Temporary Friends & Where to Find Them

photograph from the window of a plane

I stow my bag in the overhead compartment and look down at my seat. It’s an aisle seat, which I don’t mind—window seats are nice for the view out of the plane, but sitting next to the aisle will mean more leg room. Looking over at the woman sitting next to me, I motion towards the window. “Are you cool with the window seat, or would you rather have the aisle?”

“Oh, window,” she responds with a smile. “Gonna get some sleep,” she adds, moving her head against the wall of the plane in an explanatory gesture. She is a small woman of average build, dressed in a dark suit. Dark hair, brown eyes.

Sliding my laptop bag under the seat in front of me, I sit down and buckle in. The plane taxis to the runway, and soon it takes off; it is a Sunday afternoon, cloudy and wet. From the lightning I saw earlier on the way to the airport, I wasn’t sure if my flight would still be leaving, but fortunately there were only minor delays due to problems at our destination, Atlanta.

The plane is at cruising altitude now, and the woman next to me and I start talking—just a little at first, as I don’t want to be rude or keep my seatmate from napping. She practices law in Shreveport and is on her way to a conference in Nashville for a charter school she counsels. I’m on my way back to Maryland from a wedding.

On my way down to the wedding, the plane from Baltimore to Atlanta had in-flight entertainment systems, so I watched half of a Bond-esque actioner called The Man from UNCLE. However, none of the other planes I’d been on since had entertainment systems, so I hadn’t been able to finish the movie. “So,” I say to my new friend after explaining the situation. “I’m hoping they’ll have the same system on my connecting flight so I can finish!”

At this, the woman smiles. “Well, I hope you get to do that!”

We talk some more before reaching a pause in our conversation. I pull out a book I brought and read for a bit, then put in earbuds and listen to music.

I often think about how extraordinary temporary friendships can be. Sitting in an airport waiting for a flight, I’ve met some incredibly fascinating and colorful people. A retired pilot, whose uncle took him flying when he was 19. Sitting in the cockpit, his uncle motioned to him to sit down, and then told him to take off. “Take off?” he said, having never touched the controls of an airplane before. However, he proceeded to throttle the plane up and take off. Once they were in the air, his uncle said, “Taking off is easy. You’ll spend the rest of your life learning to land.”

In a way, interaction with strangers can seem fairly meaningless. After all, it’s the relationships with people I live my life with—friends and family—that are the hard ones. Being kind and chatting with a friendly face that I probably won’t see again is easy compared to the challenges of maintaining long-term relationships with friends and family.

Yet there’s something inspiring and heart-warming about two people’s paths crossing and, just for a moment, getting a window into another person’s life, creating a thread-like connection. The thought that my story or conversation or kindness (or rudeness) can have an impact, however small, on another person’s life, is something really profound to me.

The flight lands, and my newfound lawyer friend and I exit the plane. By this point I’ve learned about both the Napoleonic code of law (the basis for Louisiana’s legal system) and charter schools. “It was nice meeting you,” she says. As we reach the exit and prepare to head to our respective connecting flights, she hands me a business card. “If you ever need anything, just give me a call.” On the card is her contact information and the name of the law firm she works for—it’s a personal injury firm that she runs with her dad. It’s a simple gesture, but one that I appreciate. I stash the card in my wallet, thinking that someday, maybe we’ll meet again.

Fantasia on Ralph Vaughan Williams

This week, Caroline Bennett introduces another talented British composer and his music.  Like John Rutter, whom Caroline Bennett discussed in last month’s article, this composer created famous hymn and Christmas carol arrangements, but he is perhaps better known for his compositions based on English folk songs.

ralph-vaughan-williams

“The duty of the words is to say just as much as the music has left unsaid and no more.”—Ralph Vaughan Williams, 1902

Born on October 12, 1872, in Gloucestershire, England, Ralph Vaughan Williams (pronounced “Rafe Vawn Williams”) is one of the most influential British composers ever to have lived. Though his name may not mean anything to most people, he arranged many of the English folk tunes and Christmas carols people know and cherish today, and he also composed numerous pieces for a variety of instruments.

Like many composers, Vaughan Williams began studying music at an early age, eventually learning how to play the violin, viola, piano, and organ. When he was old enough, Vaughan Williams attended the Royal College of Music as a composition pupil of the prominent composer C. Hubert H. Parry, who instilled in Vaughan Williams a deep love for English music. However, though Vaughan Williams loved composition, his peers declared that he was completely ignorant of how to write music, and Vaughan Williams agreed. Nevertheless, he studied hard, and after attending multiple schools and being taught by many different teachers, he began to master his art.

Vaughan Williams was greatly influenced by three different sources: English folk songs, English hymnody, and English seventeenth-century literature. It is no wonder, then, that he collected many of the forgotten songs of his homeland and turned them into the themes of his many fantasias, symphonies, rhapsodies, and choral works. Two of his most famous compositions are, in fact, “Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis,” and “Fantasia on Greensleeves,” the themes of which are from sixteenth century Britain. Yet Vaughan Williams’ compositions are distinctly his own, despite their uniquely British sounds and themes. He loved to use the swelling sounds of the string orchestra, the lilting arpeggios of the harp, and the sweet notes of the violin, as exhibited in the thrilling violin and orchestra piece “The Lark Ascending,” the moving “Five Variants of ‘Dives and Lazarus,’” and his famous “Pastoral Symphony.” Vaughan Williams also wrote a number of works for choirs, such as “A Sea Symphony,” “The Voice Out of the Whirlwind” and “Mass in G Minor.”

oxford-book-of-carolsPerhaps Vaughan Williams’ greatest legacy, however, was his editorship of The English Hymnal, Songs of Praise, and The Oxford Book of Carols. By gathering and arranging hundreds of forgotten hymns, Vaughan Williams preserved part of Christendom’s rich heritage and breathed new life into these songs. The pieces he arranged include “I Sing the Almighty Power of God,”  “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence,” “On Christmas Night All Christians Sing,” “For All the Saints,” and “God Be With You Till We Meet Again,” to name but a few.

One need only listen to a few of his arrangements or compositions to realize that Ralph Vaughan Williams loved his homeland, for he devoted his life and art to preserving and adding to his nation’s amazing heritage. He renewed the populace’s interest in the traditional songs of England, composed new pieces that were distinctly British, and preserved a vast number of hymns and carols for the use of Christians all over the world.

 

RECOMMENDED LISTENING

♪ Marriner, Neville and Academy of St. Martin-In-The-Fields. R. Vaughan Williams. Decca, 1985.

Quote from http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Ralph_Vaughan_Williams.

The Survival of the Sitter

“Good-bye Mr. and Mrs. Hardy!  Don’t worry about Alice and Peter, and have a good evening,” Elizabeth said as she closed the front door behind the departing couple.

This was fourteen-year-old Elizabeth’s first babysitting job, and turning to face the two children she was going to spend the evening with, Elizabeth thought to herself, I hope the evening goes smoothly, and I survive.  Aloud, she said, “I’ll turn a movie on for you to watch and get supper started.  What movie do you want to see?”

“I want to see Old Yeller,” six-year-old Alice chirped.

“We watched that last week, Alice.  I want to watch something else,” Peter objected.

“Oh, all right, we can watch The Aristocats,” Alice conceded with very little reluctance.

“O.K.,” Elizabeth said, walking into the cozy, lamp-lit living room and locating the movie on a large bookshelf full of VHS tapes and DVDs.  After starting the movie, Elizabeth left Peter and Alice seated on the couch and hurried across the hall to the kitchen.

Elizabeth’s tennis shoes squeaked on the kitchen tile as she entered, deftly putting her long brown hair in a ponytail and rolling up her sleeves.  Just as she was reading the instructions on the box of frozen lasagna that Mrs. Hardy had left for supper, a crack of thunder shook the house and rattled the windows.  Wind and rain whipped and pounded the house while Elizabeth waited for the oven to warm up.

I hope the house isn’t struck by lightning, Elizabeth worried, looking out through the kitchen window into the dark night.  Just then, the electricity blinked out and blackness filled the kitchen.

Alice and Peter began yelling from the living room.

“Elizabeth!  The movie stopped playing.  I want to hear Marie sing the end of ‘Scales and Arpeggios!’  Can’t you do something?” Alice’s desperate plea came loudly from the living room.

“Did the house get struck by lightning?  Is that why the electricity is out?!  I thought that when a house gets struck by lightning, the people inside are electrified!  Why aren’t we electrified?” Peter’s shouts intermingled with Alice’s.

“The house did not get struck by lightning, and it’s ‘electrocuted,’ not electrified!” Elizabeth yelled back to the children.  “Just sit tight until I find a flashlight.”

After a few minutes of clattering in the kitchen, Elizabeth’s triumphant “Aha!” told the children in the living room that the flashlight had been found.

A lonely shaft of golden light bobbed into the living room, and behind it came the shadowy figure of Elizabeth.

“Are you two all right?”  Elizabeth asked as she shined the light on them.

“Well we’re not electrified, yet,” Peter replied, “so I guess we’re all right.”

“It’s ‘electrocuted,’ not electrified,” Elizabeth corrected absentmindedly as she tried to collect her thoughts.

“I’m hungry,” Alice spoke up, looking longingly at Elizabeth.

“We can make peanut butter sandwiches in a minute, but first we’ve got to find some more flashlights.  Do you know where more flashlights are?” Elizabeth looked at Peter, the older of the two.

“We each have one in our bedrooms.  We can show you,” Peter answered, and the three made their way upstairs to find the flashlights.

With a flashlight in everyone’s hand, the trio entered the kitchen five minutes later and lit some candles, which they set on the counters.

“Don’t open the refrigerator,” Elizabeth warned.  “We’ll just have to survive on peanut butter sandwiches tonight.”

Elizabeth gathered the peanut butter, bread, plates, and utensils together, and the small party made and devoured their sandwiches in the flickering light of the candles.

After the meager meal was finished, Alice spoke up:

“What do we do now?”

“How about you and Peter go to bed early?” Elizabeth suggested, trying to sound cheerful.

“We never go to bed this early!” Peter protested.

“I don’t want to sleep with the electricity out.  I’ll have nightmares,” Alice put in.

“All right, then,” Elizabeth’s hopes for an easy way to end the evening were crushed, and she searched for another idea.

“Why don’t we play a game!” she burst out with sudden enthusiasm.

“May we play UNO?” Peter asked, interested now.

“Yeah!  May we play UNO, Elizabeth?  Please!” the two children pleaded in unison.

“O.K., show me where it is, and we can play in here.”

Once again, the three set out into the darkened house and returned soon after with the bright red and black cards in hand and smiles on their faces.

Soon, Elizabeth, Alice, and Peter were engrossed in the game.  They were so engrossed, in fact, that they didn’t hear the front door open and steps in the front hall.

“We’re home!” Mr. Hardy bellowed.

All of the card-players jumped in surprise, and Elizabeth vaulted from her bar stool in the kitchen like she had just sat on a porcupine.  Grabbing a flashlight and checking her wristwatch simultaneously, she ran to greet Mr. and Mrs. Hardy.

“I’m so sorry, Mr. and Mrs. Hardy!” Elizabeth gasped, “I didn’t hear you come in.  We were playing a game of UNO.”

“That’s all right, Elizabeth,” Mr. Hardy replied, “How was the evening?”

“Oh, it was wonderful,” Elizabeth replied with a smile, “although the electricity went out and we had to eat peanut butter sandwiches by candlelight,” she added as an afterthought.

Peter and Alice appeared behind Elizabeth.

“Hi, Mom and Dad!  I won two games of UNO,” Alice cried in greeting.

“And I won three!” Peter added.

“We’re glad you had fun, children,” Mrs. Hardy smiled, and then she turned to Elizabeth, handing her a check.  “Thank you for taking good care of the children.  I’m so sorry that you had to take care of them with the electricity out.  If I had known, I would have come straight home!”

“Thank you for your concern, but I’m actually glad the electricity went out; the evening was fun!” Elizabeth said with a smile.  Just then, the lights inside the house blinked on, and Alice and Peter began to yell jubilantly.

Walking home that night along the lamp-lit street, Elizabeth felt relieved to have survived her first babysitting job.  She could already envision telling the story and calling it “The Survival of the Sitter.”  As she considered the evening, though, Elizabeth realized with surprise, That wasn’t as bad as I expected…and I actually enjoyed it!

Something New to Listen To

Over the past several months podcasts have been working their way into my weekly schedule. Whether for the car rides on weekends to visit family and friends, or as a way to fruitfully engage my mind after a long day at work while eating dinner,  I have found them to present intriguing and challenging ideas. Some of them deal with more socio-economic issues (EconTalk), while others are religious in nature (Reformed Pubcast). However, the one I want to talk a little bit about today is one that I have found myself listening to more and more lately: Doctrine and Devotion. The show is hosted by Joe Thorn and Jim Fowler, a Pastor and Elder candidate from Redeemer Fellowship in IL. Each week they release a couple episodes discussing various things such as corporate worship, spiritual gifts, spiritual warfare, the doctrine of election, and more. Each episode is largely structured around an informal discussion between the two hosts on the topic at hand. Also, each episode ends with book recommendations for further reading and study on that week’s subject. If you have been looking for a reformed discussion of different topics, or are just interested in exploring a new podcast, “Doctrine and Devotion” is a great place to start.