The question appears on the monitor’s screen and I stare at the words, my thoughts flying back forty years without any direction from the person in charge of them. That should be me—or so I had believed.
But, no. My thoughts don’t need permission, it seems, to go where they will. Within seconds I am in the band hall in my high school again, French horn on my lap. Mr. Zook is on his podium, the bright lights above shining off of his bald head. His cynical smile is in place and someone is about to become a target for his sarcasm. I’m sure it isn’t me. I have been careful to play only the notes that are on the page before me and even remembered to get that forte section leading into the key change exactly as he described it when we went through this piece last week. No, it must be some other unlucky person, or perhaps even an entire section, who is going to suffer his ire this time. We don’t have long to wait.
“Dorothy.” Startled, the pretty girl in the alto saxophone section snaps her head up and pins her full attention on the man behind the conductor’s stand. She doesn’t make a sound.
“I wonder if you could be bothered to change keys where the rest of us do, there at measure ninety-six, Dorothy. We would let you keep playing in the old key, but then all the rest of us would have to transpose everything, and that would be a lot more work than just having you read the key signature correctly.” His acerbic manner, no doubt has been honed by many years of dealing with teenagers, but it is overkill in this situation.
The blond-haired girl, with the barest hint of freckles on her nose, buries her face in her hands and, blushing a bright red, promises to get it right next time. Shooting a final dart from his eyes, the director turns his attention elsewhere, leaving the mortified young lady to recover and mark her music with the ever present pencil on her music stand. The next time we play through that key change, there are no unseemly notes proceeding from the general direction of the saxophones, so we must assume that the reminder was effective, however uncalled for it may have been.
She was a sweet, beautiful girl. Popular and talented, she participated in all the right activities, from Student Council to the National Honor Society and was always in the running for the popularity contests. Still, she remained just Dorothy to everyone who knew her. She was never anything different than that (as least, not as far as I knew).
Sweet and beautiful.
It’s how I remember her. But still the question hangs in the air.
Three years ago, Dorothy succumbed to breast cancer and left this world for a better place. Then there was Becky. And Derek. And Bill. And Susie. And…
The list goes on.
Can I let you in on a little secret? There is somethingthat I wonder. It’s something we don’t talk about much. I think we all think about it, but just don’t know how to say the words without sounding morbid.
My name isn’t on the list. I wonder why, sometimes.
Why her? Why him? Why not me?
|The Ancient Mariner, by Gustave Dore’
I read tonight, perhaps by coincidence and perhaps not, “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”. It is not light reading, certainly not my usual fare, but what was I to do? The Internet was down and the book of poetry close at hand.
As I read, a chance phrase caught my eye and held my thoughts, again in open rebellion to my will, but that seems to be the manner of my thoughts these days. The mariner who is narrating the tale has told of his shipmates who all died in an eerie manner. Oddly enough, he alone, who is the cause of all their trouble, is spared.
His next words hit home for me as I consider those I know who are gone from this so-called vale of tears.
“The many men, so beautiful!
And they all dead did lie:
And a thousand thousand slimy things
Lived on; and so did I.”
The mariner equates himself with the slimy things which existed in the horrible world he had described. They are themselves a horror in his mind and yet, they remain alongside him after every one of his friends are dead.
He must be horrible, too. They were all beautiful people and he was a complete failure as a human being, a colossal foul-up. But, here he is—alive. They—they are all dead.
Why them? Why not him?
It is a mercy to know that I am not the only one. Mr. Samuel Coleridge, who lived a couple hundred years ago, understood my rebellious thoughts, at least.
Ah, but you understand them too, don’t you?
I don’t have to go back two hundred years to find kindred spirits. We all wonder what our Creator sees in us–at least at some point in our lives we do. I’m convinced we’ll never understand that. How He could care about the slimy thing that I know myself to be–deep down? That I don’t get.
And, perhaps that’s the way it should be. God’s grace reaches to us, regardless of merit. If it had to do with our beauty or sweetness or virtue, it wouldn’t be grace would it?
Another friend wrote today of suffering and the lessons to be learned from it. She even spoke of death and its inevitability. I wish she were wrong. She is not.
My friends are gone. Many of yours are too, no doubt. We are left here to cope and learn from their lives and from their deaths.
We are left…to work…to live…to love.
We don’t do that alone, either. The lengthy poem referenced above ends with a reminder of that sweetness that we call fellowship, as we who remain seek the face of God together.
It’s a good place to start.
“…For the dear God who loveth us,
He made and loveth all.”
(from The Rime of the Ancient Mariner ~ Samuel Taylor Coleridge ~ English poet ~ 1772-1834)
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And, let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.”
(Hebrews 12:1 ~ NIV)
© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2013. All Rights Reserved.
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