Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Do You Hear the People... Swing?

I have recently seen an excellent movie. It is called "Swing Kids" (starring I really don't know who). It takes place in Nazi Germany, among the German people, and centers for the most part around a group of teenage boys who don't want to conform with Hitler's rule. They refuse to join the HJ (Hitler Jugen, or Hitler Youth), wear their hair long, dress like English kids, and listen to American music. Their biggest act of rebellion, however, is...

Swing Dancing.

That's right. They make their stand against Hitler by getting together on weekends to dance. It's resistance that isn't just peaceful and nonviolent, but also fun. Protest evil in the world by doing the Charleston. Or singing Django Reinhardt music. Or listening to good records.

Some people do the same today. Music and dancing have often been forms of rebellion or protest over the past century. Teenagers listen to music their parents don't approve of, just to say that they can do what they want, or go to dances where such music is played. Women in South America living under tyrranical rule, whose husbands, sons, and friends had been murdered, rebelled by going out into the streets together and dancing - an act which the guards and soldiers could not punish.   Civil rights activists sang as they marched in the streets, "We shall overcome!"

However, while it is easy to sing and dance, it is not always easy to stand up for what you believe. The Swing Kids were beaten, imprisoned, shipped to work camps, and even killed for dancing against Nazi command. The women in South America were left without husbands and fathers, alone against opression. The civil rights movement was stained with the blood of unpunished murders, terrible abuse, imprisonment, and martyrdom.

But they all did it anyway. In spite of threats of pain, prison, and death, they continued to sing and dance. And, eventually, their songs and dances were not in vain. Change came, and the world was made better for their work and sacrifice.

A wise man in my life - my father - said it this way. The only way for evil to gain power in the world "is if good men and women do nothing." It is easy to sit in our homes, surrounded by close friends and family, and say, "I don't like the way things are going." That is what many Germans did during the Nazi regime. But to step outside the door and raise your voice against evil for all the world to hear... that takes great courage, and it is the only thing that will make a difference in the end.

Mohamas K. Ghandi, the originator of peacful nonviolent resistance and one of the greatest men of the last century, said that we must "Be the change you want to see in the world." He is right. If we want change to happen, the only way is to make it happen ourselves. It is easy to think, "I am only one person. Nothing I do will make any difference, so why worry?" This is why - in "Swing Kids," the father of the main character said in a letter, "We must all take responsibility for what is happening in our country. If those of use who have a voice do not raise it in outrage at the treatment of our fellow human beings we will have collaborated in their doom."

You have a voice. We, who live in the freeset nation on earth, have voices. Raise them in outrage against wrongs, and in praise for that which is right. If enough voices join the chorus, change will happen, and the world will become as we know it should be. We will become the change.

Raise your voice in outrage for that which is wrong, and in praise for what is right. You don't have to be a politician, humanitarian worker, public speaker, or anything else to make a change. Sing. Dance. Paint. Write. Play sports. Whatever it is you do, do it while keeping in mind the reaons why you are doing it, and what you believe in. I, for one, will be on the dance floor, doing the lindy hop with all of my heart. "It don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing..."

'Til next time, my friends...

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Eve of Midsummer

As I have thus far undertaken the task of informing my dear readers about the occurence of significant astronomical dates, I do so here again. Yesterday, June 21, was the Summer Solstice, or Midsummers' Day - the longest day of the year. I make particular mention of it because in many cultures it is not only the longest day, but also the most magical.

From what my little tidbits of research have revealed (thank you, Wikipedia), most countries around the world celebrate some form of Midsummer ritual - particularly any countries in which either (or both) Paganism or Christianity in some form has been present. The Christians celebrate it as a saints day - the day of St. John the Baptist. The Pagans had something else in mind.

I have found that in much of modern English, the words "pagan" and "heathen" have become synonomous (or at least very similar). There was a time when the were used as synonyms, back in the day when the Catholic church was trying to rid the continent - indeed, the known world - of Pagan traditions. However, Paganism wasn't all evil, or all heathen. They were simply polytheistic in a world where monotheism was begining to take the stage. They worshiped many gods, worshipped primarily through ritual, and possessed a deep-seeded belief in magic.

To the Pagans, Midsummers day was special. It was the halfway point between the equinoxes, the farthest away you can get from Midwinter before you start coming back. It was a time to celebrate life (the survival of one winter) and to pray for future good fortune (plentiful harvest and a good winter to come). They often celebrated by lighting bonfires, jumping over the bonfires, telling fortunes, performing fertility rituals for the young women (midsummer being a good time to conceive so that children will be born the following Spring), and in general eating, dancing, and making merry. Midsummer was also said to be a time when magic could be used at its highest potency. Sorceresses, magicians, alchemists, healers, and potion makers would go out in the darkness before sunrise and collect their herbs and ingredients for a new year, believing that the presence of the Midsummer sunrise would give their spells and potions added power. Midsummer's eve was also a night to have great caution, as it was said to be the night when devils and evil spirits roamed free upon the earth.

Some of these traditions have carried on into modern times. People from most countries (including the United States, as it happens) still participate in bonfire festivals - with and without fire-jumping. Women in Russian and the Ukraine take part in fertility rituals and tell their fortunes by casting their flower garlands onto the water and reading the petals. Eating, dancing, and overall merriment still prevail. Some places, sorceresses and healers still roam the hours before sunrise, collecting herbs.

I, for one, took part in my own celebration. I sat in the sunshine and read books, my feet dangling into the kidie pool. I drank cold lemonade (though not with mint leaves, unfortunately). I laid myself out on the dew-covered lawn and looked at the millions of stars that adorned the night sky, trying to find constellations in their midst. I even danced on the grass in my bare feet, in the light of a setting sun.

It's not a bonfire. It's not remotely ritualistic. And it probably won't produce any magic whatsoever. But it's my way of celebrating the coming of summer, and to rejoice in the warm days, full harvests, and magical memories to come.

Happy Midsummer, my friends. 'Til next time...

Friday, June 17, 2011

Light on the Water

Sorry for the delay, friends - I have been living in a cabin by a lake this week, where (perhaps fortunately), there was no internet access. However, it was good to get away from technology and live near the untamed wilderness. It's a wholesome, healthy thing to be in company with nature, away from the hustle and bustle of modern life.

Lake Cushman - home to birds, chipmunks, various freshwater fish, and - occasionally - higher mamals like myself. It is a beautiful place, where the pine forests come down to the water's edge, where the mists rest on the lake's surface every morning, and where the blackberries ripen with the summer sun. Sadly, they where not wholly ripe when we arrived, but the nectarines were - so we bought many from the fruit stand on the way. As lovely as all of this is, I want to talk about something different - the water itself.

The lake's depths give it a beautiful color by itself - a deep, beautiful blue-green. The water's motion gives it a shimmering texture, always changing as you watch. But most beautiful of all is when the lake is touched by the heavens.

The sun's reflection on the water makes it gleam gold and silver in the afternoons, almost as brightly as the sun itself - more replendant than any gold or silver mined from the earth. I sat upon the roots of a felled, driftwood-smooth tree at the waters edge and watched it, wanting to preserve it in my memory.

Early the next morning - 3 AM or so - I woke with congested sinuses. I happened to look out the window, and was taken by surprise. The full moon was hanging low over the tree-lined hills, and below that, on the water, it's light had cast a stripe of pure, shining silver across the dark lake. It was one of the most beautiful things I had ever seen.

It is amazing to me how much beauty can occurr in Nature.There are many beautiful things that don't occurr naturally - like architecture and paintings and musical theatre and thanksgiving dinners - but there are infinitely more that do. Flowers, mountins, soft grass, sweet smells, painted skies... I had the the privilege of enjoying one of them this week - the gleam of the heavens, brought down to the earth, just beyond my reach.

'Til next time, my friends... 

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Say Not The Struggle Naught Availeth

Life continues to be as well as it ever has been. There have been blue skies and green grass and warm sunshine happening almost every day now (but as is hardly surprising on the Wasatch front, there have been interruptions to the warm streak). Popcicles have immerged from the freezer, and my 19th birthday has come and gone in the company of baked alaska and zoo animals and disney movies and frisbee and loved ones. On the whole, all is well.

Thanks for tuning in to the "Life and Times of Rachel" update. Now on with the post.


Today I wish to share with you a favorite poem of mine, one that my father introduced to me some years ago. It was written by English poet Arthur Hugh Clough, and without further ado I include it as follows:

SAY not the struggle naught availeth,
   The labour and the wounds are vain,
The enemy faints not, nor faileth,
   And as things have been they remain.

If hopes were dupes, fears may be liars;
   It may be, in yon smoke conceal'd,
Your comrades chase e'en now the fliers,
   And, but for you, possess the field.

For while the tired waves, vainly breaking,
   Seem here no painful inch to gain,
Far back, through creeks and inlets making,
   Comes silent, flooding in, the main.

And not by eastern windows only,
   When daylight comes, comes in the light;
In front the sun climbs slow, how slowly!
   But westward, look, the land is bright!

On several occasions - generally at the start of a new school year, when I was anxious and afraid that I would not be cut out for the new workload - my wise father shared with me the second stanza of this poem. "If hopes were dupes, fears may be liars," he told me. If hopes can be easily laid aside or stated faulty, can fears not be the same?

In the last year, I have learned a little of despair and fear. I have felt myself swallowed up by worries and difficulties, and found myself wondering if I was equal to the tasks before me. I wondered how it could possibly all be done. I discovered, though, that often "in yon smoke concealed, your comrades chase e'en now the fliers, and but for you possess the field." This certainly was so with my comrades - more often than not it was they who reminded me that my battle did not wage as sore as I believed. However, I think this idea applies even more so to my Heavenly Father.

I have felt sometimes that there is no way that every problem before me will work out. I tell myself I'll never be able to pay for all of my schooling, or I'll never be able to publish my book, or join the Tabernacle Choir, or find someone who loves me enough that he would take me his for all eternity - all of which are my brightest, dearest dreams and ambitions. Shadows of self doubt set in, and the hope of their coming true succumbs to despair. Yet in spite of my fears, I have seen, time and time again, that Heavenly Father is looking ahead of where I am, placing the solutions just beyond my vision, "in yon smoke concealed," waiting for me to go on a little longer until I can discover them. I have come to realize that He always possesses the field - no matter how our own smaller battles are progressing.

Do not despair. The world is sometimes harsh, and life can somtimes be too much to bear. Everyone has dark days and heavy burdens. However, I promise that "the labor and the wounds" are never in vain. Keep fighting the good fight, pressing forward, carrying on - and one day you will see how much of the field has been won beyond the smoke. The enemy will faint, things will change for the better, and are probably even changing now, whether you have seen it or not.

Westward look, my friends - "the land is bright."

Yours always, 'til next we meet...

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Heaven Sent

I held an angel today.

This morning was the Joy School end of year field trip. Nathan (my four year old brother) has been participating in Joy School for the last year, along with three other children - two boys and a girl. To celebrate their commencement from the Joy School program, a trip to the zoo was arranged. So each Joy School mother packed up her children and brought them to Salt Lake, where we met at the entrance gates. The McKrollas came with three children, including their Joy School student. Among the three was Collin.

Collin McKrolla came into this world two months ago. He was diagnosed with down syndrome before birth, via ultrasound. He was also diagnosed with an aortic coartation - the same heart condition I had when I was born. When he was born, it was additionally discovered that he had clubbed feet. Miraculously, however, there was no sign of the anticipated coartation. No heart surgery necessary.

As we went through the zoo, he lay in his stroller, half asleep most of the time. His legs were both completely encased in plaster casts to correct his feet, and he wore oxygen tubes in his nose to keep his breathing regular as he slept.

Part way through the day, I had the opportunity to hold him for a while, and even take a turn carrying him - always close to the stroller, to keep attached to the oxygen tank, but at least giving him a chance to get out of it for a while. He lay almost perfectly still in my arms, occasionally shifting when the sun got in his eyes or his position was uncomfortable. Once or twice, he even pushed his eyes open and looked up at me.

I felt I was holding an angel. I was certainly holding a miracle - to have a heart defect disappear as it did was nothing short of that. He was so pure, so perfect, despite the hardships his physical body had suffered, and would continue to suffer later on. However, I knew also that despite the hardships, he would continue to be an angel for the rest of his mortal life. I have known several children like him - those sweet spirits who are not held accountable, who are incapable of evil. Those beautiful souls who come to this earth with bodies and minds incomplete, but who bless the lives of all those around with them as much as they are able to give. Collin was pure, and would always be pure - until that holy day when all shall be restored to its perfect frame.

It was a humbling, almost sacred experience to help care for that baby boy today. I held an angel. I kissed an angel's head. I comforted an angel when he began to cry. I pushed an angel in a stroller through animal exhibitions and crowded walkways.

And I can truly say that in doing so, I was brought closer to God and His angels above.

Yours always, my friends, 'til next we meet...