“. . . On Venus you and I are not even a year old . . .”

Surprising St. Petersburg

Surprising St. Petersburg

Today is the day we are habituated to pondering the successes and failures, the good times and bad, the ins and outs. . .

This year has been sideways and frontways, backwards and upwards—like every other year.

EXCEPT! —

I walked and ate and made music in Arvika, and saw Stockholm in Sweden. I reveled and ate and shopped and made music in Rauma, Finland, and saw Helsinki. I marveled and ate and walked in the cemetery where both Tchaikovsky and Dostoyevsky are buried and made music in St. Petersburg. And had a touristy whirlwind through the Hermitage.

I was in the company of a group of new friends-for-life, kind and gentle and loving folks for whom I have immense gratitude and to whom I offer my meager version of love. The choir and companions of Calvary Lutheran Church in Richland Hills, Texas.

I should stop right there.

The best of times with the loveliest of people

The best of times with the loveliest of people

BUT —

Two surgeries, one a complete and immediate success (the six-month pain in my hip was gone when I woke up from the anesthetic and never returned). The other is still in process of recovery. I’ve discovered what we do that requires BOTH of our shoulders and arms. Balance yourself getting up from a chair with one arm strapped to your chest. Put on your socks with one hand.

However, for nearly a month now I’ve been without a cane, crutches or sling. Gratitude is not my strong suit, but I am grateful.

In her lovely quirky poem “Fragments for the End of the Year,” Jennifer K. Sweeney lists many observations I could have made about this year.

On average, odd years have been the best for me.
I’m at a point where everyone I meet looks like a version
of someone I already know . . .
I am struck by an overwhelming need to go to Iceland. [For me, it’s Easter Island.]
Despite all awful variables, we are still full of ideas
as possible as unsexed fruit . . .
On Venus you and I are
not even a year old. (The entire poem is below the video.)

Odd years have been good for me—I’m not sure if, on average, they have been better than even years. This odd year has been odd but good.

I have an overwhelming need to go to Easter Island (don’t ask because I don’t know). I have been awestruck for decades by the fact we all eat fruit without seeds, which means there are more fruit trees pollinated in some way other than through the normal sexual life of fruit trees than I can imagine, and I wonder why—if we can do that—we can’t make a computer power cord that weighs less than five pounds. Or make peace in the Middle East.

But Venus. Oh, my, Venus is a great mystery. I remember reading about the planet years ago and being mystified by what I learned. And today Jennifer Sweeney reminds me of it. In the first place, Venus revolves on her axis the opposite way Earth does—so the sun comes up in the west and sets in the east. But that’s only the beginning. A day on Venus lasts 243 Earth days. A day on Venus is longer than a year on Venus, which lasts 225 Earth days. Now that’s weird.

Not really the worst of times

Not really the worst of times

The best part of that is what it does to one’s age. On Venus, I’d be only 104 days old rather than the approximately 25,000 days I’ve been here on Earth.

Gives a whole new meaning to “a thousand years in your sight are like yesterday when it is past, or like a watch in the night” (Psalm 90:4—the “your,” of course refers to God). My guess is that even Richard Dawkins and other militant fundamentalist atheists have some concept of “before the mountains were brought forth” (if only because they were raised in the culture that believes in the concept and then, in their profound scientific wisdom, have rejected the concept—far braver than I am).

.
Lord, you have been our dwelling-place
in all generations.
Before the mountains were brought forth,
or ever you had formed the earth and the world,
from everlasting to everlasting you are God.

You turn us back to dust,
and say, ‘Turn back, you mortals.’
For a thousand years in your sight
are like yesterday when it is past,
or like a watch in the night (Psalm 90:1-4).

Dawkins has a great time comparing Earth to Venus, I should think. What does time mean, anyway? Go ahead, tell me.

There’s an old German hymn Ach wie flüchtig, ach wie nichtig, the text by Michael Franck (1652) and the melody melody by Johann Crüger (1661).

The best English translation I know is

O how futile, how inutile
Is our earthly being!
‘Tis a mist in wintry weather,
Gathered in an hour together,
And as soon dispersed in ether.

The hymn goes on for twelve stanzas with as many (or more) metaphors for the “inutility” (a great word meaning “of no use”) of life and does not mention God until the last, when it says merely that the person who relies on God will find purpose, or some such.

I take great comfort in this hymn. “On Venus, you and I are not even a year old,” so we have plenty of time to sort all of this out. It doesn’t have to be done before midnight today.

Georg Böhm (1661—1733), German baroque composer, wrote a little set of variations on the hymntune. Here’s his setting of the tune itself and then the first variation. Accompanied by inutility.

“Fragments for the End of the Year,” by Jennifer K. Sweeney

On average, odd years have been the best for me.

I’m at a point where everyone I meet looks like a version
of someone I already know.

 Without fail, fall makes me nostalgic for things I’ve never experienced.

The sky is molting. I don’t know
if this is global warming or if the atmosphere is reconfiguring
itself to accommodate all the new bright suffering.

I am struck by an overwhelming need to go to Iceland.

Despite all awful variables, we are still full of ideas
as possible as unsexed fruit.

I was terribly sorry to be the one to explain to the first graders
the connection between the sunset and pollution.

On Venus you and I are not even a year old.

Then there were two skies.
The one we fly through and the one
we bury ourselves in.

I appreciate my wide beveled spatula which fulfills
the moment I realized I would grow up and own such things.

I am glad I do not yet want sexy bathroom accessories.
Such things.

In the story we were together every time.
On his wedding day, the stone in his chest
not fully melted but enough.

Sometimes I feel like there are birds flying out of me.

“. . a lantern, burning in the midst of parenthetical opaqueness. . “ (1)

Do you know your temporal lobe  from a hole in your head?

Do you know your temporal lobe
from a hole in your head?

But I use memory differently. I use memory to fortify an idea. These . . . are meditations on subjects in which I use my childhood as information to support the theme, the thesis of the meditation. But it’s not a . . . memory of my life. I use my life for other purposes (2).

Two friends have prodded me to write today. The first responded to my post yesterday in which I wrote I’m often the bull in china closet (if I had any artistic sensibilities, I would find a poetic rather than a clichéd way to say that). That was in response to my reporting that my shrink told me I’m “fragile”—??

Judith said, “Yes. I find you often fragile, and often a “bull” who goes “where angels fear to tread . . .” and then, “Add to the above. ..reference ‘bull’…see Turku Cathedral…wooden cane. What happens in Scandinavia stays in Scandinavia. Reference ‘fragile’…see also Turku” (3).

The second friend asked me why “Temporal Lobe Epilepsy” is always a tag for my posts here.

A word about TLE. I have written about my experience of the condition here before. I won’t repeat myself except to say that a certain emotional intransigence (that is not to say, obstreperousness brought on by confusion) is one of the “presentations” of the condition.

The cathedral in Turku, Finland.

       The choir of Calvary Lutheran Church in Richland Hills, TX, was  traveling in Scandinavia this past summer. A wonderful time in Sweden, equally delightful time in Finland, and then out of Scandinavia to St. Petersburg. I was blessed, thrilled, to be asked along to play the organ and piano. I have pictures of all of the places we went except Turku, Finland.

What I am about to write is none of the following:
an attempt to garner pity or engage in psychological exhibitionism
my playing doctor
excuse-making for a man behaving badly.

My psychiatrist, Dr. Mary Bret, of whom I wrote yesterday (doesn’t it sound so ‘70s and ‘80s to say “my psychiatrist”), tells me more often than I want to hear that unseemly anger is symptomatic of at least two of the two neurological disorders with which I have been diagnosed.  Temporal lobe epilepsy, and Bipolar II disorder. The jury is still out on the second. It was, after all, the designer disease of the decade of 2000, so diagnoses are suspect.

We avoided the front staircase.

We avoided the front staircase.

However, my bag of behavioral and affective tricks includes most of the symptoms of the diagnosis. So we’ll go with it, neither stating with certainty that it’s true, nor wanting to make anyone squeamish. If it’s true, it’s no big deal, and if it’s not, I probably simply need some anger management classes.

Back to Turku. We got off our bus at the cathedral to visit on our way to the Medieval Market, simply because it is so splendid.

I was walking with a cane because I needed hip surgery. The woman who was showing us the cathedral kindly took the two of us with canes aside to let us in a door which did not require climbing stairs. But she left us waiting while she took the others in. By the time she got back to us, everyone else was having a grand time looking at the magnificent church. Including our director who, by the time I arrived, was already playing the organ.

The old church’s organ was, of course, in a loft accessible only by climbing a daunting spiral staircase. I went creeping and stumbling up with my cane and arrived at a balcony snuggled under the eaves of the building. I could see my friend at the same level playing the organ perhaps fifty feet away in the loft—to which I could find no means of approach other than a flying leap across the nave.

I was already out-of-sorts because of the cane, but as I stood trapped, watching Viktor play the organ which I knew I should be doing, I became enraged. It was blind fury. The loft was a sort of museum, glass cases filled with treasures of the 1,000-year history of the place. I was ready to smash one of the cases. Instead I brought my cane down to the floor with all of my force, smashing it into many lovely pieces.

Whatever trouble I was having getting around with the cane was now going to be exacerbated trying to walk in pain without the cane. The rest of the story is sweetly strange. The group thought I had somehow broken my cane stumbling up the stairs, and that’s why I was angry.

Remarkably, one of my friends found a store (a drug store?) and bought me a replacement cane.

I finally calmed down enough to tell my friends that I had simply lost it, that I was sorry for causing them concern, and more grateful than I could say that my cane had been replaced.

This writing is not a meditation in Roger Rosenblatt’s sense (I’m not self-deluded enough to pretend to write with his impact and precision). This is not a “lantern burning in the midst of opaqueness.” But I can use the memories of “my life for other purposes.”

It is immaterial whether or not my tantrums are, as Dr. Bret tells me, a symptom of my manic disorder. I don’t know. Those moments feel like mania. That’s not important. It is also not important if such outbursts result from the lurking fearful confusion of TLE. That could be also.

A flying leap across the nave.

A flying leap across the nave.

If this were a “meditation,” it would be about my continually and undeservedly being cared for by others. Yesterday I wrote that Dr. Bret told me I seem to “have trouble finding people to be kind” to me. She is absolutely right. I don’t, I can’t find those folks.

They simply appear.  A cane will materialize when I least deserve it.

______________________
(1) Alexander, Will. “On Anti-Biography.” Poets.org.  Academy of American Poets, 2011. Web.
(2) Rosenblatt, Roger.  “In ‘Boy Detective,’ writer Roger Rosenblatt investigates his Manhattan childhood.” Transcript of interview with Judy Woodruff. PBS Newshour (October 30, 2013). Web.
(3) Palmer, Judith. Comment on Posting by Harold Knight. Facebook. October 30, 2012.

A bit of simple (or simplistic) writing

Leader and cousin

Leader and cousin

People who know me well enough to know my sleeping/writing/working habits ask me from time to time if I already know what I’m going to write about when I can’t keep from sitting down to write because—what is the reason? TLE, desperation, addiction to words, habit, uncontrollable compulsion (isn’t that a redundancy, I’d ask my students).

Whatever the reason, the answer to the question is, “Yes or no.” Often I have an idea caroming around in my head when I wake up (in those instances I think it’s the idea itself that wakes me up) so I know it’s time to get up because I can’t put the idea out of my head. It’s seldom an idea I remember thinking about as I fell asleep. So I have no idea why it’s there. Oh, I usually know where the germ of the idea came from.

On Friday, for instance, I heard on PBS a scientist talking about the expansion of the universe and the Second Law of Thermodynamics. Pretending I understand it was what woke me up today—or, at the very least, it was the first idea that came into my head, even before I poured my first cup of coffee. Why that law (which I have no chance ever of understanding) instead of wondering where the cat was or anything useful is beyond me. But I knew I had to write about it even though I don’t have a clue.

The problem is that I also have to write about the pictures I’ve inserted here because—because. They have been bugging me for a couple of days as the germ of an idea about friendships, relationships, meeting people. So The Second Law of Thermodynamics and friendships have to come together in these 800 or so words.

Siw and Carl-Axel Engstad

Siw and Carl-Axel Engstad

First, my understanding of the “problem” of The Second Law. When you drop a bunch of ice cubes into your lemonade, does the lemonade heat up the ice and make it melt, or does the ice make the lemonade colder? I’ve read that heat (energy) cannot pass from a colder object to a warmer one. Then why does my lemonade get cold?

Those of us who slid around the edges of Scandinavia and St. Petersburg, Russia, together last month had experiences that most tourists don’t. I’m speaking of our meeting with and developing fleeting relationships with people whom most tourists would never meet. We dropped into these generous souls’ lives and out again almost immediately.

The top photo is of our leader and his cousin (Viktor is wearing the Midsummer garland, his cousin sitting with her back to the camera, and her husband beside Viktor). Their family relationship was the original impetus for our trip. They were with us for the better part of two days.

Siw and Carl-Axel Engstad, owners of the ENGarden art museum and conference center near Arvika, Sweden provided us with a scrumptious luncheon at their museum, prepared by Carl-Axel, the chef of the center.  It’s fairly obvious (although I don’t know this for sure) that we were there because of Viktor’s family and their knowledge of the area. Certainly the ENGarden is not a normal tourist destination.

Ville Niittynen

Ville Niittynen

Our guide at Rauma, Finland, was Ville Niittynen, one of the priests of the Church of the Holy Cross, where we sang a concert.  Ville and his wife Paula were our hosts for a dinner at the church’s cabin on Lake Narvi, with a sauna experience for the brave ending with a jump in the lake.

Cookouts and picnics together as the guests of hosts from the cities where were staying and singing were the norm. At the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Novosaratovka, a suburb of St. Petersburg, we were treated to another barbecue (not Texas style!) cooked by members of the seminary community. Our host was the director, Dr. Anton Tikhomirov, who is also the pastor of St. Catherine’s Lutheran Church in St. Petersburg where we sang an evening concert. The seminary was the recipient of the monies we raised on our tour.
The Second Law of Thermodynamics states that mechanical work can be derived from a body only when that body interacts with another at a lower temperature; any spontaneous process results in an increase of entropy.

Lutheran Seminary Cookout

Lutheran Seminary Cookout

Relationships are like the Second Law of Thermodynamics. That is, the energy cannot pass from the colder participant in the work of being together to the warmer. Ever. Energy always passes from the warmer object to the colder and leads to an increase of entropy. There, see? I said I absolutely do not understand physics.

My point here is not only simple, it’s simplistic, I fear. We received warmth from people in each place we stayed, and in each church where we performed. We experienced those places not as tourists but as recipients of generosity and grace. I hope my understanding of the Second Law of Thermodynamics is incorrect. I hope some energy passed the other way, that we, less involved in the relationships we developed because we were there for so short time, managed to return at least a bit of the warmth and grace we received.

ENGarden Art - very little exchange of warmth

ENGarden Art – very little exchange of warmth

A short travelogue (my tourist advantage)

Bustling activity of Arvika Town Square (5:30 AM)

Bustling activity of Arvika Town Square (5:30 AM)

I have a great advantage over most tourists. I often see the places I visit in a clearer— perhaps more “accessible” is the right word—aspect than most tourists. That is one of the benefits (there are, believe it or not, others) of having a sleep pattern that my neurologist insists on calling a disorder.

Arvika Music School

Arvika Music School

I’m up by 5 AM (often earlier) every morning. Perhaps not every morning. Let’s say nine out of ten. When I get up, I have two favorite activities, writing and walking. I have about a gazillion photos of Sweden, Finland, and Russia on my iPhone. Many of them I can’t identify (the ones with lots of people in them). However, many I can identify absolutely. They are, generally speaking, the ones I took while walking by myself around the places our group stayed.

Arvika Library

Arvika Library

At about 5:30 AM on June 22, I took a walk around Arvika, Sweden.  You can probably guess that I was pretty much alone. I said good morning to exactly four people (our driver had taught me a pretty good facsimile of the Swedish), and two of them said good morning back. One of them was a young man out for his morning run, and we had a delightful half English, half Swedish and – HA! – half Spanish conversation.

Just a street

Just a street

I saw Arvika as no one else in our group did, I’m pretty sure. And as few tourists ever do. This is the writing closest to a travelogue I will ever do, so listen up.

The bustling town square comes first. The square is surrounded by shops and restaurants, but it does not seem like a “touristy” place, even in the middle of the day.

Terraced apartments

Terraced apartments

As I returned to the street the hotel is on, I walked toward an imposing building at the end of the street. It turned out to be the Music School. I know nothing about it (forgot to ask the organist at Eda Church where we performed), but the building and grounds are certainly impressive.

Up the street to the right (north, I think), I came across the town library nestled among apartments – as a library should be, not off by itself somewhere. And the obligatory fountain in front.

A Swedish Italian Jewish restaurant?

A Swedish Italian Jewish restaurant?

Farther up the street I came to (perhaps) my favorite oddity in the city. The “Pizzeria Shalom.” An Italian restaurant with a Hebrew name in the middle of a mixed-use neighborhood in a small Swedish city. OK, so I’m easily amused.

Sunrise (?) over the lake

Sunrise (?) over the lake

One of the most interesting buildings I saw is an apartment (condo?) building built so each floor is set back from the one below, so the roof of the lower floor serves as a garden for the one above it. I don’t know how the back of the building is structured, but the front is certainly a place I’d like to live.

Then I wandered up a residential hill and down and around on city streets that look pretty much alike, and then retraced my steps and headed back to the hotel. In the block in front of the hotel, I discovered a couple of statues along the sidewalk. Although I could not read the Swedish, my guess is that this one is titled something like “Baby on Floor.”

[Obviously what follows is an error: the lake picture is from the next morning, when I began my walk at the lake. The sun did not, in fact, go back down after I took the pictures above.]

The best is last. I ended my walk at the lake which delineates the (I think) south side of the city. Lupen and other flowers, benches to sit and stare, formal gardens, a fountain – I cannot begin to describe the place. I more or less watched the sun come up (of course, it does not come “up” because it’s been close to the horizon all night, sort of sidling around until you can see it – very eerie for a Texan).

End of description of Arvika.Oh, and, by the way, I was walking with my cane. This was the morning I figured out how to take pictures with my iPhone holding it in one hand. Not bad, eh?

A baby in the street?

A baby in the street?

How great

Our little band of singers and friends (taken in Rauma, Finland)

Our little band of singers and friends (taken in Rauma, Finland)

In about 1958 or 1959 my uncle, the Rev. Troy Noland, came to Scottsbluff, NE, to visit us. Uncle Troy and his family came to stay for a week (or more), and he was the main preacher for a week of services (I don’t remember what they were called—revival?) at our Baptist (not Southern) church, of which my father was pastor.

The visit is the stuff of family legend, more for the trouble the teen-age cousins managed to get into than for the number of souls saved in the nightly meetings.

The visit was more important to me than either the services or the teenage escapades (I was barely a teenager, but I was in on the escapades). Uncle Troy was married to my father’s younger sister Doris, one of the most naturally gifted musicians I have ever known. For the evening services at the church, I played the organ, and Aunt Doris played the piano. If I have any ability to accompany singing (hymn singing in church or operatic arias in the concert hall), I owe it to Aunt Doris and her working with me that week. All she said was that I had to learn to set the rhythm. And a new world opened to me because she showed me how to do that.

Mia Brodin and me

Mia Brodin and me

At the time, the hymn “How Great Thou Art” was everyone’s favorite because George Beverly Shea sang it at every Billy Graham Crusade. I still own the copy of the sheet music from which I played with Aunt Doris. It’s purple and has Shea’s picture on the front. (Shea, by the way, only recently died in April of this year.) For many years, I thought the hymn with its somewhat overly romantic description of the wonders of nature was beneath my dignity. The tune, however, a Swedish folk tune, is one of those that pops up in my unconscious and then presents itself to my conscious thinking on a regular basis. There is a reason the hymn is so popular, and it’s not really the words.

On Sunday, June 23, of this year, “How Great Thou Art” was sung (in English) at Eda Church (Church of Sweden) near Arvika, Sweden. The congregation and our little band of singers from the Ft. Worth/Dallas area of Texas belted out the hymn as if we were all native Swedes as the church’s organist Han Young Kim accompanied. It was a moment of grace and clarity as I have seldom experienced.

This is, I remind you, my personal blog. I am not trying to make the Calvary Lutheran Church Musical Mission Tour all about me. I simply need to put into writing something of the enormous importance of that moment for me. And it begins with Aunt Doris and “How Great Thou Art.”

Our concert at the church had been the evening before. We had spent Saturday sight-seeing and having the first of our amazing Scandinavian and Russian meals together. I was somewhat stranded in Arvika and needed to get out to the country church to acquaint myself with the organ. The priest of the church, Mia Brodin, agreed to come to fetch me and drive me to the church. She and I were almost instantly engaged in the kind of deep conversation one usually has only with one’s closest friends.

The heart of the conversation was her response to my explaining the current profoundly unsettled and unsettling place of my spiritual quest. Her response was simple. She told me of her coming to the priesthood only four years before after a long career in business. And her reason, she said, was that she understood and accepted her own need to be connected to the tradition, the 2,000-year tradition, of the church, especially the Church of Sweden.

I heard her. I understood the connection. I understood that belief, faith, all of that “religious” stuff is simply part of the connection. She does not know it (that’s not true-I’m sure she does) but she gave me permission to breathe deeply and simply accept the connections of my youth, the connections of my career, all of those paths that are greater than I am. And then we sang “How Great Thou Art” the next morning, and more paths connected than I can begin to say.

The tour to Scandinavia and Russia was, in my mind, supposed to be a great adventure, a musical highlight of my senescence, a chance to see part of the world I never imagined I would see. I did not expect, at the very outset of the tour, to find grace (not religion, not faith, not belief, but grace) in an out-of-the-way corner of Sweden. “Then sings my soul. . . “

A snippet of my iPad recording of “How Great Thou Art” with Mia Brodin’s speaking at the end.

I’ve been MIA from this blog—for a good reason

Organ at Vang Kirke, Hamar, Norway. That's me at the console.

Organ at Vang Kirke, Hamar, Norway. That’s me at the console.

In 1968 in a small apartment where I lived on Sultana Avenue in Ontario, CA, I met a group of young men who were friends of a friend of mine. Our mutual friend, the late David Westerholm, was an extraordinarily gifted organist, a funny, strange little man whose insights about anything and everything made my thinking (and that of nearly everyone I knew) seem pedestrian and dull. I cherished David in a way I never have cherished any other person. He observed life, and he understood and spoke about what he saw without a filter of standard logic or needless propriety.

David made me (and everyone else) laugh, not at people, places, or things, but because of—through—them. All of life was part of a great cosmic joke, and he thought life was much more fun if one were in on the joke than if one were frightened of it or worried about it. But he was never trivial or mean.  I’m not saying he did not experience his own life and circumstances deeply and with great feeling. Or that he engaged in relationships superficially.

I met David when he was working on his master’s degree in organ at the University of Redlands from which I had graduated the previous year. His friends—classmates and longtime friends of his from Texas Lutheran College, now Texas Lutheran University—came to visit him. I should put a caveat here: this may have happened five years later when David and I were both doctoral students and living together at the University of Iowa. I’m not sure, and I can’t make a phone call at 5 AM to check my memory.

If you’ve read Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot, you will understand the regard in which I hold David when I say he reminded me of Князь Лев Никола́евич Мы́шкин (Prince Lev Nikolaevich Myshkin, the idiot). If you haven’t read The Idiot, don’t jump to conclusions. This is high praise indeed.

Last Thursday I looked for (briefly—about 30 seconds—because I was alone and trying to read the Russian was impossible) Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s grave in the cemetery of the Alexander Nevsky Monastery in St. Petersburg. I was there because Viktor Andersson, one of David’s TLC friends, and I reconnected some years back in Dallas. He is the director of music at Calvary Lutheran Church in Richland Hills, TX. He invited me to go along and do a bit of piano and organ accompanying for a singing tour the Calvary choir made in Scandinavia and St. Petersburg to benefit Novosaratovka Lutheran Seminary in St. Petersburg.

Travel, I had assumed for some time, would be one of the casualties of the retirement penury of my approaching senescence. Were it not for help from more than one quarter—for which I am more grateful than I can say—I would not have been able to make the trip. Viktor is unfortunate that he did not have a musician of David’s caliber to invite—David would not have missed a note or a beat.  Ah, well.

Russian Barbecue at Novosaratovka Lutheran Seminary in St. Petersburg.

Russian Barbecue at Novosaratovka Lutheran Seminary in St. Petersburg.

Our travel was not—in any way I can think of—normal touristry. We were together, twenty-four of us. We were a group of acquaintances at the beginning, and a group at the end of the two weeks. We spent most of our time in places such as Arvika, Sweden, and Eurajoki, Finland, towns I assume most tourists miss—but which are the essence of their cultures. We met and became acquainted with people who live and work in those places. We were treated with care and hospitality more by our new friends than by hotels, travel agents, and restaurants. We saw parts of those countries tourists most likely never see.

Lake Narvi near Eurajoki, Finland, near Rauma where we performed at Holy Cross Church. The church provided a scrumptious dinner for us at their camp by the lake and, for the brave—no, the smart—among us, a sauna experience with a jump in the lake.

The Vang Kirke at Hamar, Norway, ancestral home of one of our group. A private hour where I was thrilled (OK, it’s a trite word, but it’s the right one) to play the organ recently restored by the Schucke company of Germany.

Or St. Catherine Lutheran Church in St. Petersburg, where we performed last in our efforts to raise money—for the Seminary and the church. We know a bit about life in Russia today that very few Americans will ever see.

I don’t mean this to be a travelogue or a geopolitical essay or any kind of important reporting. Simply a statement of my personal gratitude that acquaintanceships from my youth can, in fact, mature into friendships that bring joy and satisfaction when I get out of the way and allow my life to unfold. Thank you, Dear David.

Go jump in the lake (Narvi, that is) while Viktor waxes flamboyant