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As I listened to the St. Louis Symphony on Classic Radio perform Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No 2 in C Minor, “Resurrection” (1894), I wondered at the brilliance and depth of the composer’s imagination, cut short by death at fifty years of age.

Of humble Jewish origins in Bohemia-Austria, Mahler always felt the outsider. Hard work was the antidote, first tested in Vienna’s Conservatory and University; then, conducting Italian opera at venues in Prague, Leipzig, Budapest, Hamburg, and New York’s Philharmonic, the proceeds of which supported his family. Studying German philosophers and metaphysicians also influenced his worldview and found a place in his musical compositions. Unlike others, Mahler had to finesse periods of solitude for composing, his lifelong passion.

Again, l listened to Mahler’s Second Symphony; its five movements opened me to worlds of angst/ecstasy, beyond my life experience. He seemed intimate with the notes of the human heart and reverenced them within the interplay of the massive orchestra, two soloists and chorus.

Nothing was left unexplored: existential questions, lost innocence, the dregs of despair, the disgust of existence, even the Titanic clash with God. Relief sounds in the Fourth Movement with the mezzo-soprano’s creedal statement, “I am from God. I want to return to God!” excerpted from the German poem, Primeval Light.

The Fifth Movement again opens with dark themes, from which the cry to God for mercy and forgiveness emerges. Glimmers of hope resound in the instruments. Bliss develops with the soloists and chorus singing Resurrection lyrics, composed by Friedrich Klopstock and Mahler; their simple words shimmer with the ineffable.

Indeed, Mahler’s imagination glimpsed the realm to which all are called; it impressed its ecstasy within each pore of our beings: “I shall die to find life.”

 

Brrrng! Brrrng! It was my doorbell. I was still getting used to it, having just moved into my new home earlier in the day. Perhaps it was another neighbor come to welcome me. Several had already stepped by. After shelving the book in my study, I headed for the front door, still limping from recent knee surgeries.

“Why, is this my friend, Ms. Liz?” It was Ginny, her question brimming with playfulness, but her breathing, heavy. Then, supported by a cane, she was able to walk the distance between our homes. Perspiration dotted her wide forehead as she stepped inside and said, “O! You’ve already done wonders for this place—the creamy colors of the walls and the fireplace. I like the feel of it.” That was fourteen years ago.

For years, we enjoyed impromptu meetings in my front yard whenever she found me raking or gardening. Seated in her handicapped van cooled by the air conditioner, the motor idling, she regaled me with stories of her grandchildren, bemoaned garbled communication among specialists involved in her care, and detailed the side effects of the latest medication she was taking. Her laughter seemed to grow more hilarious with the darker stories.

Such laughter suggested a profound reliance upon her God that drew her into my heart. She had already tasted the dregs of life before I met her and was scraped clean. Humility was not just a word. She breathed it.

Even more humor merged with last year’s cancer diagnosis that squeaked sideways onto other chronic ailments. Subsequent phone contacts revealed her absolute trust in God’s will. With unstinting clarity she opted for hospice, the next step. When the drugs failed, however, she took her last breath surrounded by family. She was home.

In the wake of Ginny’s passing, I’m left with sadness and a paradoxically rich emptiness. I liken her spirit to four brash lilies eternally alive in the sun.

 

Take Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, and my entire will, all that I have and possess. Thou hast given all to me. To Thee, Lord, I return it. All is Thine, dispose of it wholly according to Thy will. Give me Thy love and thy grace, for this is sufficient for me—Petition that concludes the Spiritual Exercises (1522-1524) of St Ignatius of Loyola, and one I used to pray during retreats, both in the convent and at Gloucester.

 My return to this radical prayer of self-giving challenges previous life reviews and invites deeper contemplation of Creator God, to whom I owe my eighty-four years of life.

Indeed, I have been fearfully and wonderfully made as reflected in Psalm 139:14—No matter the decades of rheumatoid arthritis and nasty obsessions that harrowed my spirit, unearthing pride’s minions with their infections. Such upheavals have compelled my dream work since 1988, as well as prayer with the Psalmist, Create, O God, a clean heart within me.

The resulting psychic changes, I see clearly now, reflect the vital process of actualizing my birthright. Where there were only bits and pieces of this and that in my psyche, internalized in desperation from others, there is now substance: memory, understanding, will, all that I have and possess companions my days through end time. Their uniqueness bathes my daylight hours with vibrant colors.

It has been said that life is a Gift. I feel this in every fiber of my being and with wordless praise return this Gift to Creator God, with my thumbprints. Thy love and thy grace… are sufficient for me.

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