A cello concert was being held in a garden. I followed a gravel path to my seat beneath an old shade tree. The fifteen other audience members sat in silence, taking in the perfection of this September day. Leaves whispered as a breeze passed by and a songbird lazily chirped. I looked up to the sky and felt its spaciousness opening something in me.
Anna Fritz, the cellist, entered and sat on a grassy mound. The sun gently dappled her and her instrument as she invited us to sing along to songs she had written. These songs spoke of ancestors, of bringing joy and courage to a world of fear and violence, of seeing the whole of the world as one heart beating. From the first deep strum of that cello, I felt an answering vibration in myself and melted into her vision of a world that could be.
I sat awhile after the concert letting the whole of it press into me. When I finally left through the garden gate, I had a lighter step. I remembered my childhood experience of Dad paraphrasing a poem from the Persian poet, Saadi:
"If from thy store bereft
Two loaves are all that's left
Sell one and with thy dole
Buy hyacinths to feed the soul."
I was experiencing a hyacinth for the soul.
My mom was the practical partner in the marriage. She believed in doing productive work daily to move the business of living along. Dad, meanwhile, was singing, reciting poetry and calling us to the window to watch the flight of a bird. In retirement he would spend one day in activity and take the next day off to read and listen to Big Band music. He could not be shamed into being more productive despite the expressed annoyance of his wife. I have followed Mom's approach for most of my life. I knew in principle that hyacinths for the soul were important, but would call crossing another item off my to-do list a hyacinth. And there IS joy in that sense of accomplishment. But I also noticed that another task would always take its place. My list was never-ending. I could see that my joy at accomplishment of a task was nothing like that grace moment I felt at the concert.
"Where is our comfort but in the free, uninvolved, finally mysterious beauty and grace of this world that we did not make, that has no price? Where is our sanity but there?" (Wendell Berry)
I started consciously collecting real "hyacinths for the soul." These are some I charted: listening to Doce de Coca" by YoYo Ma on All Classical Portland, feeling the majesty of the incoming tide, giggling with my grandchildren as we play hide and seek, walking in nature, relaxing into the embrace of a loved one, looking up at the sky and again letting that spaciousness invade me. So much grace in the world for me to see.
I went a step further and let the idea of hyacinths apply to my charitable giving. I had been supporting crisis situations. But now I wanted to also support art that feeds the soul. Perhaps if the arts and work-a-day world were more in balance, there would be less crisis. I am trying to embrace Anna Fritz's vision for the world.
"More music, more hyacinths to balance out the demands of survival." I have a new mantra and a new appreciation of Dad.
Cherie Dupuis is a member of the Jotting Group at The Lake Oswego Adult Community Center.
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