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It was 1881. A singing lark so fired the imagination of the British poet George Meredith that he composed The Lark Ascending, a paean of joy to his messenger from God, flitting and soaring above a summer meadow. When recited, listeners still pick up his song, a piece of which is quoted here:

He rises and begins to round,
He drops the silver chain of sound,
Of many links without a break,
In chirrup, whistle, slur and shake…

For singing till his heaven fills,
’Tis love of earth that he instills,
And ever winging up and up,
Our valley is his golden cup,
And he the wine which overflows
To lift us with him as he goes…

That same year, the British Ralph Vaughn Williams, composer of classical music and a literary adept, happened upon Meredith’s poem, The Lark Ascending and using the same title, scored notes around his experience, featuring a solo violin and orchestra.

Both compositions still inspire: it’s as if the lark had jettisoned the words/notes that kept it in print, transporting listeners to idyllic fields in which Nature’s freshness invigorate languid spirits. In the face of such beauty, imaginations expand, eyes brighten, another song spirits our steps into the next moment. Again, we feel. Fortunate for us that Meredith and Williams were attuned to the lark’s gift, despite the evils of the Industrial Revolution, colonization, and World War I that besmirched many at that time.

Internally, our times are not that different. We have only to listen with open hearts to Beauty. Psychic transformation occurs, followed by gratitude for Life and new learning, and another day passes.

Imagine the terror of a ten-year-old boy suddenly facing the nozzle of a submachine gun held by an SS soldier, after having been slammed against the courtyard wall with its butt. It was Jo Joffo, waiting for his older brother on the Rue de Russie in Nazi-occupied Nice, France. It was summer, 1942. For over a month nasty inspectors interrogated him and his brother at the Excelsior Hotel until they were finally released. This experience ripped Jo Joffo from his childhood with its games of marbles and jacks, with ringing doorbells and other pranks.

This boy would later become a French author whose 1974 memoir A Bag of Marbles narrates this gripping flight to freedom, a hair-breath away from the enemy. So deep was the memoir’s appeal that it was translated into eighteen languages.

Such stories of survival still speak. From a safe distance, we observe and learn from others who have suffered heart-wrenching losses and survived murderous occupations of their countries. Yet, our times are not that different. Subtle forms of “occupation” still abound: social media, fake news, and addictive substances that manipulate attitudes, thoughts, and choices and keep spirits in bondage to Evil. Indeed, Jesus cautions us whenever we step outside our homes: “Be like sheep among wolves, cunning as serpents and yet as harmless as doves.” (Mt. 10:16)

The Plaza Frontenac Theater in St. Louis, Missouri, is currently showing the second film adaption of this memoir A Bag of Marbles; Christian Duguy directed it with English sub-titles.

It is late morning in the chilly waiting room. Most of the navy leaf-patterned armchairs lining the walls are empty of other patients. On the couch next to me slouch three millennials, in Gothic attire, studying their cells, and occasionally rolling their eyes and giggling at each other. Across from me, a woman with graying cropped hair wipes her bifocals, then delves into her romance novel; next to her, her husband drums blunt fingers upon the armrest. Another heavyset man, wearing continuous oxygen and a pulse oximeter around neck, stands in line at the check-in desk, a tank of portable oxygen by his side. Tedium weights down us like a sooty tarp.

After I settle my purse on my lap and button my cardigan, I hug my sleeves while admiring the over-sized autumnal prints, taken at the Columbia Bottoms Conservation Area, which line the walls. Suddenly, a strange chill wells up from somewhere. I shiver, thinking it inconceivable that an engineer would turn up the A/C.

“Mary Moloney.” I hear my name and rise from my armchair. A plump respiratory therapist, poured into black sweater and tights, blanches watching my first steps toward the opened doorway. I am dripping. I look down. A wet circle, the outline of my bag, imprints my jeans. The tawny-maned therapist only relaxes after learning the source of the wetness: the loose cap on my bottled water, not a weak bladder. But my wetness does not deter her from administering the prescribed tests.

Still damp, I pace the corridor as I wait for the pulmonologist’s evaluation. By this time, the stain on my jeans is not as glaring as earlier, but a synchronicity is about to occur. A resourceful nurse happens by, learns of my mishap, and plugs in a space heater in the exam room for my use. In twenty minutes, I am dry.

I give thanks … with full heart …

 

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