Friday, Dec. 17th: I’m writing as we ride along on I-287 heading toward the Tappen Zee Bridge on a quick trip to Philadelphia to hear a concert of Piffaro, a favorite early music group. We just stopped in Stamford, CT to carol our friend Calvin’s 100-year-old father who lives in a nursing home there. Calvin and I have been in the Blanche Moyse Chorale together for 35 years and just had a concert last weekend: Vaughn-Williams’ Nine Carols for Male Voices, Britten’s Ceremony of Carols and Palestrina’s Missa Hodie Christus Natius est, plus eight well-known carols which we asked the audience to sing with us. Calvin also sings with us in both the Guilford Community Church Choir, the Dummerston Church Choir (which I now lead one Sunday a month), and in the Hallowell Singers, the Hospice-related group that does bedside singing. Last night we had hoped to be in Chestnut Hill, MA at the service of nine lessons and carols at Church of the Redeemer (where Betsey, Rob and Katie sang in the choir when they lived in MA), but car troubles delayed our departure and we gave that up. We’ll return Saturday night so we’ll be home for church in Guilford Sunday a.m., go to the first half of a New England Youth Theater production of Fiddler on the Roof (we know many of the youth actors), and then zip up to Walpole, NH where I’ll lead a Taizé service at the Unitarian Church (Ellen will decorate the altar Taizé style while I rehearse the chants with people). Wednesday evening at the Dummerston Church we collaborate with John and Cynthia in a contemplative service of music and silence. Sprinkled all through this are rehearsals of our up-coming January concert of an Afro-Brazilian Mass by Carlo Fonseca with the Brattleboro Concert Choir.
And there you have a snapshot of what seems to have become our lifestyle: words like full and rich but also busy and even hectic come to mind. And I haven’t mentioned yet the 1000+ cookies Ellen baked for the Church Christmas Bazaar (and the afghan she knitted and the felted bags she made), my singing arias in the Messiah sing and the River Singers concert (those three things were all on the same day!). Plus there have been three memorial services that Hallowell has sung at in the past two weeks. You get the picture. This life, as much as she loves parts of it, sometimes drives Ellen to despair: too much of too many good things. She feels I thrive on it, and that is partly true, but I also long for more quiet. Some of the best times for me in the past month have been spent in the woods, cutting up fallen trees, splitting the logs, pulling them out to the road in a garden cart, loading them into the station wagon and stacking them by the house. The woods are quiet and beautiful, and I love the physicality of the work. One night late, a few days ago, under a bright moon, I dressed warmly and went into the woods with the cart to haul out a couple a loads of wood. I felt like a character in a fairly tale – “the old woodsman trudged slowly through the moonlit woods pulling his heavy load of logs, when suddenly there appeared in his path a ……” Fill in the blank. A wolf? A fairy? An angel? Nothing actually appeared in my path but it was a magical time nonetheless.
Another magical moment was last night. We collaborated with John and Cynthia in leading a service of music and silence at the Dummerston Congregational Church. John and Cynthia played their beautiful music on harp, cello and whistle; I led a Taize chant Within Our Darkest Night, and the lovely round Celtic Blessing ("Deep peace to the running wave to you..."). There were long stretches of silence in the candle-lit sanctuary. Ninety people showed up to participate in this service and it was beautiful and much appreciated. An oasis of calm, beauty and silence in the midst of everyone's hectic pre-Christmas season.
Another way we have of dealing with this good but overfull life is to get out of town. We’re planning to do that in later January, after I preach in Guilford and we sing the Fonseca Mass. We’ll be making the grand rounds of visiting my brother Stewart’s family in Illinois, Betsey in Columbia, MO (and maybe Katie in Cape Girardeau), and Ellen’s son Paul in Wyoming (and of course sweet little Max, and all other beloved family members connected with them, plus friends along the way). But in just two days we’ll enjoy Christmas day with Ellen’s extended family in Shutesbury, MA – a day that includes helpings of Ellen’s wonderful flaming plum pudding. And with mouths full of warm pudding we will think, if not actually say, “Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year” to you all.