Sunday, May 30, 2010


Walking up to the top of the Fannin Eldgridge Cemetery, you climb and climb the hill. Walking on a dirt road, there are trees and ferns, wildflowers and moss, on both sides. Thick green growth with butterflies who fly more like dive bombers than the expected flitting creatures are accompanied by a few bees buzzing about. If you come a little late, or are a slower hill walker-upper than others, when you near the top third of the climb, the sounds of the singing occurring at the top seems to just be a sweet breath of air. It washes over you, flowing past and into you as you climb.

Yesterday, I made such a climb. We started out on time. Then, the realization hit that the box of hymnals that had been packed so that everyone could sing along, had been forgotten at the church. A quick trip back to retrieve those left us walking up the hill and listening to that singing. It’s not about how fast you climb the hill; it’s not even about how easy it is to climb the hill. Instead, this hill seems to be a badge of honor. The elderly used to state that if they could climb the hill one more year, then they must be doing all right with their health and would live another year. At the top, there was a small service with a short message and then more singing. Tall pine trees stood like sentinels around us, green and fragrant. Mosses of different kinds created soft and cushy spots on the ground. A rosebush was blooming pink blossoms. The tombstones needed to have the old flowers removed and the new flowers placed.
I enjoy the whole process, except perhaps for knowing that there are snakes in those woods. But, it is the music floating back down the rough dirt road that is something that stands out. Voices blend in different harmonies. Some voices are on key while others are off. Staccato or legato phrasing can be heard, with either sharp and quick words, smooth pronouncements, or something in between occurring. Some voices are very pure, others are nasal. The bass is present, the tenor, the alto, and the soprano. The harmony bends and sways with the music depending on how familiar everyone is with the piece. Sometimes notes are off and do not blend or perhaps are not resolved well. Others can barely be heard as they try to be invisible in their vocal contribution. The words are not always known, or how the parts split out to do their own thing. This can result in a momentary confusion and unsure sense of what to do next.
It wasn’t until later in the day that I really thought about the music and how family is a lot like that. Some come into this world with a beautiful tone, on pitch and pleasant to the ears. They are the encouragers, the ones who can make children laugh, or can speak softly to those who are frightened. Others can squall out a tune which will make the least of the vocally trained dive for cover. Sang with great gusto and absolute disregard for the others around them, the pitch wavers and jumps up to hide the softer. Those who are barely making any sound at all are there, even if they are difficult to hear. They may have the most beautiful harmony of all, but without additional courage no one will ever hear it. Harmonizers can move between parts and add an additional layer to what is there, building the strength of the music.
Family is a lot like this. Perhaps you can realize yourself in the midst of that. I watched children play and they were in a moment of harmony. Their squeals and laughter, mixed with the sound of the creek running around their toes was beautiful. It was a part of the music filled with little bubbles of sweetness and joy. At other times, the music was more somber. A cemetery was looked out over and those who had finished singing their music here and were leaving only their echoing themes were remembered.
There are signs commonly found about not getting to pick your family. Well, that is true. There will be discord from time to time. The very quiet one may grow louder and be tired of the one who always sings loud claiming all of the part. They will have to determine the new blend and start a new theme. Family is messy; there are many discords, many unresolved notes. But it is a symphony of sound, of tightly interlaced chords.