August 2007

We live in an age of 24/7 television. No matter what time of day it is, if you turn on the tube, something will be playing. In fact, a LOT of somethings will be playing. With channels that go into the 500s, it’s no wonder.

But it wasn’t always that way.

In the 60s and most of the 70s, I lived in a household that got four local VHF channels that corresponded to the big three - ABC, NBC and CBS - plus PBS, the educational channel, and 3 UHF channels that were independent channels, two that showed very old reruns and movies and one that was strictly religious. These latter channels were local, but because reception depended on an antenna, and we had a very good antenna, one of them came all the way from DFW.

To get a Dallas channel in Lawton, OK was a big deal, and I was happy to have that extra channel. It showed great old cartoons like Crusader Rabbit and the old Popeyes, the ones where Popeye made absolutely hilarious comments under his breath. Most kids just watched Popeye for the surface story, but I tuned in for those comments. I never clued the other kids in about them, either. Half the fun was knowing I was the only one getting the real joke.

With so few channels, you would think that there would be slim pickings when it came to programming, but I don’t remember struggling much to find something to watch - certainly not more than I do now. I suppose I would have chosen other programs had I had a greater choice, but it was kind of nice watching things I wouldn’t normally watch. I learned a lot that way.

Inevitably, though, night would fall and soon all the channels began signing off one by one. I often stayed up late just to watch one particular sign off that was made by the US Air Force. As a lover of poetry, I was drawn to the poem being recited and the fact that it was written by an Air Force pilot who died in the line of duty. I particularly loved the end, because I knew it said exactly what pilots must feel.

I spent a lot of time looking for the exact version I heard as a child and finally came across it here: 

I hope you enjoy it. :)

Of course, the night wasn’t over until the static started, and before that happened, we saw three things:

  1. The National Association of Broadcasters’ Seal of Good Practice - I never understood why all the stations insisted on displaying this image. I guess it was supposed to prove that they were following the rules, though I was never quite sure what those rules were.
  2. The Test Pattern - This was a very interesting image. Notice the Indian Chief in the middle. (Sorry, that’s what we called Native Americans back then. No offense intended.) I always thought that was a very odd thing to have in a test pattern, but apparently it was important, because all versions of the test pattern contained that guy’s picture in some form.
  3. The Color Bars - These were always accompanied by a tone that droned on and on. I think this was intended to wake us up, so we could turn off the TV, since no one would be crazy enough to be up watching it otherwise.

Once I’d made it through the video and all three of these images, I felt like I’d won and could give up the day to sleep at last. It was a satisfying feeling, and the world was as it should have been, each day with a defined beginning and ending.

I miss that a little bit. It’s nice to stay up and watch TV late into the night, but it would be comforting to see a test pattern or hear that tone droning on. It would make me feel like someone was out there looking out for us, like Mom and Dad used to. “Go to bed, kiddies. The test pattern is on. Nothing to see here.”

Instead, I think I’ll go out and catch an old rerun somewhere. Waking up on the couch at 3am isn’t so bad.

Sometimes, the world is too much for me, and I have to pull to the side of the road to take it all in.

I’m not kidding; I actually do that. Sometimes, as I look out at whatever part of the world I happen to be in at the time, I’m so amazed at it that I have to stop what I’m doing, step back and appreciate it. And it’s not just one thing; it’s everything.

It’s the wonders of nature - the amazing array of life we have on this planet. The planet itself, once a ball of fire that now sustains that wondrous array. The progress we’ve made as a species. It absolutely awes me sometimes.

I’ve never understood the argument between chaos and creation. It seems to me that they can both be true. And the bottom line is, no matter which is the truth, the Earth is an amazing, fabulous place to be. We are very lucky to be here.

Go to any city and just look at the vast web of roads, the tall buildings, the trees, the sidewalks and take a minute to stop and think how amazing it is that any of it exists at all.

Just think of it…we went from stone knives and bear skins to this. New technology just pours out of our brains. Somehow, we’ve found ways to invent cars and microwave ovens and recliners. We fly miles high in the air in machines that weigh tons and yet, somehow, float.

And who’s to say that all this isn’t beautiful? I think merely its existence is a testament to our little planet that could. There are so many other planets that are bare rocks, either too hot or too cold, too wet or too dry. Planets that support atmospheres of methane and ammonia. I’m so happy I get to be here instead of there, so I can revel in it all.

Take a moment to survey the world around you and be amazed at what you see. Seriously consider how unlikely it is that we should be here at all and then really look at the things you usually take for granted.

Pull to the side of the road and take it all in. Feel free to say, “Wow.”

Note to self:

No matter how much rain you get - even if it’s 45 inches, like we’ve had here this year - don’t ever, EVER put off mowing the lawn and doing the landscaping, because it’s still wet.

I must admit, I’ve been afraid to look in my backyard for the past couple of weeks. For the past two months, it seems like every time we’ve had a chance to work in the yard, it’s rained a gully washer. Now, I’m finally off for a few days, so I finally got up the nerve to go take a look and get started.


This isn’t just six weeks’ growth. This is a jungle! I worked for two hours and got about a third of it done.

Never again. I don’t care if I’m wading ankle deep, I’m going out there with at least the weed eater.

[Please note: The picture above is not of my backyard. It’s a jungle in Borneo. But it might as well be.]

Here’s the opposite end of my music loving spectrum. I have no idea why I love this song so much, but I’ve loved it since I can remember. I think it has to be connected with some special memory, though I couldn’t tell you what the memory is. All I know is that every time I hear it, it makes me feel good. Contentment washes over me, my blood pressure goes down, my breathing slows.

The funny thing is that this is the first time I’ve ever seen Ray Price actually singing it. I had no idea until today what he even looked like. (He looks a little stiff up there; doesn’t he?) Of course, he’s lip-syncing the song - that was the norm back in the 60s; no one would have vilified him for it.

Anyway…lots of people have covered this piece - Elvis had his own version - but this is the only one I like. So, that said, here’s Ray Price singing “For the Good Times.”

I love music. Music can both soothe and energize me. It can evoke powerful emotions or memories. And I love it all. If asked to write down my top ten favorite musical pieces, the list would contain classical, opera, rock, pop, country, alternative and soul. I guess you could say that my musical tastes are eclectic. I think I just like good stuff, no matter what the genre.

My favorite piece of all is something I heard quite by chance when I was a child. I had been watching a program on PBS - probably The Cosmos or something similar - and the show ran short, leaving 15 minutes for the station to fill. They filled the time with a kaleidoscope of colors that moved and shifted to the music that was playing in the background. At first, it was the shifting colors that held me there, but soon, I was taken over by the music. For the entire 15 minutes it played, I sat there mesmerized, my eyes closed so I could feel it completely.

It was only when it was over that I realized I was crying.

I didn’t hear that piece again for almost 20 years, but I never forgot it. Such chromaticism! Such modulation! The way it swelled near the end to its heart wrenching apex. I thought about it often and even tried to hum it to my music teachers, hoping one of them would recognize it, but no one ever did.

Then one day when I was a senior in college taking a music appreciation class I considered a pleasant waste of time; considering my years of musical training as a violinist, violist and saxophonist; I heard the piece again. As it began to play, it was as though my heart were being drawn to it, and if it hadn’t been for the other 20 students in the room, I would have wept with relief.

After class, I ran after the professor to ask what the piece was. I could tell how pleased he was as he told me that it was the the Liebestod (finale) from Wagner’s opera, Tristan und Isolde, when Isolda describes her vision of Tristan risen again and then she dies of grief. I told him how long I’d been searching for it, and he reveled in my story, surely feeling his work had been successful that day. I immediately left campus to go purchase the LP. I skipped the rest of my classes, so I could play that record again and again.

Now, almost 20 years later, I still listen to it several times a week and know it by heart. It’s in my car’s six CD changer that holds all my favorites, and if I’m not careful, I still cry at 14 minutes 8 seconds, when the music reaches its apex. It’s just that emotionally overwhelming.

Below is a YouTube video of one of my favorite conductors, Leonard Bernstein, conducting the Boston Symphony as they play the finale. Though it’s not the complete piece, you can see for yourself how wonderful it is. Notice his expression at the apex (6 minutes and 42 seconds in, or when the counter at the bottom is at 2:35), and you can see how emotionally overwhelmed he is.

It’s both beautiful and heartbreaking.

I told myself last week that I wouldn’t cry when I left. I steeled myself to prepare for it. I just knew I had conquered it.

This week, though, was another story. I blubbered like a baby. I don’t do goodbyes well, even though I know it’s not like we won’t see each other again. We can have lunches, we can meet for dinners, there’s the phone.

Never-the-less, I’m a crybaby.

And the thing is…I look really bad when I cry. I mean it’s seriously ugly. And I don’t just cry a little; I weep, my breath hitches, and the more I do this the worse it gets until I just can’t hold on to it anymore. So, as I’m sure you can guess, I hate to cry in front of people.

I’m convinced that my mirror synapses are just really strong. Our mirror synapses are the cells in our brain that allow us to learn from watching others and to feel what we think they must be feeling. We call this empathy. The original words from which the word empathy was derived literally mean passionate feeling.* And those words truly describe why I cried this week. Life was nothing but a big ball of passionate feelings.

Passionate feelings, while driven by mirror synapses, cause certain chemicals to be released in our bodies. Crying is the necessary release of those chemicals. With that in mind, I’d say that my brain and body are just working as designed when I cry. In fact, I’d say that my body is incredibly efficient in the way it handles these processes.

So, now all you folks who were with me when I started to cry this week know the truth. (And I guess if you read last night’s blog below, it makes the situation even clearer.) Being with you and knowing that I won’t get to be with you on a day-to-day basis made me passionately sad this week.

I can blame it on the mirror synapses and the chemicals that were aching to be released, but even though science can explain it, it’s the heart that understands it.

I just wish I could look a little better when I do it.

*1903, translation of Ger. Einfühlung (from ein “in” + Fühlung “feeling”), coined 1858 by Ger. philosopher Rudolf Lotze (1817-81) from Gk. empatheia “passion,” from en- “in” + pathos “feeling”

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