Happy New Year! It's been a nice break with lots of fun family time. As always, it's good to be back at school. It promises to be a great second semester and a great 2015.
Each year at this time I wrestle with whether or not to renew my tired old New Year's resolutions. They never change much. I usually start the year determined to begin each day with a healthy dose of spiritual study. This resolution re-appears each year and though not consistent, it is the list topper and manages to stay on my radar throughout the year. Healthy eating and exercise are usually next on my list, followed closely by a determination to be more organized. Occasionally I promise myself to undertake a new hobby. Out of the blocks, I'm generally pretty consistent and successful. By the second or third week my old habits creep back up and my resolve fades. Consistency soon becomes inconsistent. It's a pattern that has become pretty predictable.
A few days ago I read an article that articulated for me the reason why my resolutions over the years have lacked just that: resolution. The author pointed out that many good resolutions have failed, not because the custom or the intentions were faulty, but because we tend to rely on human will to bring about change when we should be relying on grace, God's grace. As a result, this year I have a new approach to making resolutions. Instead of looking to change the things I don't like, or add the things I feel I'm missing, I am looking to add grace and meaning to my endeavors.
At a conference last fall I heard a speaker (Penelope Burk) who shared her thoughts about meaningful recognition for acts of giving. She told the story of a dinner honoring an important contributor to a university's capital campaign, and the quest to thank him in a deeply significant way for his many contributions. For a black-tie fundraising dinner, the university's development staff had prepared and presented his family genealogy on a special parchment. In doing their research they discovered that the donor's late father had been a composer. Later in the evening several musicians entered the room and took their places on the dais. They played a musical tribute to the father of the donor, the composer of the music being played. Ms. Burk described the scene to us; as the honoree began listening to the old familiar tunes, he looked up from his plate, overwhelmed with emotion, and broke into tears. All the guests in the room rose from their seats with a standing ovation. The gift was unspeakably wonderful and full of meaning to the family.
It never ceases to amaze me how life twists and turns as we journey down its path. Hearing that story led my family to give our own meaningful gift. I never met my mother's father. He passed away suddenly in the mid-1930's when she was only six years old. My grandfather was a renowned musician, a percussionist who was especially accomplished at playing the xylophone. My mother, now two months away from her 85th birthday, has always spoken of her father with the fond, proud memories of a little girl who admired and idolized her daddy. I own one photo of him, a sepia-toned picture in which he is standing, handsome and austere, in front of a xylophone. As Christmas approached this year, I told Kim the story of the fundraising dinner described above. The story sparked his interest and inspired him to start researching the career of my grandfather. His research unearthed some old playbills from when my grandfather played the Chautauqua circuit with a band leader named Bohumir Kryl. I picked up the research from there and learned that Mr. Kryl and his band members earned the distinction of being some of the first musicians to record their performances on phonograph cylinders.
You can imagine our delight when we followed a research thread which led us to listen to a scratchy old recording of a song in which my grandfather was playing. As it turns out, in January 2002 the UC Santa Barbara Library undertook a cylinder preservation and digitalization project in which they digitalized turn-of-the-20th-century cylinder recordings and made them accessible for public circulation. With a little more searching we were able to purchase a copy of a CD highlighting one of his performances. Our kids got involved and turned some of the old playbills into photographs. We framed them up and put this precious gift in the mail.
I was on the phone with my mother who was at her home in California when she opened the package. As she pulled away the wrapping she discovered the pictures of her father and the recording of him playing on stage so many years before. She was overcome with emotion, as were we, and we were able to share with her the moments when she heard her father perform for the first time in almost 80 years. My quest for finding grace and meaning has started off well.
I enjoy writing these memos, and hope that they have meaning for many of you. They tend to be lengthy, so it is the devoted reader who manages to follow these writings. I write them because I feel that they give insight into my background and my perspective as the leader of St. Martin's. A few readers have mentioned to me that they feel they have missed some of my recent memos. The reality is that I have begun writing them a little less often so as not to overcrowd your inbox. This is a long one. If you have read this far please know that I admire and appreciate your stamina!
Happy New Year, everyone!