A Happy Birthday to a Most Wonderful Grandfather

Today would have been my grandfather’s 84th birthday. I wrote about him last year, right around this time, and today as I sit here thinking of him, it is his intrinsic goodness and gentleness of spirit that shine the brightest among my memories of him. Through his passion for living, boundless generosity, sincere joyfulness, intense loyalty, and never-ending capacity to love he became the shining example of what it meant to be a good human being, and more than anyone, he taught me the immense power of kindness and joy.

Happy birthday, granddad!

Happy birthday, granddad!

Recently, I had the incredible pleasure of reconnecting with my ex step-mother; a woman who, for nearly a dozen years, played a very big role in my life. Soon after, she told me that her mother had recently passed away, and although I had not seen either one of them in nearly twenty years, my heart was filled with incredible sadness at the news. I realized as the tears welled up in my eyes, that she had been one of those rare people who left an indelible mark on who I am, despite the relatively brief time that I knew her. She was, perhaps, one of the most tender-hearted people who I have had the joy of knowing, always happily willing to go out of her way to make everyone feel welcomed and at home. She had an easy and unassuming way of making me feel, even as an awkward and difficult teenager, well, important. I realized, as I mourned her passing, that she had taught me, like my grandfather, the quiet strength that can lie in gentleness and goodness.

I also recall a Saturday night several moths ago when I sat across from Greg at dinner and listened intently as he spoke about his mother-in-law, grandmother, and grandfather. The change in his voice when he spoke of them, the look in his eyes when he told me of his memories, spoke to the powerful impact and influence that they had on his life. He was lucky to have them, and the common thread between all of them, was, again, their innate kindness and goodness, and the impact that they have had on him is undeniable, as he is undoubtedly one of the kindest, warmest, and most loving men that I have ever known, both as a father to his children and as a partner to me.

We live in a culture that seems to embrace the loud and aggressive kind of strength, the kind that shouts, pushes, and beats its chest. Whether it’s on television, film, or music, those that win are those that push and manipulate their way ahead… or those with the biggest guns. In either case, kindness and joyfulness are seldom depicted as a true virtues, and never as real sources of strength. But the truth is, as I look back on my forty years, it’s not the loud and aggressive that have left a positive mark on my life, but the gentle and kind. It’s them, people like my grandfather, my ex-step-grandmother, and others like them that have given me the keys to living a fundamentally rich and rewarding life.

My daughter is now four years old. In such a blurred rush of time, she’s gone from an infant in my arms to an independent child with a big personality of her own. Last night, as I tucked her in for the night, I wondered who would she encounter in her life, that later she would recall as having helped shape and guide her. My grandfather is no longer here to be that stellar example for her, but I can only hope, despite my many faults, that I can through my actions, show her the lessons that he and others like him taught me.

Happy birthday, Granddad, and thank you for teaching me to find me strength in kindness and compassion, and in gentleness and generosity. I love and miss you terribly.

 

Advertisements

Happy Birthday Mozart!

I was reminded earlier by George at Euzicasa that today is Mozart’s birthday, and I think I’m not alone when I say that he is among my favorite classical composers, and that I wish him a very happy birthday.

To this day, I remember my first experience of a Mozart opera. I was 12 years old and traveling with my grandparents in Europe. We were in Salzburg and they took me to see a performance of Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute), performed in the famous Salzburg Marionette Theatre. They had introduced me to opera the previous year with Madame Butterfly, and I had loved it, but this was an entirely different experience. The voices were amazing, the production was beautiful, and the marionettes, well, I forgot that I was watching puppets after about the first ten minutes. It made me fall in love with opera and with Mozart, and that love has not diminished one bit over the years.

My daughter and I waiting for "Mozart Under the Moon" to start.

Now I’m trying to instill that same love in my daughter, and although she’s still a bit young for opera, she’s certainly not too young to enjoy the music of such a marvelous composer. Just last year I took her to her first concert, “Mozart under the Moon,” and we both loved it. It was the night of the “supermoon” and it was an outdoor concert featuring “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik,” and several other pieces (a gorgeous moon and brilliant music, how can you go wrong?). Its been nearly one year and she still asks to return, and whenever she hears classical music at home or on the radio, she calls it “concert music.” Needless to say, as soon as she’s old enough, we’re hopping a plane to Salzburg to watch the marionettes bring Mozart to life.

I was able to find this series of clips from the Salzburg Marionette Theatre’s performance of The Magic Flute. Unfortunately, there wasn’t anything out there that showed an entire scene with decent quality, but at least this gives you a small taste of how magical the experience of watching it was. That Queen of the Night scene was downright breathtaking.

Enjoy!

Happy 70th Birthday Stephen Hawking!

"It surprises me how disinterested we are today about things like physics, space, the universe and philosophy of our existence, our purpose, our final destination. It’s a crazy world out there. Be curious."

From Reuters:

 The world’s best known living scientist, Stephen Hawking, was too ill to attend his 70th birthday celebrations Sunday but in a recorded speech urged people to “look up at the stars” and be curious about the universe.

Hawking, the author of the international bestseller “A Brief History of Time,” was diagnosed with motor neuron disease in 1963 and told he had barely two years to live. He has since been hailed as one of the most brilliant theoretical physicists since Einstein.

In the speech played out at a symposium in his honor at Cambridge University, he said his excitement and enthusiasm for his subject drove him on, and urged others to seek out the same inspiration.

“Remember to look up at the stars, not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see and wonder about what makes the universe exist. Be curious,” Hawking said in the speech he had been due to give in person.

Earlier today while visiting my father, the conversation turned to the telescope that “Santa” had brought for my daughter and me. As the conversation went on, my father reminded me that he used to take me to the planetarium on his visitation days, when I was still quite young. I think within a span of a just two or three years we must have gone at least once every three weeks or so. It was certainly there where my obsession with space and science began. That was in the 70s. In the 80’s I discovered Carl Sagan‘s Cosmos, and began looking through the larger telescope at our local science museum. It was as that passion began to mature that I first came across Stephen Hawking.

His book, A Brief History of Time was given to me late in high school, and reading it had me absolutely determined to study physics. I did, and although I never quite got around to completing that major (I finally settled in the history department), it has shaped the way that I have learned to look at the world.

So thank you, Dr. Hawking, and a very happy birthday to you. Your work continues to inspire me to live filled with that sense of curiosity and wonder that I have so often written about, and your life serves as a reminder to face the challenges that I am handed with the strength that you have always shown.

Here’s the first part of the PBS series Steven Hawking’s Universe.

Keep looking up at the stars, and enjoy!