I didn’t have a lot of friends in my teenage years. An odd duck, I was unaware of my own anxiety and only fully at ease with a book or an instrument in hand. At college, I was even put on “trial” (comically) for the crime of using musical excuses to make friends. For a birthday present, I invited my grandmother as my “plus one” to see Sheldon Harnick’s The Apple Tree. Instead of showing up at my own family graduation party, I escaped out of the back parking lot of the high school, Grandma in tow, to see James Galway perform at the Planting Fields Arboretum. The younger version of me could never have imagined how at ease I feel in our fellowship today.
Something got me through my lonelier days: boxes and boxes of sheet music often crumpled with age. I would sight-read through scores of songs that I convinced myself had not been played since the 1920s. One song that struck my fancy was Irving Berlin’s “The Song Is Ended…but the Melody Lingers On.” Written in 1927, this song of enduring impact has been performed by greats such as Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, and more; the Wikipedia page of notable recordings spans decades. I sang the song to comfort myself about aging grandparents, and then to reassure myself as I felt my childhood days were dwindling into the banality of adulthood. Later, I sang it to remember my sister and convince myself that love and connection endure even when endings try to show us otherwise. “You and the song are gone, but the melody lingers on…”
2018 is about to close. As a community, we have sung the turning of the seasons and lit candles of hope for the upcoming year. We have caroled and performed in a pop-up pageant for the birth of a Baby who reminds us to love one another and to celebrate the possibility in each of us. We have planted a tree to commemorate people and events that shaped us, even if time has taken them away from our daily worlds. And soon, soon, we will turn our calendar pages to uncharted territory.
Thirty years ago, I could not have imagined the extroverted life this bookworm of an introvert lives, and how happy I am with the balance I have found. I still miss elements of my childhood and the people who filled me with such confidence and zaniness, but I carry them with me. A year ago, I could not have imagined that a string of awful events would lead to a wonderful shift in my career from older students to younger ones, and that shift would motivate me to find all of you. I never imagined how joyfully I would bounce out of bed on Sundays to learn about wombat cube-poops or honeybee politics. I won’t forget the losses of 2017, but I celebrate the gains of 2018 and cherish the echoing melodies that led me here.
As we enter the new calendar year, think about what melodies (real or metaphoric) pass through your life. What have been strings connecting year after year, song after song? What will you sing forth into the new year?