Every day is an opportunity for commemorations, some pleasant, some not so much.
We can consider the births of the day: on the positive side, John Paul Stevens was born in 1920, perhaps offering something more positive for those whose natal day is today than remembering 1889 Adolph Hitler came into the world in in Austria.
Perhaps we might remember those who died on this occasion: for me one stands out above all, a man born in Germany but so beloved by Britain that he is buried in Westminister Abbey. Because I am a musician I note that Beethoven considered him the greatest composer and take a moment to remember the passing of George Frideric Handel.
Or perhaps it is the event of today. In light of this week, we may all too easily remember that on this date in 1999 Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris and killed 12 fellow students and a teacher and wounded some 21 more at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado.
But perhaps of especial importance in light of this week, including the joy and relief of the capture last night of the remaining suspect from Monday's bombing without further death, on this day in 1912 the Boston Red Sox beat the New York Highlanders (now the New York Yankees) 7-6 in the opening game at Fenway Park, perhaps America's most beloved baseball stadium with its Green Monster in left field.
When I was still serving as a classroom teacher, every Saturday was an occasion to stop, to reflect upon the week. Although I am no longer momentarily stepping away from my students, as I do not know if I ever shall again step into a classroom with young people as my responsibility, I still try to take time for reflection each Saturday.
The convergence of events, the memories come together in a rush, so I try to give them time and allow myself to reflect further.
There is the remembrance of darkness and loss. I was a teacher at the time of Columbine. For some odd reason, I seemed to be the first in my school to know of the breaking news from Colorado, and informed both our principal and our school resource officer. In the days that followed we had to deal with some of the adolescent acting out that can follow any traumatic event, as some of our Goth students were subject to taunting for their dress with references to "trench coat mafia" to the point that several were in tears. In a week in which the US Senate could not even pass a weakened back ground check and many are righteously angered, it did my heart good to read Jo Nocer'as column in today's New York TImes in which he introduces us to Katie Lyles, then a student at Columbine, now an elementary teacher in Littleton, who was in DC as part of an effort by the National Education Association to lobby the Senate. In That Spineless Gun Vote we can read these words:
On Thursday afternoon, I spoke again to Katie Lyles. She was deeply disappointed, of course, but she wasn’t ready to give up. A few months earlier, she had testified before the Colorado State Legislature as it debated stricter gun laws, including mandatory background checks and a limit to the size of magazines. The laws passed a month ago.In a week when people in Boston dealt with real pain, I have to trust that her hope is fulfilled. Colorado was able to make progress on the insanity of our gun culture. It passed mandatory background checks. It limited the size of magazines. Perhaps, just perhaps, our Senators can still learn.
“It took a long time,” she said. “Fourteen years. You can’t give up just because you lose one battle.”
She pointed out something else. Colorado has seen some of the nation’s worst gun tragedies — not just Columbine, but last year’s shooting in Aurora. “We’re a Western state,” she said. Colorado has plenty of gun owners. Yet it was still willing to pass tough new gun laws. Katie believes that all that pain Colorado has experienced is the reason.
“I fear that people are going to have to experience that pain for themselves before we can pass these bills,” she said.
“But I hope not.”
I think of the birthdays. After all, the fact that it was Hitler's birthday seemed important, although they apparently had considered the previous day in remembrance of the Alfred P. Murrah Building in Oklahoma City. As someone of Eastern European Jewish ancestry who lost extended family when the ghetto in Bialystok was liquidated, I have a visceral reaction to the memory of Hitler, and a strong impulse to oppose any racial or religious intolerance or hatred. I am so grateful that on this day I can somewhat assuage my anger and sorrow at the remembrance of Hitler by honoring that great liberal Justice John Paul Stevens, even as I remember that when Gerald Ford appointed him to the Court he was considered as being in the center or right of the Court - after all, Warren, Brennan, Marshall were all considered on the left, Burger and Blackmun in the center. By the end of his tenure he may have been the most consistently liberal justice remaining. He gave 35 years of magnificent service to this nation.
This week our thoughts we rightly focused on Boston after the events of Monday. Even the joy and relief when "White Hat" subject two was taken into custody when alive last evening - on, as I note, the traditional date for Patriots Day - cannot completely offset and in no way erase the horror of what happened Monday, nor what the people of Boston and the surrounding towns experienced from the events beginning with the killing of the MIT policeman that led to the lockdown and the manhunt. The sports teams could not play - after all, the T was shut down, and people really could not travel to the venues.
Today's game should be particularly joyful. That the first game in Fenway was against the team that became the hated Yankees is somewhat tempered by what happened at Yankee Stadium, where New York - itself having experienced a loss that still haunts the city - honored the people of Boston and their pain with the singing of the Fenway favorite "Sweet Caroline" (ironically a song of the Brooklyn-born New Yorker Neil Diamond). I suspect that today's game will have a powerful positive affect upon the psyche of Red Sox Nation.
I have left the death until now. Not because I think death outweighs life. I certainly hope not, as I am as I approach 67 in 33 days far closer to my own death than to my birth. The passing of a person is an occasion to remember them, for good or not so good. I prefer to honor the good.
I may have taught Social Studies - history, religion, government, social issues. I am by background and training and instinct a musician. I learned to read music at the same time I learned to read words, between my 3rd and 4th birthday. I can remember that after my mother died shortly after I graduated from high school part of my solace as people came during the period of Shiva - the week when Jewish families stop "doing" and simply remember - my solace came from retreating from the visitors, going up to my room and playing my cello. My mother had taken up cello for the bursitis in her right shoulder. The woman who taught her became my first cello teacher - Rubi Wentzel, about whose 100th birthday (which I attended) I wrote here last October. It is to music that I turn in joy and in sadness.
Thus it is to music that I turn to end this meditation.
It will be part of a work many know, even if their knowledge is more of a section at the end of the 2nd part of the three parts. Handel's Messiah is a magnificent work, one of many he created during the years between his birth in 1685 - a birth year shared with Domenico Scarlatti and Johann Sebastian Bach - and his death in 1759. Most people know the Hallelujah Chorus. I enjoy it. But it is the ending that most moves me.
It move me in part because the first time I sang a complete Messiah, in the summer of 1962 at National Music Camp in Interlochen, Michigan, it was under the conducting of the late Margaret Hilles. I can remember we would give standing ovations at the end of rehearsals. Those days I was not sure whether I should sing tenor or bass. It was the first year that more often than not I chose the lower voice part.
A complete Messiah is demanding upon the chorus. Thus the final chorus give very much a sense of completion - of relief in getting through it to be sure, but also of satisfaction - not quite like finishing a marathon, but perhaps that imagery is appropriate on this Saturday.
What is interesting and perhaps also relevant is what comes immediately before - Worthy is the Lamb that was slain ....
So let me end this meditation with music, from a man whose passing we can commemorate on this date, and with whose music we can honor the lives of others: those who died tragically this week, but also those who ran to the danger to save lives, to those who worked tirelessly to bring some closure to the tragedy.
I offer it as my tribute to all.