These past few weeks have been so full of startling news and progressive discovery that it’s been hard to keep my mind on things as banal as calendars, “three square meals” and lesson plans. Another casualty of the medical drama unfolding (think “House” without any of the romantic tension) has been the rather ominous date of January 29. What was supposed to be, by all accounts, a momentous milestone in my life has been somewhat overgrown and muddied by the lichen of medical uncertainty and the splattered mud of days passing without an increase in clarity or planning. And yet…
I’m turning forty.
(Mysterious voice) I’m turning forty.
(Confident voice) I’m turning forty!
(Stunned voice) I’m turning forty?!
(Satisfied voice) I’m turning forty.
It’s that last, satisfied and content voice I like the best. And it’s also the voice I’ve heard the most in those brief moments when the reality of this birthday has shoved itself to the top of my consciousness. Forty has never been a dreaded age for me, and I embarked on this last year of my thirties with great expectations for the decade ahead. Then MAC showed up, life got turned upside-down, and I found myself this morning on the Charles Bridge in historical Prague (Czech Republic), accompanied by 12 of the world’s more amazing teenagers, trying very hard to allow the importance of tomorrow’s date to settle in. After all, one only turns forty once!
We’ve been in Prague since last Thursday, attending the ACSI Honors Choir weekend where my 12 singers joined 100 singers from 14 schools around Europe for a long weekend of learning and performing. I must admit that I didn’t really want to leave my home and travel to a foreign land with everything going on in my mind and body these days, but I went. And I was blessed beyond anything I’d expected.
On our Sunday in a Prague church, I took out paper and pencil and prepared to jot down a few lines that might describe in an artistic way the journey that has led me through 40 years of life to this ripe (old) age. I tried several times to begin something profound…then something witty…then something philosophical. But every time I tried to focus on an abstract concept, a memory of the five days in Prague crowded out the creative, in favor of the affective. It became clear that poetry was not going to be the medium for this self-exploration. For every nifty metaphor that came to mind, a handful of snapshots of my beloved students sprung to the forefront of my thoughts.
And then it all fell into place: The reason I couldn’t condense my life into words and rhythms was that my life was still being written…and too quickly, this past weekend, to commit to imagery and rhyme. It is sitting in that church in Prague that I realized that every moment of my trip had been laden with meaning–not only the meaning of my presence at BFA, where my work is my love, but with the very essence of who I am. And as the slideshow of my Czech pictures flashed through my mind, I began to see myself in the photographic collage of colors and textures and faces my camera had created in over 600 frames in five days. And I began to see that the poetry of my life is not a stagnant collection of stale words. It is a living, breathing, evolving kaleidoscope of people, passions and purpose. I’m pasting some of those pictures below, though I know brevity is usually a desirable blog feature. I hope you’ll allow the self-absorbtion as a kind of birthday leniency.
(Four a.m. at the Basel airport. Sleep deprivation makes the airline magazines incredibly entertaining…)
(Steady, dependable, surprising… Yohan is a gem.)
(The Charles Bridge.)
(Meet Kristoff, aka Tigger. He makes me giggle.)
(Endless tram rides to and from the rehearsal site. The most memorable moment was when the conductor tried to kill me be jolting away from the tram stop before I’d gripped the handrail. I fell hard on my side, flattening my nose on something I never identified and jarring every bone in my body, utterly unaided by the boys who politely parted to witness my graceless “kachunk-moment.”)
(The bad news was that it took an hour of public transportation to get us from our hostel to the rehearsal venue. The good news is that there was a McDonald’s, a Starbucks and a food-court on the way! )
(We call this picture “Gluteus Minimus.”)
(These two danced with the organ grinder in a rather…effusive…manner. They ended up attracting quite the enamored Asian crowd. A sampling of their enthusiastic audience is pictured below.)
(Jackson calls this our “relationship defining picture.” I’m glaring…though lovingly…and he couldn’t care less. I believe the words coming out of my mouth at that point were probably, “STOP IT!”)
(They are indeed hanging off a lamppost…not sure how legal that is.)
(The guys wouldn’t let us into their quarters for a late-night movie until they’d cleaned them up. So we waited suspiciously in the stairwell.)
(The venue of our first full concert…a cathedral. You should have heard them!)
(Making a “joyful noise.”)
I love, love, love, LOVE them……………
At 12:37 am on my fortieth birthday, with five days of limited sleep and non-stop action weighing down my eyelids, it is a sense of awe that fills me. Awe that I “get” to have this life: to work with these young people, to experience Europe, and to see myself growing both deeper and older with each year that passes. I can’t imagine any other existence. And as I told my beloved students during our prayer time this morning, this trip has reminded me that my life is not about what I’ve lived or survived or even what I’m currently going through. It’s about who I’m becoming now, who I’m loving now, what I’m learning now and how God is sustaining me now. This group reminded me this weekend that the greatest riches of life are not in remembering the past but in fully existing in the present, buoyed by God’s comfort and blessed by the people He places in my path. Prague’s paths were riddled with uneven cobblestones and historical monuments, but they also offered me a potent reminder of how blessed I’ve been…and am…and hope to be for as long as life allows.
Thank you, Jill, Drea, Naomi, Ellen, Rebecca, Hannah, Merritt, Kristoff, Daniel, Jackson, Brad and Yohan. You have been God’s greatest birthday gift to me. I love each one of you.
PPS: A more complete picture album can be found at https://picasaweb.google.com/Shellphoenix/PRAGUE08. You can c lick on “Slideshow” and watch Prague go by!