Thursday, April 13, 2006

The Goodwins were a wonderful older American couple who went to church at the Gemeinde Christi. Somehow they got up enough nerve to risk inviting the whole Bus crew (half saved and half heathen) over for an American supper. Danny Blair prophesied every last detail, down to the corn on the cob. Where on earth did they find corn on the cob, when Germans think corn is pig food? Phil and John were uncomfortable trying to be polite, considering it b.s.. We reminisced about childhoods.

I went once to visit Dennis and Pam with Ted and Jane-Anne, and once by myself. Fine Christian sharing and normalcy, “It’s the Lord’s doing entirely that we’re here, that we’re His.” Dennis said, “If anything happened to my wife, I’d marry this girl – of course, it wouldn’t be fair to her, all those kids…” Jeans and baseball. Pam suggested, “We should have a slumber party…” Pam’s insane laugh! Was it Pam, or was it Jane Johnson who slowly, quietly, demurely leaned forward as we were having a discussion in the downstairs fellowship hall at church, and said in a Southern drawl, “What in the cat’s hair are ya’ll talking about?”

At Ted and Jane-Anne’s, amazing messes, washing dishes, lectures from J.-A., sweet Ted’s smile. Being the parents of a small child is just not easy. Going to Capri Eis, eating leftovers, pitting cherries, playing piano, frustrating Madrigals, trying to learn the Tolkein suite, one special-for-me old Judy-Collins-folk-type concert. In worship, always a sense that I was singing a duet with him; he had a heart-hurtin’ tenor.

Jane-Anne was the first person who taught me about ambivalence. She told me a story once about how Sam and Danny Jackson and Steve Hazen and Matt Young used to come over to their apartment after Ted and she got married. They would just show up, make themselves at home, take naps on their bed, etc. And she loved it! She was so pleased that they felt that much comfort and ease. Then another time, she told me the same story and remarked on how it made her mad that they felt so free in her home. At first I thought, “That’s crazy, she told me before that she loved that very thing!” But then it dawned on me that a person could have two opposing feelings about the same situation, and I took a step toward maturity.

Still in list mode, here are random memories of life zu Hause (at home), in Moore Haus:
• Mail on the ping pong table
• Seventy steps from the front gate to the front door
• Stereo in the Dungeon window, echoing music upstairs, gray peace
• Forest out all the windows
• A tea kettle that whistled in harmony (3-part if you waited long enough)
• Westminster chimes on the grandfather clock in the hall I learned the lyrics to that melody while in London: “Father above, Your children call; help us to love Thee best of all.”
• Sunday morning church bells from all over the city
• Rain
• Thunder rolling through the Neckar River valley
• Hunting horns
• Bathtub like a swimming pool, optical-illusion black and white tile floor
• Creaking wooden floors all over the house, no sneaking possible
• Talking late in the Library
• Sitting on the porch outside the Dungeon, eating Brötchen and Babybel cheese, drinking Liebfraumilch and watching the rain come down inches away.
• Community, delight, blessing

When she entered our lives, Caren definitely brought with her a unique way of communicating. She had a strong personality, and a style that influenced the speech of everyone around her. (Much like Cindy Lipford did, later in Nashville.) For my own personal edification and the historical record, I’m listing here some of her favorite phrases from the summer of 1973. She loved to nickname people, but I won’t bore you with that list (“Though I do have it!” she exclaimed, inexplicably proud of her obsessively thorough archives.) For example, Caren’s brother wore glasses, so her favorite nickname for him was “Four” (for four-eyes).

These Carenisms were certainly not all original to her, but she may have been the first person I heard use many of them. When I analyze the list as a whole, each phrase appears to have in common that it assesses, judges the quality of a person, or their behavior, or pontificates on a situation. Hhmmmmm…shades of the Girls sitting in bed and pontificating over the Miss America Pageant so many years before…but now the target is anyone who crosses our path.
• “What a Wilma!” (or if you were male) “You Rodney!”
• “Blew me out of the water.”
• “Queer bait!”
• “Have an idea…”
• “Put a lid on that.”
• “Yes, mom.”
• “Just out of control.”
• “Delightful!”
• “What was your first clue?”
• “Coming, Wilmas?”
• “Interesting concept…”
• “Taking it to the nth…”
• “I’m sorry about that.”
• “Org”
• “Where…the boyz are…” (imitating Brenda Lee’s singing style)
• “Eeehweh”
• “Where’s his head?”
• “That’s too neat.”
• “How neat is that?”
• “Stranger than fiction…”
• “Okay, Dot.” (This was personal for me, and reflected that I had entered into my Critical Parent and was veering dangerously close to exhibiting my mother’s worst tendencies.)
• “Godfrey Daniels!!” (this was actually lifted from Mike Plaisance, who I believe lifted it from W. C. Fields)

I wrote on June 29, “I’m eight years old in the Lord as of yesterday. It was Mike Boyd’s birthday too in the flesh. Ah, my heart hurts, and I can’t say why exactly. I have nothing specific to record today. My mind has been skipping from place to place as I sit in Chip and Sharyn’s living room and listen to Delaney and Bonnie make almost tangible music that draws me into itself, into the texture of the country and of that special musical communion that is so important to me. I’ve been thinking of how sweet it will be to be with my mother and to share with her some of the tenderness she needs so badly and that the Lord has been teaching me about. How precious that He has taught me about daily caring in the way she confessed she needed me to care just after Daddy died. I thought then I could never give her what she needed and of course that was right. But the Lord has taught me about how much we really can give one another, and I’m just beginning to learn that.

“I care about Mike Boyd. In such a short time I feel so much for him. Some of it I can explain by the developing speed with which emotions come as I grow older, by the need I’ve developed through these years for someone to talk to, for someone whose face lights up when he sees me, who is attentive to my words. It’s just my need for love, I suppose. My sisters love me so much. I am blessed beyond measure to have so much positive reinforcement, especially because of how hard it’s been to have Chip and Sharyn down on the faults in me I never wanted them to see. Mike Johnston and Ed and so many others could get along fine on half the support the Lord has given me through my sisters. And through Mike. Lord God, how did I ever deserve these blessings? I’ve received so that I may give. Help me to do that. Amazing grace is the answer to our lives and I must learn that.

“I’ve been thinking of Janice and weddings and Karen & Nathan and of our dreams for making music. This has been a summer of encouragement in the realm of music, Father. I pray You intended that and that You’re guiding my desires, which are so strong and often impossible for me to harness, as we head in that direction. You’ve heard Mike and me dreaming about a group, and you know the carnal nature of some of our desires, and how difficult it is to trust when we lack stamina and patience. Father, when I really take the time to think about it, You know I praise You for the miracle of music, the way You created us to sing, the effect of the words and the breath and the waves of feeling and sound that sweep through the dusty corridors of our minds and reach down to touch our hearts. O Father, bless Jerry Gaston. And Mike Johnston. And Danny Blair. Bless his days and his nights and the people around him, that You will speak through them to him and let him know Your hand upon him. Father, You created us in our bodies. We’ve done quite a bit to make them ugly, to disappoint You and spoil Your creation. I give my messy and undisciplined body to You. Use it for Your glory. Let my touch be Yours. Harness these desires and needs. Control my life and my heart and mind Father. Bless me and use me. Praised be Your glorious Name above all names and all Your creation. Amen.”

And Mike Johnston and I were still corresponding – what a wonder. Sometime in June, I wrote: “I don’t imagine you remember me telling you how I think you ARE a sensitive person. In the short time I had to discover you, I learned that you take time and give it as a gift to people, which is more special than time with people who just slide around, or like Virg, jump around from one experience to the next. (I would never deny the specialness of time with Virg, however.) But – I’ll take quality over quantity any day.

“Is this summer a hard time to trundle through? I sense it might be. It’s frustrating – it seems to me that each place I’ve been in my life lacks something. Social times lack solitude, music carries me away from work, work away from people. When I’m being fed by the Lord, it’s easy to forget to give, and when it’s giving time, I run dry. It goes on and on. Since January I’ve been feeling more balanced, praise the Lord. But it’s helpful to look back and figure how each stage added a layer of experience that proves useful. God bless this time for you, Mike.

“I’m so convinced He’ll be using you greatly. He already has. I pray He shows you in a tender way how His hand is on your life.

“When you’re out with the boat, do you ever worry about sea-monsters?

“This is an historic occasion. I’m sitting in the bistro waiting for 1:30 to come, when I take a mündliche Prüfung which marks the Ende meines Kurses (the end of my course). I think I did ok on the written part I just finished. At its worst this whole business has been as painful to me as “Both Sides Now” played on an untuned guitar. There were several pleasant moments, though. Our class was really a bunch of jokers and it was funny quite often. My favorite class joke began when Herr Ibrahim aus Ägypten answered that the weather there was „Normal”. From that time on, when we talked about birthdays or breakfast or some other stimulating common topic, everybody’s first answer was „Es ist normal”. (So, it’s not a knee-slapper.)

“I’ve changed locations – I’m on a bench facing the Neckar and the Schloß. The water’s so nice and sparkly and it’s sunny. Why is it that the sun on the water (or the moon, preferably) makes a path towards you, no matter where you are? Must be a simple explanation, but it seems strange.

“I’m supposed to leave Thursday for six days in München and the Theologisches Versammlung. I know it will be terrific – hope I can get in. I do not relish that thought of tackling ten thousand Turks (how terribly alliterative) however, so you can pray for me. I think Christian girls should all get marks on their foreheads like Cain, to protect them. The only temptation I’m afflicted with in terms of Turks is the inclination to treat them inhumanely – and it’s a toughie, trying to figure how else to get rid of one.

“We get reports on your welfare every few weeks (Now you’re thinking, “How does anybody know?”) and they’re alternately fine and outrageously awful. Words of encouragement are difficult to sift out of the mess of my mind (I ought to be believing more in God’s inspirational-type tendencies/ability) — I can comfort you with what the Lord has given me, the simple, next to impossible but not quite, attitude of trusting Him that today is His and future plans and people and all the other junk in your backpack of a burden are in His hands, which really are quite capable and specifically loving.

“Do you have Betty Hance’s address?

“Am I suffering from gross lack of concision? (Is that a word?)

“What are you doing around August 14-16? (“My, she is a forward young thing,” he sighed with wrinkled brow.)”

Here are some notes I made for another letter: “It’s a comfort to me to know you haven’t always been sure where you were going – I was feeling like an idiot, getting serious about scholarship in my senior year – a feeling of terrific unpreparedness. But I can see some of the reasons for the paths I’ve been choosing and everything seems to be fitting into a Master Plan somewhere. It’s just sort of painful getting things worked out.

“one verruckte Schwan
[i] on the river

“’A man needs a maid.’ (I never was so hot at Frisbee though.)

(Note to Reader: I can’t be sure, since it has, after all, been years since I wrote that, but I think I had been discussing Neil Young’s song from the Harvest album with Mike, and he had mentioned that he could use a Frisbee partner.)

“I just found out – it’s none of my business what the purpose of life is ~ like in Job.

“Französicher Soldat vs. Giles the Poet-Naturalist”

I had an exceedingly strange and unexpected July. Everybody was away on the traditional school trip, and since I was not enrolled in Pepperdine I didn’t go with them. So to entertain myself I went by train down to Munich to attend a theological conference I had read about. The featured speaker was to be a German theologian I had actually become familiar with the previous year in class, Wolfhart Pannenberg, and how could I miss such an opportunity? It would be like my dad getting to hear Karl Barth speak (which he did, in the ‘40s). I thought that was a pretty cool thing later on, when I actually read Barth in Divinity School.

So I boarded the train, but I started feeling really bad on the way down to Munich. I did find the building where the lectures were being given, and, much to my chagrin instead of a conference in a lecture hall, this was a seminar being held around a large table in a classroom. The gracious theologians and students gathered there must have wondered who on earth this hippie girl from America thought she was to wander into their meeting, but they were too gracious to throw me out. It was supposed to be a six-day conference, but under the circumstances, I thought better of it. I made it through the day and got back to Heidelberg, still feeling sick but not too sick to go to the castle down the street from us that night for a concert.

It was a pre-Fourth of July concert in honor of the many Americans stationed in nearby Mannheim and studying in Heidelberg. I couldn’t miss it. They were going to play Handel’s Royal Fireworks Music (among my favorites, along with his Water Music) and they were going to have real fireworks too. So I stood with the crowds in the open air courtyard of the castle and heard the music and loved the fireworks and felt feverish and really achy all over. The next morning, it looked like I had developed the worst case of zits I’d ever seen. I had a bad case of chicken pox. I worried about all the people at the concert the night before that I could have exposed to it, and hoped I hadn’t breathed or coughed on anyone.

When Chip and Sharyn and the girls and all the rest of the students returned from their trip, they were of course appalled. They were merciful at first. Sharyn brought me something to eat for the first three or four days, and I think the girls brought me a meal or two from Herr Schmidt at the Burgfreiheit, but as I recall I did a lot of fasting for the next few weeks. My little narrow room had black iron bars over the window that looked out over the steps up to the boys’ level, so Mike Boyd occasionally stopped and chatted with the prisoner, but otherwise I felt rather isolated in my quarantine. Caren blessed me with a new nickname: “Spot”.

Once I came out of my room and hollered something over the stairway and Chip yelled, “Get back in your room!!” Bless his heart, I’m sure he felt the heavy responsibility of trying to avoid an epidemic among the students. But I felt the same feeling I’d always had growing up, that you were not a legitimate person as long as you were sick and you should hurry back to usefulness and quit being needy as quickly as possible. I wrote a meditation, actually a cry for help, from my fevered and isolated sickbed.

“I’ll set this thing down in print and get a better notion of what it is that’s going on in these words streaming through my mind. Why is it that there are not more self-admittedly crazy people in my world? Is it the ability to laugh louder, to talk faster, or simply find ways to draw oneself out of oneself, that keeps most people from slipping down the rabbit hole? The clear, sharp way that the senses record their reactions, the momentary awareness that I am not really here, that my body has been carrying on in its bodily way while my mind has had nothing to say about it, the realization that (this is a very non-poetic and embarrassing admission) there would be absolutely on one to whom I could go, and lay my head upon his chest, and be even momentarily enfolded in understanding, as opposed to merely comforting, arms, and obtain enough interior strength to turn back to the Lord and realize my proper position of trust and childlikeness.

Could it be possible

And another depressed meditation from July:

“I’ve got a notebook that belonged to my mother
and inside are all of the poems I own
Only a few left from the early days
when I learned of love from a
sad brother
Most are cries of longing and frustration
The longings, the desires of my heart
were real, and valid
but I don’t like to look back on the words
It hurts
that some prophecies have come to pass
that the dreams have grown older, but not more wise
that I have not ceased to foolishly desire
what God perhaps has already given.”

I wrote Naomi a letter which for some reason I never mailed, which means I can share it with you, O Most Patient and Longsuffering Reader.

“Dear sweethearted Naom,

”Lucky you – you are perhaps the only one of my closest associates to be blessed with an insight into my mind as it is when in the throes of an uncontrolled attack of Measles. And you thought a measly (oh goodness, excuse that it was totally unintentional) little fever blister was embarrassing. You should try an entire Body that alternately appears leprous or bee-stung. Just disgusting. Everybody but the one dear boy I care anything about impressing is gone to Spain, until at least tomorrow, and will they be in for a surprise. As a matter of fact, Sharyn will proaba oh boo probably be thinking, ‘You did this entirely on purpose, just to make my life a little more miserable, right? Or just to get sympathy or something.’

“You can already sense the disjointed nature of my mind. Despite my present physical misery I’m feeling mighty blessed and wanting to praise the Lord. I finished German class last week, with two finals – a three-hour written and a fifteen-minute oral questioning that seemed like it took forever. Very scary, but a great experience – you really know you’ve finished when all that suspense and waiting is over. And I passed, rather mediocrely (is that a word) but that’s fine with me. / I’m bored with me. I wish I had some word of how you’re doing. But I trust the Lord that He’s blessing you richly and honoring all the promises of growth that began with your struggles over here. Sharyn said the other day that, in comparison with Caren, who is definitely helping Ted but just not all that involved, she was mighty impressed with your dedication and involvement and all those other neat things and really appreciates you even more in retrospect.

“I may be way off track, but I wonder if this summer hasn’t been hard for you in a way that always frustrates me so much. You feel like you’ve grown in the Lord so much over a certain period, He’s taught you different things and you feel like you’ve actually got some permanent maturing done, even if it’s only a little bit, and you’re on your way and things are going to be better – and then your heart does this dumb thing and it seems like this precious male person being around makes you feel like you’ve reverted to early adolescence and lost all that growth and you wish you could just get you to a nunnery…

“Instead of taxing my obviously fevered brain further, I want to share some of the summer’s quotes.

“Years ago and last summer Stephen held my hand as we walked to church, and he reached over to touch my arm and smile, and he said, ‘Let’s have a talk’ and ‘Let’s have a prayer group’ and he had long silky golden hair and he wore big, thick sweaters and we ran in the rain.

“And Mark would talk to me and he wrote me a letter and even though I was just Her friend, he was interested in me too because I wasn’t just a normal little girl, and a long time later he said, ‘You’re going to turn cynical just like everybody else and I won’t have that and you just call me if you ever need to talk’ and he gave me his phone number and I never saw him again, or not really.

“Ed came over to talk just to me, and he played me songs he’d written and looked into my eyes as he sang as if the words were meant for me and I didn’t quite believe that but here was a boy who cared about me and was gentle and that was enough. But on the bus he sat alone too.

“And Michael D. Jacobs was funny and an actor and Jewish and he liked me to be around and he played his song for me (even though she claimed it that night at the slowingdown party) and he smelled so nicemysterious and that was mostly all but it hurt a lot. He was more of a child than I was and I shouldn’t have expected much at all.

“And during all that time there was Matt. I read his journals and looked at his pictures and read his books and memorized all his music and tried to absorb his whole self, and Naomi said, ‘Why, you were in love with him, weren’t you’ and I supposed so. I sat silent with him through movies and Dick Cavett and church and his grandmother’s funeral and Joni Mitchell, and that night before he left for the first time, I let his sisters’ fear overwhelm my desires and I went to bed and left him alone. So many times I tried to tell him. He would sit by his Truest Love and smile at me and ask me if I’d still be there after he’d taken her home. And I would ache and write him poems late at night and try to make myself more worthy of his love. And I was always fourteen and he was always twenty. And he’d ask me who he should marry and he would tell me I was his sister and he would give me hugs and be happy to see me and then sink back into his silence. And it will never be quite over.

“I met Danny and everything sparkled like it had just finished raining and I sang songs and dreamed and ached some more and felt special and frustrated and he held me every now and then. And he took me home and his family liked me, or at least his brothers, and he wanted quilts and dark wood and music all his life and he said he wanted me. And we went a lot of places and our voices blended miraculously and he met Jesus and then we tried for a long time to like each other and I struggled with him and for him and against him and I praised the Lord for him and I still do. But now I feel like the butterfly has left the pretty cocoon and wants to fly. And I’m weak and confused and people say I have some beauty and I am a creation of God most of all. A creation who still must discover what it was created for.

“Mike took my heart is his hand and held it up to the light and gave it an approving nod of the proverbial head and set it down again. And we shared in the late hours of strain and mental concentration, and we shared in the moments of otherworldly blessed magic when the guitars and the voices would create their own new worlds and we shared pasts and futures and friends and I pray but do not demand that we go on sharing.

“Oh God . . . . . . . . . . You know.”

I shouldn’t have done, but I got so tired of lying there and just thinking that I read a LOT that month. Someone told me you could weaken your eyes if you read with chicken pox, but I risked it anyway. I re-read T.H. White’s The Once and Future King. I re-read C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia, which I’d discovered for the first time during the Christmas break the year before, when everyone had left for Italy and I had some days to wait before I returned to the States.

I’m not sure exactly when I read it, but I know I found Chaim Potok’s The Chosen in the library at Moore Haus and read it in Heidelberg for the first time. I couldn’t imagine at the time just how much Chaim Potok would affect my life. Certainly I couldn’t dream that I would get to meet him, and drive him to the Nashville airport. I had a couple of his novels with me in the car that I had found in hardback at a used bookstore, and asked if he would mind autographing them. “Yes,” he said gruffly, “I do mind, but I will anyway.” It was such a blessing to be able to give him and his wife a recording of my own Hebrew music in an effort to bless them just a little in return for the enormous gift of self-acceptance and insight his writings had brought into my life.

When I read his third novel, My Name is Asher Lev, I learned something very deep and disturbing about myself. As I’ve expressed earlier, my parents gave me a great gift in teaching me to enjoy many forms of artistic expression. They took me to many museums and cultural events throughout my years at home. But when I read this Potok novel, I realized that I had received the message, “You should learn to love all these worlds of art: music, theater, painting, dance. But you should only look. Do not touch! Those worlds are dangerous, and wicked people populate them. You should not do any of them, only appreciate them. That’s how an educated Christian handles these things.”

It made me angry. I related so deeply to the artist, Asher Lev. He had to buck his entire culture while trying desperately to find a way to hold onto it, in order to become who he really was. He had to risk hurting his family, shocking his community, and being generally misunderstood, even hated. Thankfully, the Rebbe, the spiritual leader of the community, was a wise man and helped him find his way. I had no such mentor, but as the years passed, I knew God was encouraging me to step out, to risk, to express, to become an artist in various ways. It was so hard to go against the beliefs and strictures of my upbringing that I often abdicated, but somehow what was inside me was able to make its way out from time to time.

[i] crazy swan – who knows what made me think the swan’s behavior was crazy.
[ii] This is a boy I had a crush on in high school, Edgar Priest, not the Ed Cannon I knew from Pepperdine and later visited in Abilene.

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