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Solstice. Just before Christmas and our tree is up, shining with lights in the darkness which is profound, this shortest day of the year.

I arose in the darkness and sat with it this morning, kept a close eye on it as it gave way to dawn. I plan to bundle up and walk in the woods today. The day may be overcast—but it will be far from gloomy in there. Close, dim perhaps; but not depressing. The woods at the darkest time of the year feel majestic, full of secrets.

Later I’ll listen to music, maybe even get out my guitar and play. I should bake something too, in the longstanding tradition of my people at Christmas, a rite that I’m certain goes back much further than I can see, beyond my mother and my grandmothers, beyond the women whose names are on the recipes handed down to me: Martha, Diatha, Leah, Opal.

It’s still a mystery, my descent from my ancestors, how my life is linked to so many generations before me, as life itself is a mystery, how the light comes back every year, finds us again and the new year begins. It’s just the Christian calendar, a Chinese-American friend said to me once. She was referring to the millennium, as I recall, and dismissing it as a purely Christian invention, and of course she was right—at least, about the year 2000. But the Christian calendar is overlaid on something more ancient, the Gregorian on the Julian, both of them working from the sun and starting the new year soon after the shortest day of the year, the winter solstice—observed and celebrated in pre-Christian times. I think of the standing pillars of Stonehenge, arranged to frame the arc of the sun on its shortest journey of the year and constructed at least 4,000 years ago. During the middle ages many western European countries actually started the new year on December 25th, marking the birth of Christ and closer to winter solstice. (When reforming the calendar and lopping off days to get back into alignment with the sun, Pope Gregory held onto the Roman convention of the New Year beginning on January 1.)

Like the calendar many of the holiday festivities, the decorations and the carols are older than Christianity. Now and then I peek behind the “Christmas” veneer and see my pagan ancestors. Celebrating Yule, for instance—it’s not a Christian festival, but the word’s been co-opted as if it means Christmas. I listen to the carols and ancient voices call out to me, singing about the greenwood as if it’s a very real, specific place; singing of dawn breaking and deer running. They had a lot to say and to sing about, it seems, at this shortest day of the year, even without the addition of a prophet from the middle east.

Some of the Christian lyrics build on the happy spirit of revelry (in fact carols were originally dances) and call out for beneficence, and for understanding among people, and who can argue with or complain of that? Other lyrics simply recount the Christmas story: the star, the kings, the birth of Christ; and often each bit of story is tied to something still green and growing, like holly, that one might find on a winter ramble in the wood.

And I come back to where I began: Today I want to walk in the woods, whether dim or shot through with the rays of the low-sailing sun, where people for thousands of years have felt close to the mystery, the unknowable. The trees that outlive us, the ground we will return to, the bits of green that always survive the frost. The rising of the sun, and the running of the deer.

Our roots are long, long as the shadows this time of year.

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This is a repost from a couple of years ago, in honor of today’s snow.

I know a lot of people would say I’m crazy – but I feel a little sad, that winter’s almost over and the snow is melting fast.

What could be more magical than gazing out the window, aimlessly, when suddenly you become aware that the tiniest of white flakes is drifting down from the sky? Slowly, elegantly; and then you see another – but “see” is a word that feels too directed. It’s more like another flake appears, registers on your visual field. It’s so subtle an experience that if you were actually focusing your attention out the window, you might not see the snow falling, at all.

Again, I know that most people think I’m crazy, to feel that little pang at goodbye. The blanket of snow on the lawn has been there for days now, days that have seen the thermometer stuck below 20 degrees. I know the cold can be tiresome. But even after months of cold weather I’m entranced by this sight: the slow drift and float of the solitary snowflake to earth.

In a few weeks I won’t see it again, until next winter. Next winter, when we’ve just battened down the hatches against the cold, when we’re deep in the longest dark of the year; and we look out to see that for the first time in eight or nine months, snow is falling.

Snow is mysterious. It’s frozen water – but it’s nothing like ice. It’s a complicated process, the formation of snow from water vapor, up in the clouds; and the more complex the individual snowflake, the more stages involved in its evolution – a snowflake quite literally “grows.” The delicate structure with which we’re familiar – the lacy snowflake that’s emblazoned on everything from Christmas ornaments to ski sweaters – has been duplicated in the laboratory, using special equipment. However, snow in large quantities is hard to make. The snow-making “cannons” used at ski resorts can’t make snow crystals, but only frozen droplets that look nothing like even simple snowflakes, under a magnifier. (And are a weak substitute to ski on, or so I’m told).

W.A. Bentley was the first person to photograph a snowflake, in 1884. I have a book of his photos – my dad bought it years ago. Titled Snow Crystals, the first edition was published in 1931.  It contains 2,453 photographs of snowflakes (and a few frost patterns).  The intricacy of the patterns on its pages is a marvel – and as you might expect, no two are exactly alike.

Thumbing through the book the other day, it occurred to me that until the science of optics created magnifying lenses, people had no concept of the structure of the individual snowflake.  We didn’t know it existed, this infinite world of beauty.

Mr. Bentley, I discovered, was driven by a similar thought.  A teenager on a Vermont farm when he began his lifelong obsession, he had to first beg his parents to invest in an expensive camera.  Then, through a frustrating process of trial and error, he taught himself how to capture the image of a single snowflake. It took him two seasons to succeed.  He continued to photograph snowflakes, with very little reward or recognition, for the next 47 years.  (He died just weeks after the initial publication of Snow Crystals.)

His motivation was not only scientific curiosity, but a passionate reverence for the beauty of snow.  “Under the microscope, I found that snowflakes were miracles of beauty; and it seemed a shame that this beauty should not be seen and appreciated by others,” he told an interviewer in 1925.  “Every crystal was a masterpiece of design and no one design was ever repeated.  When a snowflake melted, that design was forever lost.  Just that much beauty was gone, without leaving any record behind.”

So he resolved to be the guardian of that beauty, and its champion. He took over 5,000 photographs, laboring winter after winter in an unheated room in his farmhouse. For most of his life, the public paid very little attention. (In fact, at the first local showing of his photographic slides, he had only six attendees.)

But the lack of recognition didn’t stop him. He truly loved snow – and he had to show it to the world, in a way that they had never seen it before. Surrounded by neighbors who thought of winter as a condition simply to be endured, he had to share with them what he had found – the mysterious, incomparable beauty of snow.

I think like me he must have felt just a tinge of sadness, as spring drew near and the snow began to melt.

Quoted material from interview with W.A. Bentley, The American Magazine, February, 1925.

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“What’s your favorite movie?”

The question was asked at a post-meeting luncheon, while my table was playing “get to know you” games.  I couldn’t come up with anything right away.  The truth is, I have trouble naming a favorite anything.  Singling out just one book, film, piece of music or even color is hard for me, and I usually feel dishonest naming something.  (Maybe I’m just hopelessly indecisive – I’m not sure.)  While I took my time answering, the question morphed to: What film can you watch over and over again?  When you randomly come across it while surfing channels, what film will inevitably draw you in?

Sitting next to me, my friend Bill named a quirky horror movie he adores.  (He described it as being both a horror flick and a love story.  I don’t love horror flicks, but that combo does sound compelling.)  Someone else named an old classic, To Kill a Mockingbird.  I sat there thinking: what old film do I watch, at least for a couple of scenes, nearly every time I come across it on TV?  And then the answer popped into my head, and somewhat sheepishly, I shared it with my companions: The Sound of Music.

Yup, that ridiculously sentimental musical, so dripping with sweetness that at times it gets syrupy. Its reputation as one of the most saccharine films of the 60s makes watching my favorite scenes a guilty pleasure.  I don’t think I’ve watched the entire film straight through for years; but whenever I find it on TV, I hope to catch the Lonely Goatherd number, and the scene where Maria dances the Ländler with Capt. von Trapp.  The way the camera catches the light in Maria’s eyes, and the captain’s formal wear – complete with white gloves – reel me in every time.

I know The Sound of Music is oft-criticized for being impossibly corny.  But I think we could agree that, like an old war horse or a grand dame from another era, it deserves some respect simply for surviving.  And in a way, it’s woven into the fabric of my life.  It came out in 1965, and I remember getting all dressed up and going downtown to see it with my mother and grandmother.  I don’t remember the experience of the film, at all, just the excursion.  It was an event.  As proof, I offer the souvenir program, still on my bookcase. (It’s got all its pages, but the cover’s falling off.)   I don’t know when I last saw one of these for sale in the lobby of a movie theater.  I suspect souvenir movie programs went the way of the dinosaur a long time ago.

I have a rough idea of how old I was, the next time I saw the film – just entering adolescence.  I can’t confirm the year with absolute certainty, but a poster I found online for the re-release of The Sound of Music dates from 1973.  I would have been 12 or 13.  Before the days of home video and DVD, eight years was a long wait – so people happily queued up at the theater to see the film again on the big screen. For me, the second viewing was like I was seeing it for the first time.  I don’t remember actually watching the movie – I just remember my reaction to it.  For two or three days I walked around feeling dazed and filled with an unfathomable pain.  I thought at the time I just really, really wanted to live in Austria.

I realized later – much later – that I had a huge crush on Julie Andrews as Maria.  A lot of things made more sense after I came out, in my early 30s – this was one of them.  No wonder I was crying in the bathroom after I saw The Sound of Music! I thought.  Any healthy, young lesbian would fall in love with Maria: she’s a tomboy, running around the foothills of the Alps, climbing trees; she plays the guitar; she’s not afraid to make play-clothes out of curtains, or tell the captain to stop using a whistle to call his kids.  She’s equally beautiful in her nightgown, the homespun jumper she’s wearing when she leaves the abbey (carrying her guitar case), or the blue dress she wears to the ball, when the baroness remarks that the captain can’t take his eyes off her.  Plus she was raised in a community of women, and she sings like an angel.  What’s not to love?

So even after all these years, when The Sound of Music shows up on TV (which it does fairly often), I find myself pulled in.  And just recently, when I was facing what I expected to be a very trying and challenging day, I thought of the number Maria sings about confidence, as she makes her way to the von Trapp mansion for the first time.  I could hear Julie Andrews singing the intro in my head: “What will this day be like?  I wonder…  What will my future be?  I wonder…”

I got the CD out (yes – I own the soundtrack) and my partner and I sang along with Julie: “I have confidence in springtime; I have confidence in rain…”  Sally thought it was really funny, that the words of the song and Maria’s predicament, as she left the abbey for a new life, would come back to me as we approached a day that felt unusually daunting.  I thought it was funny, too – but it’s also proof of the power of film.  Corny as it is, The Sound of Music has imprinted itself so indelibly on my consciousness that it will probably be there until I die.  Good thing I love that Lonely Goatherd number.

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It was cold, colder than even old Hans – the oldest person in the village – could remember. Pieter said it was so cold that the wings of the birds froze and they fell from the air like stones, but we knew it wasn’t true. We saw their black shapes flapping across the dull sky, and standing like iron statues in the bare branches of the trees.

That story was just Pieter trying to explain coming back empty-handed. Anna and I saw him return, with the other hunters, walking stiff-legged in the deep snow. The dogs followed behind, tails down, too cold to nip at each other, even the biggest of them loping along as if exhausted. The hunters hadn’t much to show. Only one of them had a long, skinny fox slung over his shoulder – just one, not much for the stewpot. The animals were all hiding somewhere, trying to keep warm. “Porridge for supper tonight,” I said, as we stood looking out the window.

“I wish we could have turkey,” Anna said, standing on the bench so she could see out, her small hands balled in fists, resting on her apron.

Her disappointment pained me. I eyed the huddled magpies perched in the ice-rimed trees along the lane. Not enough flesh there to tease an arrow.

As cold as it was, the hunters didn’t linger together, didn’t pull out pipes and light them while deciding whether to go home, or into Veykert’s tap room. They dispersed, and Pieter came in with a great bustle, stomping his feet at the door before sitting down to pull off his shoes.

“Are you cold Pieter?” Anna asked. She didn’t say anything to him about wanting a turkey dinner. For a small child Anna is perceptive. An old soul, Mama says.

“Just my fingers and my nose,” Pieter said, and touched an icy finger to Anna’s neck so that she shrieked and laughed. “It’s so cold out the foxes are hiding,” he told us, and then the tall tale about the birds falling, frozen, from the sky.

While Pieter was gone we had swept the floor with clean sand and scrubbed the table and the cooking pots. We had no work left to do, so Anna and I returned to the window while Pieter sat on a stool in front of the fire, smoking his pipe. Out in front of the tap room, the Veykerts were building a fire to singe the hair off the last of their pigs. Would that we had a pig to roast!

Down in the valley we saw a woman cross the snowy white of the bridge, carrying a bundle of wood on her back – an anonymous woman, dressed like anyone in our village, a white apron, and headcloth; the edge of a dark skirt above dark stockings. Not until she was halfway up the hill did we recognize her. “It’s Mama!” Anna called out, and jumped down. A few minutes later our mother came through the door.

“The mill wheel’s frozen,” she announced. I wondered what old Hans would say about that. I helped her unsling the bundle of branches from her back – none any thicker than my arm. “Not a stick to waste,” she said, as she tossed a piece on the dwindling fire. Pieter had jumped up too, when she came in. “How was the hunt Pieter?” she asked. He just shook his head. She put out a hand, rubbed his arm. After a moment she said, “Well, spring’s not so far off now,” and turned to us to see about the porridge.

Later that evening – we were in bed early and under a pile of quilts, to save the firewood – Mama told us that while gathering wood she’d watched some boys playing at stones on the river. I could imagine the whisper of the big stones as they slid over the ice, bound for the target. On a warmer day we might have gone down ourselves, to watch, or to skate around the pool at the river’s bend. Anna cannot skate yet, but sometimes Pieter puts her on the lid of Mama’s largest basket and tows her behind him. Pieter is a good skater, as was our father. I am not – a sad affliction, for a young person in our village, but there it is.

When Mama was done talking, I thought Pieter might tell us something about the hunt. I waited, but he was quiet. Probably because he didn’t bring back anything for us to eat, I thought, and I felt bad for him, so disappointed in himself. Still, I envied him.

I imagined trudging through the dark, quiet closeness of the woods, where the foxes make their lairs, safe from the biting wind. Then coming out from the trees, and the sudden white of the wide, frozen fields spread before me, bright even beneath the hushed, grey-green sky, about to drop its burden of snow. I pictured the village sprinkled along the valley, the edges of the thatched roofs peeking out from under a frosting of white, everything so tiny from a distance: a cart like a toy moving slowly along the road, the game players Mama had been watching just specks moving on the glass of the frozen river.

I imagined standing in the sharp cold, the air frosty in my throat, when a big shaggy hound bounded up to lean against me. Waiting for me to show him where we would go next. I imagined all the world spread out before me under a blanket of white; and a thin wisp of smoke, coming up from the village, reaching my nose and reminding me I would be going home, in a while.

I envied him.

Pieter Brueghel, Hunters in the Snow

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Last fall I went on a kick and re-read, back to back, a couple of novels about the painter, Johannes Vermeer. I enjoyed both books almost as much as I did the first time around, and they got me thinking about the life of Vermeer, and the lives of artists in general. I see such irony in Vermeer’s story: he died at forty-three deeply in debt and leaving behind eleven children; he also left paintings – fewer than forty, total – that today are known and loved around the world. Most everyone’s seen a reproduction of, for instance, “The Milkmaid,” and prices for Vermeer’s work have soared in our era. A single painting, “The Concert,” stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner museum in 1990, was recently estimated to be worth 200 million dollars.

Quite something, when you consider Vermeer couldn’t pay his bakery bill.

I started wondering: what would Suze Orman think about all this? I mean, if Johannes Vermeer called in to her TV show wanting to buy something – a chunk of lapis, maybe, to complete a picture of a woman in a blue gown; or a new easel, or a camera obscura? I found myself imagining the conversation between Suze and Johannes:

S.O.: Jan, all the way from Delft, welcome to the Suze Orman show.

J.V.: Hi Suze, how are you?

S.O.: I’m fabulous, sweetheart. Jan, what do you want to buy, boyfriend?

J.V.: Well Suze, I need an easel.

S.O.: Sure you do. (Suze might roll her eyes a bit here). An easel – the thing you put a painting on?

J.V.: That’s correct. I’m a painter by trade, Suze, and last week the kids got into my studio, even though the housekeeper’s supposed to keep them out. (Suze shakes her head sympathetically.) They chased the dog in there and managed to knock over my easel. Luckily there was nothing on it at the time…

S.O.: Sounds like a lively household. How much will this easel cost, Jan?

J.V.: Well, to replace the one I had, 40 guilders.

S.O. (with great dramatic flair): Ok Jan, show me the money, sweetheart!

J.V.: Well, the painting I just finished brought in 200 guilders. I don’t have another commission right now, but I hope to, before long. My mother-in-law’s tavern, which I manage for her, brings in a little money. As far as expenses, we live with her, and we don’t pay rent. (Suze nods). My wife and I have ten kids.

S.O.: Did you say ten kids?

J.V.: Yes that’s right.

S.O.: Whew. Ok, go on. Do you have any debt?

J.V.: Well we owe the baker for about two years’ worth of bread…

S.O.: Two years’ worth, with how many people – thirteen, in your household? Not counting the servants? That’s a lotta guilders.

J.V.: I think it’s up to about 400 now…

S.O.: Jan, I hate to do this to you but you are DENIED. (She looks piercingly into the camera). Listen boyfriend, I have a saying: stand in your truth. Numbers don’t lie; and with those numbers you aren’t even able to pay for the bread on your table, right?

J.V.: Well the baker might take a painting in trade – he’s done it before… and I need an easel, or I can’t paint.

Here I imagine Suze isn’t buying it:

S.O.: Look, Jan, I don’t want to tell you how to do your job. But desperate times call for desperate measures, boyfriend. Can’t you prop the painting up on a chair or something?

J.V.: (doubtfully) I don’t think that would work…

Suze would probably pull out the stops and get personal with Jan at this point:

S.O.: Jan, have you ever thought about doing something other than painting? ’Cause let’s face it, boyfriend, when you stand in your truth you know you’re not making a living…

And so on – you get the picture (no pun intended). It’s a little depressing; but I don’t think the vignette ends there. I believe Johannes Vermeer would get off the phone with Suze Orman, take out a loan for a new easel, and get back to painting – despite the doubts gnawing at him, and the problems and frustrations of trying to rub two guilders together to keep ten, soon to be eleven, kids in (wooden) shoes. Fortunately for an admiring world, artists seem to find a way to keep creating.

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Inner Puppy

I’ve been attending a writing group for about nine months now. It’s not the first one I’ve belonged to; but it seems to be the most harmonious I’ve experienced. Both the stalwart regulars and the more occasional drop-ins are generous and supportive – making room for each other’s fragile writing egos. It’s become for me a kind of safe haven – a port in a storm. I sail in every month and make fast for a couple of hours, knowing that here my desire to write and whatever I’ve been working on will be treated with respect and sensitivity.

Last month’s meeting was no exception. When I walked out of the library where we meet into the summer twilight, I felt drained from the effort of reading and grappling with my own work, but happy to have spent the evening with others in the same boat. I went home; watched a little TV; I probably read a chapter of something before dropping off to sleep – tired and contented.

In the early morning hours, I had a dream. I dreamed about a puppy – a large, fuzzy puppy, maybe two or three months old, coal-black with just a touch of white around his face. His name was Bandit (which I think may have come from the name of the dog on the old Johnny Quest show – go figure, I haven’t thought about that cartoon in probably 20 years).

In the dream, I carried Bandit in my arms everywhere I went. Not only did I love him, but he was my responsibility, so I had to keep track of him. At one point I suddenly realized I was carrying someone else’s pet – a cat I didn’t recognize – so I set the cat down and started looking for Bandit. It wasn’t long before he came charging up to me and I scooped him up again, carrying him around as before. As I walked around with him people were drawn to us – no mystery there, Bandit was a typical puppy: cute, playful, affectionate, and people wanted to come up and pet him. But they also seemed just to gravitate to the two of us – we were happy, and that was contagious. People wanted to come swim in the effervescence that was my life with Bandit.

The one exception happened when I tried to take him into a class where I was enrolled. There was a new teacher there, a young guy, who told me he was allergic to dogs. Without much hesitation I left, knowing it was more important to keep Bandit with me than to sit through that class.

When I woke up, the dream was still really fresh and like any obsessive journal-keeper, I put it down on paper. I hadn’t been scribbling long before it struck me: my writing is just like a puppy.

It’s like a live thing for which I have responsibility – I have to nurture it, protect it, and honor the bond I have with it. I carry it with me through life; and I have to know when it’s time to walk away from something or someone that won’t be good for it. Holding it in my arms, I naturally meet up with kindred souls – like-minded people who see the value in puppies.

Just in case you haven’t dreamt recently of your own personal Bandit, help yourself to my dream and please believe: your creative endeavor, whatever it may be, is as live and real as a wiggling, face-licking puppy – an internationally recognized symbol for pure joy. Don’t let the substitute teachers of the world tell you otherwise. Their allergies are their own stuff to deal with. Close the door softly and leave them to it – then scoop up your puppy and get on down the road.

 

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Part 2 – Behind the Curtain

I’m always amazed by how fast a concert goes by. Once I arrive at the school, time seems to move at hyper-speed. I know it must be my perception that makes it so – I love the excitement just before a concert, when all the months of preparation are about to bear fruit. It seems that from call time to the curtain rising is only a few minutes, when actually it’s over two hours.

First we gather onstage and sing some warm-ups. Then Todd takes us quickly through the beginning of each piece, cementing how the program’s going to flow, how everything fits together. Donald, the young dancer, runs through his number with us. With the spot following his sleek, graceful form around the stage while we sing I feel inspired, and I can tell from the comments afterward that we are all pumped for this show. There are some last-minute details ironed out as we wait on the risers, during which Marty starts playing a slow, wistful-sounding number, prompting Cori to turn to me and ask, “Isn’t that the theme from a soap opera?” I realize she’s right, and I grin: it’s “The Young and the Restless.” So appropriate. Well, the restless part fits me, anyway.

We head backstage. There are some touch-ups to hairstyles and makeup, done in front of the big, lit-up mirror; we all take a few last sips from our water bottles. It seems not long at all before our crew tells us it’s time to go on and we file onto the risers behind the closed curtain. Michael’s high-fiving everyone as we walk on, whispering encouragements to each other; on her way to the other side of the stage, Amy stops and bumps fists with me. Then we’re all assembled in our places, bathed in blue backlighting – we’re going to be mostly in shadow as the curtain opens, with the bright lights coming on as we hit our first note. Linda, our founder, reaches back from the first row and takes my hand. Without a word we both squeeze – a hand hug. The chatter we’ve been hearing from the audience on the other side of the curtain ceases, and there’s silence, for a moment. Then I hear the sound of the curtain moving on its track, above our heads – it’s opening. The concert has begun.

Part 3 – The Show

Boom – Marty hits octave E’s, way down low. “Keep your hand on the plow – hold on!,” the choir sings out with almost ferocious intensity, as simultaneously the white-hot lights flash on. And with the first line of an old spiritual, we’re off. If the hours just before the show went by fast, the show itself goes by at warp speed – it seems almost a blur. I miss the opening of the next piece – my brain is a little overcome, I think, with adrenalin – but otherwise we seem to be on a roll. Michael and Sandy have the first solos – and nail them; Amy has to pretty much carry the next tune – we’re basically singing backup for her – and she sounds great. Donald the dancer does spectacular leaps and twirls while Lara delivers a sensitive solo on “Fix You,” and Colette’s acoustic steel-string blended with our small ensemble never sounded better as “Say” opens.

Our emcee for this show is a young woman who goes by “T.,” a poetry slam champion who awed us some months ago when she performed at another event where we appeared. She recites one of her poems, and I’m disappointed when I can’t make out half of her words – for some reason the sound reaching me is too distorted. Still, I can hear the passion in her voice and see the intensity in her small figure as she stands at the edge of the stage and speaks, in rhythm, about the courage of young people who dare to be themselves. When she’s finished, I think the applause from the choir standing behind her is as loud as that from the audience. The title song, “It Gets Better,” ends the first half, and Tom leads off the piece, his voice sounding clear and confident even though it’s his first solo with us.

Intermission flies by in the blink of an eye. We’re backstage for a moment, and then we’re out on the risers again, waiting. There’s a delay on the other side of the curtain as our crew prepares to draw the winning ticket for the raffle; Marty helps out by playing the “Jeopardy” theme during the wait.

Then we’re underway again. Angie’s voice on “I Will Survive,” expertly showcased by the band, rivals Gloria Gaynor’s, and “I’m Beautiful” goes just as well as it did in rehearsal. Next is “Live Your Dream” – my personal favorite. It starts with the piano, Marty deftly tracing an arc of quiet melody that seems to leave a question hanging in the air – an expectancy, a signal that something’s coming. The sopranos and altos come in, holding our voices quietly on one note as we sing the words of the 13th c. mystic Rumi: “Let… let yourself be…” The line, gradually swelling, floats out into the dark room as the tenors and basses join in and the voices split into a chord. “Let yourself be… silently drawn… to what… you truly… love.” I don’t think it consciously, as we sing, but I feel in my heart how much I need this song, how much everyone needs this song. “Live the life you have imagined. Live your dream.”

Afterward, Todd speaks to the audience, sharing some background about our group and his 20 years of experience with LGBT choirs. There are more solos: Cori’s soulful voice mixed with Todd’s cello, Chris and Curtis in a feel-good duet that nevertheless seems bittersweet, knowing they’re leaving us. Then T. once again commands the stage with her poetry, and her riveting presence. “C’mon and give it up again for the choir y’all,” she says to the audience, before exiting the stage to let us wrap up with the final number – the rousing “Waka Waka,” which translates to “get the job done.”

I’m not sure when, exactly, the concert ends. I guess technically with the last notes of “Waka” – or is it when the applause dies down, and our audience turns to go? Is it when we troop offstage, hugging and high-fiving each other? When we greet our friends and family in the cafeteria a few minutes later? Or when the last of us to leave gets into their car, waiting in the twilight of the parking lot to carry them home?

Maybe it’s later that evening, when I’m lying in bed with “I’m Beautiful” ringing in my ears.

It seems like the concert continues even now, as I’m remembering. Choir is like a magnet – I come back to it, always, drawn to what… I truly… love.

 

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