Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Acorn and the Oak

Just back from a Memorial Service for a friend’s sister. A lovely event, just the right mixture of tears and laughter, trying to summarize a life that is impossible, as all lives are, to wholly capture. What struck me so forcibly was the slide show, with select photos from early childhood to her final year at 76. All those faces with the same soul behind them. I’ve always loved the faces of children, wide-eyed in wonder, explosive in natural laughter and unposed for the camera. Then the young adults at graduations or weddings, palpably gazing out into their unknown future with such confidence and excitement. Then come the faces starting to look a bit weather-worn in the thick of it all and somewhere along the line, an invisible line is crossed and the gaze is more backward than forward, some wisdom in the cracks and crevices of the skin. Each face so different from the stage before or after and yet precisely the same. (This would be immediately obvious if I could show these photos from the show side-by-side. Makes me wonder if anyone has done a photography book with beginning/middle/end photos of different people.)

My job at the service was to play some music as people filtered in and then again at the end as they made their way to the refreshments. Only when I sat down to play after the last speaker, I quickly realized that the people were sitting and listening. The host began the slide show again just as I was finishing the introduction to Somewhere Over the Rainbow and I ended up being the soundtrack for these evocative photos tracing a soul that was born, grew, developed and died, but at the core, was simply itself during all those stages. And I’d like to think it still is continuing to fulfill its own image in the next stage. I segued into Embraceable You and then Time On My Hands, these tender jazz tunes in honor of someone who was trained to sing Mozart and was equally happy to sing Broadway showtunes. How happy I was that such songs are now part of me, no pages to shuffle, just pouring effortlessly from the fingers as I watched the show. The last slide coincided with my last note, a moment of silence and then the murmer of the folks turning to greet each other and keep the stories going over crackers and cheese.

I’ve mentioned James Hillman’s book The Soul’s Code before in these blogs and I’ll mention it again. It is a modern articulation of an ancient idea, that the blueprint for the oak is wholly contained in the acorn. As the tree grows, wind or squirrels or disease may give it unique quirks of character, but its essential qualities were present from the beginning and remain to the end. Oak acorns have no choice but to be oak trees and humans are, of course, humans. But the variables are so many and the choices so daunting that to stay true to your particular image, that acorn of your soul’s undertaking, is a difficult path indeed. I didn’t know my friend’s sister well, just crossed paths at occasional events throughout the years. But I could see so clearly the same spirit shining out of the eyes of the little girl, the young performing singer, the middle-aged social worker, the elder woman even as she suffered from Parkinsons and back operations. As people spoke about her, you could feel that here was someone who stayed true to herself.

No one really knows what we’re doing here on this spinning globe, but if we have to invent meaning, we might as well pick a good story. The idea that each of us is an embodied soul sent here to become wholly itself is a noble tale and worthy of our efforts. The world needs many eyes and ears and minds and hearts to praise it and love it and create a parallel beauty through a living art or an artful life. We don’t get to wholly know what our soul’s image is or why it chose us, but we can pay attention to its call and amidst all the pulls and distractions, follow it wholeheartedly. To keep that same smile you had at the beginning in the middle and the end is indeed a worthy victory. 

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