Thursday, October 31, 2013

Trick or treat

It's Halloween and the weather app on my phone says rain--rain all day. One hundred percent chance of rain all morning. Eighty percent during trick-or-treat hours this afternoon.

It's going to be a tough day to be a kid, or a parent. The hordes will still be out tonight, trekking down sidewalks, schlepping up stairs to gather candy. But there will be a lot of waiting for the rain to stop and a lot of let's go now, I don't care if I get wet.

Halloween comes but once a year, and even with parties at school and parties last weekend and costumes and decorations on display for weeks beforehand, none of that is quite like the day itself.

My youngest child went trick-or-treating for the first time when he was two. Dressed in a hand-me-down Batman cape, with me urging him on, he trotted up the first neighbor's sidewalk, climbed the stairs, and made the amazing discovery that if you rang the bell and waited, people would come out and give you candy. Not just once--at house after house.

His older sister, almost four, was with us, but she a) hated walking and b) didn't like sweets. Halloween was one more thing Mom was trying to get her to do that she didn't understand. She grumped and pouted and rode in the LIttle Tikes plastic wagon.

On most Halloween nights I get a two hundred or more trick-or-treaters at my door. Maybe two hundred. I buy big bags of cheap candy and figure on 300 pieces. How far it goes depends on me--one piece a bag, or two? How long do I want to do this? When the candy is gone I can turn out the porch light and retreat to the kitchen, where I can't hear the door bell.

The children, teens and young adults who descend on my neighborhood on Halloween night come from Chicago's west side. The border between city and suburbs is only a block from my house. My town is integrated, educated, prosperous, with good schools. Citizens' voices are raised and powerful at village board meetings. The city neighborhood to my east is almost entirely African-American. There are some grand old homes and plenty of what was once middle-class city housing. White flight and resegregation came in the 1960s. Property values are nowhere near what they are in my suburb. Schools, family structures, opportunities--all very different, though only a few blocks away.

My own children, as they got older, trick or treated with friends in the more upscale neighborhoods a mile west of our home, or even two miles to the west. where people in big homes and broad lawns give out full-size Snickers bars or dollar bills on Halloween night.

That would be a steep treat for me to finance--Snickers bars times two or three hundred. How much difference does one or another configuration of sugar and flavoring make? But I'll open my door this afternoon, with handfuls of Jawbreakers and Smarties. Because, amazingly, this is what happens on Halloween.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Not sleeping

Middle of the night. Not sleeping. Twisting in bed.
Checking the watch. Not-asleep time is piling up fast.
Should I get up?

Warm bed, cold house.The light will hurt my eyes.
And maybe sleep will come soon.
Or it won't. Likely it won't.

(Oh, the bed is warm and the house is not.)

Lavender lotion rubbed into my feet once put me to sleep.
Cheerios. Cocoa. Toast. Jam.

Should I get up?


Regret, I read recently, is a sign that something is wrong, not in the past, but now. Because, I guess, if you're basically content, or at least functioning in the present, you must be okay with the past, you've made your peace, voila! no regrets.

Regret is sticking hard to me. It's the big round decade-ending birthday looming ahead. I look back on all the things that never happened in my life, and aren't going to. I must be responsible, because it is my life.

Time bends backward twenty years, thirty years, and then springs forward and tears a big aching hole in the fabric of the present. Regret.

Thin fabric.

Monday, October 21, 2013

In the moment

Sometimes, said the preacher tonight, sometimes a word in a hymn you're singing catches you, or you catch it, and it's the word you need to hear, the promise you need from God in that moment.

The occasion was a festival of hymn concertatos by Walter Pelz, part of Concordia University Chicago's Lectures in Church Music. Remarkably, the preacher, or the speaker of the Meditations between hymns, was Dean Lueking, Pastor Emeritus of Grace Lutheran Church in River Forest. If you're acquainted with the history of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod you'll understand the "remarkably." If not, let it go. "Remarkably" is not the word for the night.

In fact, I do not have a word, or a phrase, a hymn stanza, or even a melodic figure that captured me or spoke to me or mattered any more than the rest of the words spoken or sung this evening. It was a night for paying careful attention to mechanics: the conductor's beat, the notes on the page, the next entrance, the vocal technique. My own vocal technique is undergoing repair and restoration, and tonight's many descants, many trips above the staff, were a test of sorts. My voice was not in tatters at the end of the evening, so I'm giving myself a passing grade. A shot of Scotch or bourbon would be welcome at this point, however. I don't have any on hand. I'd make myself some tea, but once you've visualized the whiskey, what's the point of herbal tea?

Sometimes, said the preacher tonight, sometimes a word in a hymn you're singing catches you, or you catch it, and it's the word you need to hear, the promise you need from God in that moment. 

Perhaps the word to take with tonight was "sing." Pastor Lueking used it frequently and delivered the infinitive "to sing" into the acoustics of the sanctuary as someone who knows how to make those walls sing back. He sang a phrase from a hymn from the pulpit, and talked of thousands of Christian voices singing around the world. Even though there were trumpets, trombones, horns and timpani, and lots of flashy notes from the organ, singing was the focus. We sing together as Christians, and especially as Lutherans, and while four-part unaccompanied singing is lovely, there is nothing so thrilling as a big solid unison on one of the great hymns of the church. The organ introduction sets things up. Then the organist lifts his hands from the keys, so that the instrument breathes with the congregation, and we all come back in together, loudly certain of when to begin.

There is no Lutheran modesty when we all sing together.

Sometimes, said the preacher tonight, sometimes a word in a hymn you're singing catches you, or you catch it, and it's the word you need to hear, the promise you need from God in that moment. 

Sometimes the promise is in the sound and in the making of that sound. No words needed in that moment.