  I had told them not to leave their bags in the car, lest anyone break in and steal them, so they were not letting go of their bags anywhere. 

We visited the guinea pigs and the girls held all four of them. 

“This one looks almost like Toby – the one who died,” Sophia said, holding one of the guinea pigs.  Denise’s daughter, nine, was outside playing with one of her friends.  “Would you like to hold a hen?” she asked.  The girls took turns trying to hold the hen, but it kept flying out of their arms.  I admired Leah, who carries the animals around with such grace.  She’s a real natural.  “We have eight hens,” she said.  “We get eggs from them every day.”

“I annoyed a chicken in Cameroon,” Katie said. 

“Did you hold it?” I asked.  Katie nodded.

I’m allergic to most animals and the straw that is around them, so I instinctively turn away.  That’s why it’s such a miracle for me to be able to have a hypoallergenic dog! 

Sophia and Katie couldn’t get enough.  I held their handbags so they could climb into the tree house, unencumbered. 

All four girls clambered up and were in a world to themselves as they called, “Tigger!” and a stray local cat came to them, and I stood there with the handbags.  I heard them talking about their ages, about school, about hens and guinea pigs.    

 I got tired of standing there, waiting, and I had told Denise we’d only be staying a few minutes.  By now it was over an hour, and Denise had long since gone inside the house.  “Come down, girls!” I called.  “It’s time to go home.” 

They climbed down, and then Leah said, “Would you like to see one of the hens do gymnastics?”  I had never heard of a hen doing gymnastics, and was intrigued.  We stayed and watched as she went into the hen house, pulled out one of the hens and carried her around the yard as her friend played assistant, holding a handful of grains as a reward for the hen’s tricks.  They carefully placed the hen’s claws onto the handles of the seesaw and moved it up and down.  The hen stayed put!  They put the hen onto the swing, and the hen didn’t budge as they gently pushed the swing back and forth.  Leah carried the hen onto the top of the slide and we watched it – whoosh! - slide down and flutter her wings a few times.  They put her onto the monkey bars and she balanced there a few seconds.  This was quite an amazing hen, and an amazing girl, who could get a hen to do such marvelous things.

By now we had been there nearly two hours.  “We must go home,” I said.  “Your mothers will wonder where you are.”

“Can we look at the puppies one more time?” Sophia asked.

“OK – just a peek.” 

As we walked back into the house, Katie said, “I wish I could live in a house like this.  Maybe when I’m grown up.  I guess you have to be rich to have all those animals.”

I know that Denise isn’t rich in money.  But she and her family are rich in love for animals and other people.  They have only one child of their own, but four foster children, a single mother and her daughter living with them, and all these animals in a house and large garden, right in the middle of Cologne.

We walked back into the puppy temple, which was now filled with another family admiring the puppies, and three adult dogs.  Denise had finally had enough of us, and we left. 

As I walked out of the house, carrying my asparagus, Katie said, “In Cameroon they chew on something that looks a bit like asparagus.  It’s called ‘sugar cane’ and it’s very refreshing and delicious.”

“I’ve always wanted to try it,” I said.  “They eat it in Egypt, and I wanted to try it when I was there, but I never had a chance.”

“Next time I go to Cameroon, I’ll bring you some,” she promised. 

“Noreen, if Toffee gets pregnant, do you think I could have one of the puppies?” Katie asked.

“Toffee can’t get pregnant,” Sophia answered wisely.  “He’s a male.”

These girls don’t know how rich they have made my life, and without much forethought, I gave them a memory that will last them a lifetime.

Such a wonderful afternoon, and it all started with a dog.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

God, you should get a patent

Been trying different sorts of creative writing lately.  This week I brought song lyrics I wrote to my creative writing group, and one of the members there gave me a link to  Do any of you readers know this link? 

I decided to write about my feelings on April today.  The weather is so wonderfully dramatic, here in Germany.  The clouds!  So full of water, so billowy, powerful, yet somehow fragile as they break up into ever more clouds.  And the leaves coming out - and the cherry blossoms!  This month is never dull, as life pops out all over.

As I am aware that I am approaching my 65th birthday, and that my life is rushing towards its end, even as I feel I've barely begun.  But writing this poem taught me something.  Writing poetry is wonderful!  You find out things you never knew about - like that April teaches us about new beginnings and that the end we just came through is not far behind us. 

Here's the poem.  By the way, I sent it right away to, and it got reviewed!  Talk about fast feedback.

God, you should get a patent for April.
For the endless panorama of water-stained white
clouds racing through the sky to see who
gets there, wherever there is, first.
For the icy wind tearing down from the
northern coast, reminding me that I’ve not come far
from winter.
For layered sky-sheets where you start with ornery dark grey,
and end with baby blue peeking behind the
edge, promising new birth.

God, you should get a prize for April.
For the magic of somber, dead stumps
You brush with hints of palest green.
Brown gives way to wispy whitish feathered leaves
and cherry blossoms and apple too.
Pastels shine through moody days,
sunlight giving way to battering ice balls, and back to
sparkling rain-washed prisms.
Sprouting leaves and fragile blossoms are fresher, tougher
than fiercest stormy hail

which only serves to hail newness of life
awakening all around, as you paint
the tulips brilliant shades of red and yellow.
Nature rushes all around in urgent contractions
As everything from lambs to leaves are born,
reminding me that I, too, will be made new, as I am now made new as I age.
April is the drama you wrote in pastel and fury
to tell us the end is only the beginning.
I witness your April show and have no patent for you, no prize but my praise.


Tuesday, April 17, 2012


Photo from

Two weeks ago I sat in my living room with twenty-odd other people and my dog, and we were all connected – linked by a golden evening glow, beautiful music and good will.  I believe that somehow, we are still linked together, but what I feel today and felt yesterday, and the day before that, is my estrangement from the people around me.  I bask in a glow of oneness for an evening, and feel disconnected for days after that.  This may be the descent of the metaphorical balloon I live in, and I've floated back down to earth after being up in the clouds for a while.  But I am encountering disconnectedness in others too, so in this post I'm going to explore this unpleasant sensation with you. 

Am I some odd neurotic freak in a world everyone else finds harmonious?  Or are many of us secretly, slowly bleeding inside as we smile our greetings and exchange our small-talk pleasantries?  Is my isolation something only expats feel, a byproduct of living in a foreign land?  This is something I am aware of every day.  I am not German, and have never felt German.  But I  feel less and less American, too, the more time I spend away from the country of my birth.  The few Americans I see here don’t appear lonely, but then we don’t normally talk about these sorts of feelings.  When they don't mention these feelings is it because they don't feel it?  Or is this a subject people would rather run away from - something like the plague?  Do only freaks feel lonely?  The article the above photo comes from states that loneliness is a condition we should be concerned about.  It says that ..."societies seem to develop a natural tendency to shed these lonely people,"  and that loneliness is catching, like the flu (or the plague), so we'd better try and cure it before it catches us.

In my case, I often choose to be alone because I prefer my own company to the group that's currently on offer.  But then I sometimes feel like a freak, as if there's something wrong with me for preferring to be alone.  I ask myself why this is, going through a round of questions.  

Is it because I am a confessing Christian in a culture of agnostics?  Am I weird because I claim to have a life with Jesus?  Does this make me someone others would rather avoid?  But I feel it around Christians too.  They stand there in the same church services I go to, lifting up their hands in worship.  What do they feel?  I often feel nothing.
 Is it because I'm a pretty brainy person?  Or maybe I'm not intellegent enough for the people around me and they're overwhelming me.  Or because I maybe have bad breath?  That'd keep me away from others.  Or maybe I stink!  Maybe I need to buy a different brand of deoderant.  Or maybe it's because I'm to the left of the political scale in an ever-more conservative world.  Or maybe I'm too conservative.  You get it.  There are lots of reasons to feel alone.

The glow of the house concert I played in started to fade a few days after our evening together.  Easter, which was wonderful, came and went, and then I went over to see my friend Linda (as usual, I’ve changed the names of the people I’m writing about).  I had invited her to come for dinner over Easter, but she said she needed to be alone – she had too much to work through after having been at a conference with some “friends”.  Linda was once close to Melanie, one of the women at the conference, but something happened between them years ago, and now Melanie has practically nothing to do with Linda.  Linda later latched onto Sybille, who is also one of my friends.  But Linda’s neediness was too much for Sybille that Easter weekend, and she somehow rebuffed Linda.  Sybille and Linda are in a tangle of female relationships that I, an outsider, would characterize as a mess.  I would rather be on the outside of a clique, all by myself, living on my little island with Peter and Toffee, our dog, than enmeshed in this mess. 

My evening with Linda was also spent with Sybille.  Linda had invited both of us before the conference, and we had all anticipated a friendly evening of female companionship, a nice meal and a film.  The evening reminded me, though, that my choice not to get too close to either of these women is also a lonely way to live.  It was Sybille’s birthday just after Easter, and Sybille invited Melanie to go to the movies with her, but not Linda.  It goes almost without saying that I wasn’t invited – I have chosen to be on the outside of this circle.  So far on the outside was I that I completely forgot that Sybille had turned one year older.  This is a sort of faux pas in the German culture, where birthdays are even holier than Sundays – even for the churchgoers!  The evening was a mess.  Linda told me she had been uninvited to Sybille’s party.  I commented that I had never been invited in the first place, but that was okay with me.  What wasn’t good was to forget Sybille’s birthday.  Sybille said that was okay, but she sat there, not saying or explaining anything, except to comment that there is a price to be paid when one chooses not to get embroiled in relationship tangles.  I stewed in that comment as we watched the movie I had brought along – “Larry Crowne”.  We all sat together on the couch watching a dumb movie.  If an outsider had walked in on us, we may have appeared to be close and having a wonderful time, but we weren’t.  We were all isolated from each other.  Not even the movie was able to bring us closer. 

Fortunately, I was able to speak to both Linda and Sybille separately after that unhappy evening.  We all know that Linda has a rejection complex – Linda too, and she talks openly about it.  She even goes to therapy to hopefully overcome it.  Still, when in a group, even when no one is excluding her, she can manage to feel rejected.  And at that conference, Linda felt ignored.  She reacted by trying to cling all the more tightly to Sybille, who couldn’t take it anymore, so she told Linda, more or less, to get lost.  But Sybille says she and Linda will continue to be friends.  Linda told me she wishes Sybille would have told her exactly what it was about Linda’s behavior that was so annoying.  I feel confident that they will work it out and draw close together again.

And me?  I’m still on the outside of the circle, at least of that circle.  I hate cliques.  I hate exclusive behavior.  But I want to belong, too.  But to what?  To whom?  Only to the things or people that make me feel more alive.  I'm also choosy, exclusive in my own way. 

Like Linda, I also have an issue with feeling left out.  Do most of us?  I choose to leave myself out of exclusive cliques, instead spending time with this individual one day and someone else another day.  And I spend a lot of time alone.  I am a writer, after all, and writers need time alone.  I enjoy my own company a lot, at least during the times I don’t feel lonely. 

How many of us writers feel alone?  And lonely in that alone-ness?  Or do other writers and people feel their connectedness, while I cultivate my own little island in a German world, reading, writing and speaking English most of the day, feeling my separateness?

I think I’ll make a phone call or two – and then I’ll feel connected again.  I’ll call a friend I speak English to, and then a German, connecting those parts of my brain.  And I will remind myself that I am not alone, no matter how I feel, just as I am 100% American, no matter what I feel.  What do you do when you feel alone?  Or am I alone in this?    



Saturday, April 7, 2012


Weeks ago, while in Egypt, I stretched myself by inviting myself to a stranger’s house, and then praying for his mother.  I stretched myself by asking questions I wanted to know the answers to, even though I knew they weren’t always polite ones.  I’m not sure this was always such a good thing, for me or for the others, because I hardly know the Egyptian or Muslim culture.  I’m not sure how kindly people take to my directness, or what I say about my reactions to their culture.  It is a relief for me to know that my resurrected Lord can fix the bodies I fall over and injure while trying to stretch my muscles.  So I will continue to ask questions, but try to grow in honoring people as I learn about their culture.        

A week ago I stretched myself a bit more by playing in a house concert.  As I wrote in my last post, it was kind of scary to expose myself as a musician to others, especially strangers and other musicians.  But I did.  And stretching my spiritual muscles was rewarded.

The musician in me woke up, after a long sleep.  Or was she resurrected?  I started to play the piano again, and have begun practicing some other pieces.  I began listening to other music as well, particularly the music of Max Bruch.  As I listen, I notice that I’m more open to the beauty of the music than I’ve been in a long time.  I’ve also begun listening to progressive rock, since that’s the music that influences my friend, and I’m curious.  I discovered a group I’d never heard of before – Rush.  Listening to progressive rock stretches me still more.

It had also been a long time since I’d written any songs, so I started listening more closely to what was inside my heart, hoping to discover some themes for lyrics.  I began writing in my journal again, exploring my thoughts and feelings.  And out of that, a song came!  Well, to be exact, song lyrics came. 

I decided to send the lyrics to Frank, who played in the concert with me, and see if he could come up with a melody.  This was also stretching myself, since sharing my music with others has also caused a couple of traumas in my life.  But that saying, “Nothing ventured, nothing gained” proved true.  I gained.  He went right to work on the music and sent a song back!  I wasn’t completely satisfied, so risked a rebuff by letting him know about my reservations.  He came up with a compromise, and we have a really cool song!  When it’s polished, I’ll put it online, as I learn that new skill, too.  This experience was also rewarding, because my risking expressing my true feelings about the first version of the song ended up with what I think is a better result, at least for me, who wrote the lyrics.  This is all new territory for me.  I am not completely grown up yet. 

And another thing too.  Working with someone else who is good at what he does, someone who respects me, who honors my wishes, turns out to be better than working all by myself.  It expands my own contribution, sort of like Jesus’ loaves and fish.  Or this result:  1 +1 = 3 +.  How many of us end up living alone for the rest of our life because someone hurt us?  By protecting ourselves so much from others who may hurt us, we may be missing out on some great companionship.  In the United States there are more adults living as singles than married.  Married people live longer than singles, though.  Combined efforts are actually a good thing, even if people sometimes fall over each other. 

Today I heard a woman on the radio talk about why she likes singing in a choir.  When singing in a choir, she said, you have the contribution of many people, and each part is important.  There is an explosion of energy in combining efforts, she said.  It is synergetic - expansive, not only musically, but also in communication.  Many kinds of people come together to sing, and people who would otherwise not know each other, share their lives. 

That was another way stretching helped me.  At the concert, I met a violinist who wanted to play with me.  We met this week, made some beautiful music, and had a lot of fun.  I was introduced to the Dvorak Violin Sonatina Opus 100, I have that and more music to learn, and more musical opportunities coming up.  Creativity is nothing but variations on a theme, but that’s the miracle of creativity, I think.  We build on the work of others.

None of this would have happened if I hadn’t played last week.  Taking risks isn’t always rewarding, but I think if we don’t give up the first time things don’t go so well, we will be rewarded in the end.

Did I wake up, or did I experience resurrection this Easter week?  New life is pulsing.  I’m discovering the benefits of synergy, and it feels great!  I wish the same for you.  Stretch yourself a little this week, and see what happens.      

Monday, April 2, 2012

The House Concert

Last weekend, a friend of mine and I gave a house concert.  For some, this may be nothing special.  For us, it was momentous.  For my friend, this was his litmus test.  If people, especially his wife, found his concert to be a positive experience, he could do it again.  For me, if people enjoyed my playing, I could dare to perform again.  

The experience was such a deep experience it can hardly be communicated, but I decided to try and make a sort of literary piece out of it.  I turned it into a short story written in the third person, as though I were watching the character who decided to host this evening.  And in a way, it was so.  At times, it felt as though I were an observer in my own home at my own party.  Even sitting at the piano, it sometimes felt as though I was an observer as well as participant.  

The story I have written has a feeling of abstractness, perhaps because I am unable to truly express such vivid feelings and impressions.  Still, I hope some of you readers can be moved by it and find places in your hearts that are still frozen and lovingly thaw them out.


Some people, as they age, appear old before their time, as though the wonder of life had been stuffed into a box, even while they were young.  While still in their youth, they seem to have shoved their openness and dreams into a corner of their hearts.  Their eyes sparkle no more, and only a faded dull gray haze of resignation remains.  For others, life just gets used up, bit by bit, until they are worn out.  Gradually, they grow old.  It’s not that they’ve stuffed anything away, but the cares of life have worn them out.  Life just slowly ebbs out of them until it’s all gone.  Others become cynics.  Cynics seem closed to deep human feeling.  The effort to be above everything has made them half-dead.  Other people become disappointed and disillusioned as life fails to fulfil their dreams, leaving them to appear worldly-wise and jaded.  What remains is not wisdom, but rather calloused wounds.    

With the pianist, some of her youthfulness had gotten frozen.  At different points in her past, she had unwittingly pushed parts of her personality into the freezer, where they remained until she dared to nudge them out, one at a time, and let them thaw.  “You look so young!” people would exclaim, looking at her, as though they were paying her the highest compliment.  “You haven’t aged at all!”  Her youthful appearance was not only due to the freshness of her heart.  Some parts hadn’t yet grown up.  They were frozen, waiting to be given the chance to grow.  But, I must also add, the parts of her that had grown up and matured were parts she lovingly cared for and nourished, so that the freshness remained.

One day some time before, a friend of hers, a songwriter who played a mean guitar, had an idea.  “Let’s do a house concert together at your house!” he said.  “Your living room is the ideal setting.”  The pianist had been thinking for years about giving a concert in her home, but the courage for that endeavour had been one of the ice cubes locked away in her heart.  This one had been there since she was about age ten.

As children, her sister and she used to sing in harmony in the kitchen as they washed and dried the dishes.  It was as natural to them as playing with dolls.  So she asked her father one day if they could sing in church.  A date was planned, they practiced a song, and on the day of the event the two little girls walked up to the front of the church to sing in front of a couple hundred people.  The awareness that a crowd was listening just to them was too much for the girls, and in the middle of their song, one of them started to giggle.  The other joined in, and all they could do was laugh, until the entire congregation joined them, first in isolated snickers, then in loud laughter, and it was not possible to sing anymore.  Although they were the ones who started the laughter, for the two girls it was not funny at all.  In the midst of the laughter, the girls ran off the stage, heads bent down in shame, rushing for the comfort of their parents.  The pastor went to his podium and made some little joke about this hilarious song, and everything went back to normal.  Except perhaps for the sister, and certainly for the pianist, who put her dream of performing in front of others into the freezer of her heart.

She had performed since then.  She had allowed some of that ice to partially thaw.  She had opened up enough to agree to play the music other people chose, accompanying them on the piano or organ in church.  That was fine, because no one was really listening to her.  Sometimes, when they did listen, they didn't like what they heard, especially the mistakes.  She had been told off more than once by perfectionistic pastors and competitive fellow musicians, and the ice started to form again.  But there were enough good experiences, enough people who liked her music, to keep her playing.  It was easiest when they didn't listen.  The processionals were a bit tricky, because she then had the full attention of the congregation, unless they were chatting among themselves.  But she usually found easy processionals to play on the organ, and they went pretty well.  The recessionals were the most relaxing of all to play, because the people stood up to leave the church, and conversation drowned out the sound of the organ. 

Still, the idea of playing for people who weren’t listening was rather sad.  It wasn’t really that wonderful to simply accompany others or play to chatting crowds, because she knew she was an artist, and artists need to have an audience.  She knew she was an artist because her piano teacher had once told her so. And she knew it, deep down in her heart, even though she had tried her whole life to hide it or pretend that other parts of her were much more important.  She looked at the attention other performers got, and began to find fault with them.  What prima donnas they were!  What narcissists, needing all that attention.  She would never be that way.  Better not to perform than to be a narcissist.  Still, the dream of performing and not being laughed at was there, locked inside her heart.  She couldn’t deny it.  So she agreed to do the concert.

Her living room was indeed the ideal setting.  She and her husband were both artistically inclined, and between them, they had found, or been given, beautiful pieces of furniture and paintings.  Another sister had painted exquisite landscapes from the region they had grown up in.  There was lustrous teak furniture from Scandinavia, no longer in fashion, but still elegant.  Persian rugs from the parents-in-law gave a feeling of old European culture.  And there was the walnut grand piano her parents had bought for her when she was still a teenager and then shipped to her decades later.  It was always a pleasure for the two of them to sit in their living room, even if it was only to watch the news on TV.  Dinners on weekends were festive occasions with flowers, candles, beautiful tableware and delicious food.  Theirs was a home made to share with others, and they often had dinner guests sharing the evening with them.   

But performing was something altogether different.  On the morning of the performance, she noticed tightness in her chest.  Her stomach was fluttering too, and thoughts hovered in her head - thoughts like, “What if I make a fool of myself and goof up all my pieces?”  Or, “Perhaps my music is too plain.  Or too difficult.  Or too classical in style.”  She did her best to release the thoughts to God, to enjoy the preparations for the party, and to enjoy the time spent practicing.  And there were moments during the day when she enjoyed the feeling of her fingers flying precisely across the keyboard, creating beautiful flowing sounds.  Other times they created lovely, rich harmonies as the fingers bent into the chords.  Once, twice, five times correct, and she could leave the piece with some measure of confidence until the concert.  She also paid some attention to these feelings.  They were indeed strong.  Yes, she was afraid of disappointing herself and her audience.  She still remembered being laughed at, and the scolding and derision years later.  She could still feel the shame.  But were memories of shame and the fear of disappointment enough reason to not perform?  No!  She would do it, she would do her very best, and by God, she would enjoy herself!

Her friend arrived and set up a monstrous concoction of cables, a loop system, loudspeakers, microphones, sound system, and pedals.  All this for an acoustic guitar and voice.  She listened to him practice.  He sounded magnificent!  The sounds his system made were like layers, forming a complex tapestry of rhythm and harmony.  What if everybody found his music much better than her own?  She told herself that her music was also beautiful.  After all, she liked it.  She had carefully chosen it.  Each piece had a connection to a place she had lived in or that was important to her.  Why shouldn’t people like both of their performances?  There is room for all the music the world holds, and more, she told herself.

Before the guests arrived, in a quiet moment, the two friends prayed for the evening, committing their trembling fingers, quaky voices, and all that would happen through them to God. 

The guests were seated.  Twenty-nine people in her living room!  The only place she could sit was on the piano bench, which seemed somehow fitting, since she’d be playing the piano soon anyway.  It was nice to realize that she felt at home, sitting on a piano bench, even if performing from it was a bit frightening. 

She got up from her bench and walked to where her friend was sitting, joining him for a moment, as she greeted the guests.  She felt nervous, but she smiled through her anxiety, as she welcomed the people, thanking them for coming.  Some were friends of hers, others friends of his.  They applauded. 

Twenty-nine people sat in the rows she had set up, and each one looked raptly at her friend, who was sitting on a stool at the door leading outside to the balcony.  That corner of the room which was also her living room was now a stage.  Every bit of her living room had become a concert hall.  Later the stage would move to the grand piano, but for now, she could be part of the audience.  She watched and listened as her friend started to play.  She knew that he was as nervous as she, which was somehow comforting, since shared tension is halved tension.  His nervousness didn’t show.  Piece after piece flew by, each stirring up deep feelings inside her, feelings of longing, peace and recognition.  She looked outside at the setting sun and saw the pink cherry blossoms darkening as the light lessened.  The curtains her husband had ordered from England and she had sewn while the cherry tree was blossoming three years before, were shimmering golden in the evening light.  Night gradually replaced day, as old age replaces youth.  But it had its own beauty.  The energy of concentrated attention from the listeners seemed to create a physical glow to the room.  The light, now provided by candlelight and electricity, remained golden.  She looked over to a friend, who was listening intently with closed eyes.  Another person was moving her head in unison in the same way as the pianist to the rhythm coming from the guitar and sound system.  The room was in harmony with the music, with the listeners, with the friend.

Harmony continued to warm the audience as they mingled, eating food and drinking drinks the two families had provided.  The first half had gone very well, and the feeling of gratitude for her friend’s success was stronger than her fear of what might occur in her part of the performance.  People throughout the room expressed amazement at the beautiful music they had just heard, and they were eager to hear more.  

The pianist sat again at the piano, this time to play.  Her fingers tingled in a mixture of fear and anticipation, but they cooperated, measure for measure, crescendo after decrescendo.  They paused at just the moments she willed them to.  At times it felt as though her fingers were being played by something else.  Could it be that Max Bruch, born in Cologne, was also in this Cologne living room, almost a hundred years after his death, helping her to play the piece he had written?  It must have been so.  She felt one with him, as well as oneness with those present.  Was that Didier Squiban sitting over there by the door?  She played the music of his Bretagne and her Cornwall, feeling herself and the listeners to be moving with the waves of the sea, as player and listener sat in the golden light of the living room.  She played the same melody that had moved Ralph Vaughan Williams to write, mingling with him and Jesus, whom the melody was honoring.  She sang her own songs, communicating to herself and her listeners a message she had once tried to impress upon herself.  Truth, even that contained in poems we have written ourselves, sometimes takes its time until it becomes as true for the author as it is for the listener.  This night, as she sang, her songs were true for her.

In what seemed just a few minutes later, the concert was over.  Waves of relief and joy washed over her and her songwriter friend as their tension uncoiled and they could finally relax.  The living room was now a buzz of voices communicating.  Simple conversations became exchanges of hope, healing and harmony.  
Their friends could not find enough praise for the evening – what a special atmosphere to have a concert in, how intimate, how beautiful.  Someone told the pianist that she was a true artist, and she nodded.  The truth was no longer a block of ice.  Her friend told her that his wife loved her music, although she couldn’t relate to her own husband’s music.  Each style had found its resonance, its own audience.  Even though his wife couldn’t really connect with her husband’s music, she was glad to see that others could.  For her, the evening was a success as well.  For the musicians, the evening prepared the way for each of them to dare to perform again. 

The ice melted into rich, golden syrup, transforming the performance into a shared meal of communication through music, talk, and food.