O Joy that seekest me through pain,
I cannot close my heart to thee;
I trace the rainbow through the rain,
And feel the promise is not vain,
That morn shall tearless be. ~George Matheson.
I am not sure why I love the sound of a good brass band. They are a particularly English phenomenon, I believe. They were a product of working-class towns in the north of England, thriving in the Industrial Revolution of the 19th Century. The band would be associated with a coal mine, and would be a source of pride and release for those who dared to risk their lives in that endless night, miles beneath the ground. The mines may be closed now, and many of the bands no longer exist, but the music lives on. If you can handle the accents, the movie Brassed Off will give you a taste.
I think I have a memory of being taken to watch a Brass Band perform in the park as a young child, but I could very well be hijacking someone else’s memory. I do remember my father telling the story of shocking one of his church members terribly, as a young father. He was babysitting his first two children (who may have been 4 and 2 at the time) and took them with him to a local Brass Band performance. They, strangely enough, were not as entertained as he was, and were acting like normal kids their age, Exasperated, at some point in the performance, he loudly (because of the noise of the band) admonished them “For goodness sake, shut up!”. Unfortunately, he said it during a pause in the music, and his penetrating voice was heard by all. He claims the church lady who was present at the performance was so mad with him, she didn’t speak to him for weeks!
There is a particularly haunting quality to the harmony of trumpets, cornets, trombones, softened by the syncopation of the tuba bouncing the bass line. It may be because they played hymns along with secular songs. Of course the Brass Bands of New Orleans fame (and their joyful celebration-of-life style funerals) jazz up the music in a different way. In contrast to the ordered, conducted, uniform performance of the British version, N’Orleans takes it’s Big Easy, irreverent, scatting style and brings a smile to the face. They laugh in the face of death, taunt the Grim Reaper, and remind those who are left behind that we don’t have much time, so let’s be joyful while we still can.
I have recently shared in that most painful, unfair, unkind loss, the loss of a child. It so happens that in the space of 2 months, I have friends, and in one case a student, who have had to go (and are still going) through the unbearable nightmare of the death of their young children. Most of us can only say: I cannot imagine how you survive, how you continue, how you get up and eat and drink and put on clothes in the light of such a thing. As hard as it is to write about such unfathomable pain, how much harder is it for those torn apart, those whose lives have been forever altered by the loss.
It was at the recent funeral of two of these children that I was comforted by the sound of a Brass Band. It was a simple service in a large but unpretentious church, packed to standing room only capacity. Somehow, the uncle (a Judge) did the impossible: he brought smiles and laughter to a room full of people who had been somber and tearful. He brought the spirits of the children to life, had them dancing up and down the aisles. More than the slide show of two beautiful, promising little girls, he was able to introduce us to them, despite their few years on this planet.
Can you imagine having such an impact on the world that your teacher composed an original song in your honor, and had your VPK class perform it? Can you imagine, at the age of five, having a ‘bestie’ who would stand at the mike, read a prepared speech, delivered with humor and eloquence? Can you imagine, at the age of five, being able to memorize, perform, and teach your two year old sister, a ‘worship dance’? Whereas the actual performers of such expressive dances do so to taped music, this young star sang her own accompaniment, with such emotion and passion that she eclipsed the polished performance of the actual singers. We watched a video of her performance, with her young sister adding her own jazzed up version, minutes before the dancers who had inspired her, danced live for us.
I write in honor of these flames that lit up their world so briefly. When we bring children into the world, we think of our responsibility to them. We try our best to provide for them, to teach them, to give them what we did not have. We try to give them the best of what we had; to instill values, ethics, a sense of history and so much more. But what I realized, is that it may be that children come to teach us, to give us, to instill in us a stronger sense of who we are and what we are here to do. As hard as it has been to write about such an amputation, the painful tearing away of young lives from their parents, how much harder is it for those who are still raw and bleeding. Regardless of faith or religious conviction, regardless of being able to see those spirits as sparkling-winged angels up above, it is the absence in the present that will keep the wounds fresh for a long time.
This Friday morning I hope we are all able to appreciate those terrors who can inspire us to yell ‘shut up!’ in public, and look for the lessons they bring us. I hope you can find comfort in the story of two little girls who brought a huge outpouring of love and support, and impacted an international community in their brief lives. I hope you will ‘suffer the little children’ when they act like children. I hope you will know that energy lives on somewhere, even when we can’t feel it. I hope you celebrate life in a joyous, N’Orleans kind of way.
Have a wonderful weekend, Family!