Tribute to The Phantom

The Phantom of the Opera is a gothic horror story told to us through a musical score so rich with emotion that it strikes a chord uncomfortably close to home, a veritable showcase for humanity’s darkness and innocence betrayed.

The Phantom of the Opera is a 1986 musical later adapted to film…its central plot revolves around a beautiful soprano, Christine Daaé, who becomes the obsession of a mysterious, disfigured musical genius living in the subterranean labyrinth beneath the Paris Opéra House.[1]

Recently, I find myself overly identifying with the Phantom. Minus all the murder and mayhem, of course. Perhaps our government mandated isolation has given me too much time to think.

I can understand the Opera Ghost’s emotions, his agony of heartbreak and anger, of care being repaid with denial, all so brilliantly and beautifully expressed by Gerard Butler in his performance of the Phantom in Joel Schumacher’s 2004 movie adaptation.

Abused, abandoned, betrayed. Rejected. Sorrow turns to anger. Defeat brings back sorrow. An infamous loop of pain. Poor Phantom.

This song is one of my favorite scenes.

Powerful, right?

Here’s another one. This song speaks of painful memory — of loss and regret, naïve confusion, of wanting to release the past for something new, and praying for the strength to say goodbye.

Too many years
Fighting back tears
Why can’t the past
Just die?

No more memories
No more silent tears
No more gazing across
The wasted years
Help me say
Goodbye

Thank goodness February has now ended – the darkest, coldest, dreariest month of the year and coincidently my birth month. Let the March winds blow! Let them clear away the cobwebs in my mind. May the April rains wash everything clean once more.

Spring can’t come soon enough…

My spirit will soar upon the arrival of birdsong. I will watch the trees unfurl their tender young leaves as we stand together, smiling in warm sunshine under a blue, cloudless sky.

Peace out.

Don’t you know you can’t go home again?

 “You can’t go back home to your family, back home to your childhood … back home to a young man’s dreams of glory and of fame … back home to places in the country, back home to the old forms and systems of things which once seemed everlasting but which are changing all the time – back home to the escapes of Time and Memory.”       

~You Can’t Go Home Again by Thomas Wolfe

Given the state of U.S. politics, and the outrageous use of China’s virus to subjugate our population, I became wistful for the days of my youth, when telephones connected people, not data, and television programs ended at midnight. I longed to return to that time in U.S. history before technology — the Internet — enticed us into drug-like dependencies that turned a free-thinking public into easy prey for unscrupulous power-mongers, effectively changing our socio-economic landscapes forevermore.

Of course I didn’t realize this at first. Every morning after listening to the news, I switched the smart-TV to my DVR menu of satellite recordings for a few calming episodes of Father Knows Best, an American sitcom televised from 1954-1960.

I told myself I needed to escape the daily dose of modern trauma for just a little while, escape “back home” to a poignant past when family meant love and guidance and safety, when patriotism for one’s country was lauded, when people were well-mannered and treated each other with respect, when folks dressed in tailored clothing… The escapes of Time and Memory hold limitless lists.

Such is the way of illusions.

But I didn’t dwell on these thoughts. I was having too much fun searching through dusty storage boxes and reviving my mother’s hand-me-down formal dinnerware c. 1955. I hand washed sink fulls of cut crystal and fine china, and polished silver until my fingers stained black. I resurrected old recipes of complex dishes long forgotten and experimented with a few new ones; then I hosted festive dinner parties like the days of old.

The more dire the news reports became, the more I delved into baking fancy treats and cooking elaborate meals. I didn’t realize that I was in fact trying to go home again, to that place of time and memory, to “…old forms and systems of things which once seemed everlasting.”

It wasn’t until I attended a dinner party with friends who share my love of social graces and a table beautifully set, that I had an epiphany.

We had been talking about favorite television shows, and when I voiced my reasoning for a daily dose of Father Knows Best, our dinner host kindly reminded me of the terrible political struggles of 1954 – 1960 that caused major societal and economic upheavals, in addition to the obvious cultural issues of the time.

The truth is, there’s plenty of trauma in every part of American history and it is only when we look back through time with rose-colored glasses, or try to “run back home to the escapes of Time and Memory”, that nostalgia competes with history.

I would never want to revive 1950’s America! But I do hate to ‘throw out the baby with the bath water’.

So for now, I’ll continue to enjoy nostalgic fine dining with good friends and family. It’s one way to cope during these troubled times, when civil liberties are disappearing as fast as civility.

I’ll also take the good parts of TV fantasy-land, such as in the “Thanksgiving Day” episode of Father Knows Best that I watched this morning, when the Anderson family gathers together at the dinner table. They clasp hands and bow their heads as Father recites this blessing:

“Oh Lord, we give these thanks from the depths of our humble hearts, for all the blessings thou has seen fit to bestow upon us.

We thank thee for the food which graces our table, and the roof which covers our head.

We thank thee for the privilege of living as free men in a country which respects our freedoms, and our personal right to worship and think and speak as we choose.

We thank thee for making us a family, for giving us sincerity and understanding.

But most of all, dear Lord, we thank thee for giving us the greatest gift a family may know — the gift of love for one another.

Amen.”

~Father Knows Best, S1 E8 “Thanksgiving Day” (1954)

A Budgie Rescue

I’ve heard it said, that a “familiar chooses the witch”.

A toad I could understand, or even a crow — but a ‘budgie’?  What kind of a witch gets a parakeet for a familiar?  At least that’s the question I have for the god Pan, next time he’s in the neighborhood.

As any student of nature (or mythology) knows – Pan is the god of Nature, the god of the wild, and he can be a bit of a trickster too.  It’s with good reason that Pan was the inspiration behind the word ‘panic’.  I can almost hear his roar of laughter after scaring some nincompoop into fleeing from his forest.

A Restful Green Man

I happen to be on good terms with Pan, for the most part, and I paid tribute to Nature by engraving the Green Man’s image onto my patio’s fireplace keystone.

I have a deep affinity for the wild things that visit my yard and I welcome them, one and all, with just one caveat:

Don’t mess with my stuff or it’s game on!

Consequently I view the cycles of nature from a realist’s perspective, understanding that all creatures need to eat.  I love the bunnies who live in my forsythia hedge and I enjoy watching them come out at eventide to munch on clover flowers.  But I also know that our neighborhood fox might invite one or two home for dinner.

Toad vs. Marigold

I grow herbs that invite beneficial bees, praying mantis, butterflies, and even “good” wasps…  After planting a Rue bush in my garden, its blooms attracted a polite variety of wasp that chased away all the nasty mud daubers who rudely buzz folks for no good reason.

I don’t even mind that a toad confiscated my marigold seed pots.  In fact, I’m tempted to put out a special dish of soil just for him.

And then there’s all the wild birds.  Not only do we have natural food sources like a bing cherry tree, elderberries, and the like, but all year round my husband and I stock several feeders, hang suet blocks, and keep a steady supply of fresh water for all our feathered friends.  And yes, the squirrels are welcome to take their fair share too – as long as they don’t get greedy.

So in a way, my yard has its own ecosystem because we move in concert with the rhythm of the natural world; as much as possible.  One year, we just couldn’t stand by and watch a black snake hunt a nest of baby Robins from the auspices of our front porch.  We quietly, and kindly, redirected him elsewhere in the yard.  Black snakes need to eat too, I know, but I do have my limits.

With all this said, you can imagine my surprise when a cobalt blue ‘budgie’ not only fluttered into my yard, but specifically sought me out!  Parakeets are not native, nor are they wild, to the mid-Atlantic region of the United States.

Continue reading A Budgie Rescue

What is Happiness, Anyway?

Recently, I read a poem that reminded me of a few things I’ve learned over the years.  It spelled out how to live a happy life.

Happiness.  It’s such a simple word.

We tend to toss it about casually, thoughtlessly.  A word that’s become so integral to our modern lives — that it’s easy to take its concept for granted.

Let us not forget it’s one of the key principles upon which the U.S.A. is founded, fought for by brave men and women, many of whom sacrificed lives and loved ones.  Our 1776 Declaration of Independence includes the “pursuit of happiness” as a specific God-given right to all of mankind:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

What does happiness mean to you?

For some, happiness comes from buying a shiny new car or landing a coveted job promotion; holding their newborn child, or for that matter, sitting in a puddle of squiggling puppies.  For others, happiness is found in Nature, whether it’s listening to a chorus of toads revel in a gentle rain or feel the sun’s warmth on an upturned face.  Perhaps it’s in the smile of a lover’s embrace.

There are countless fleeting moments that can all be ascribed to happiness, but I wonder — wouldn’t these things be better described as “pleasure”?  As blips of time that bring us “happy satisfaction and enjoyment” — until the new shiny wears off and the gentle rain turns into a torrent of flooding water.

What is happiness, anyway?

The dictionary defines happiness as “the state of being happy”.  Which brings us back to the idea that this means something different to everyone, such that some people are happiest when they are miserable!

However, I believe that the human condition shares a common basis for achieving happiness.  It goes beyond creature comforts such as food, shelter, and clothes.  It includes things like being wanted, loved, and cared for by someone else.  Principles that Mother Teresa shared with the world.

Here is that poem I mentioned at the beginning.  It’s credited to Mother Teresa as an adaptation of “The Paradoxical Commandments” by Kent M. Keith (1968):

The Only Way to Be Happy and Successful:  Do It Anyway

People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered; forgive them anyway.

If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives; be kind anyway.

If you are successful, you will win some false friends and some genuine enemies; succeed anyway.

If you are honest and sincere, people may deceive you; be honest and sincere anyway.

What you spend years creating, others may destroy overnight; create anyway.

If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous; be happy anyway.

The good you do today, will often be forgotten tomorrow; do good anyway.

Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough; give the world your best anyway.

In the final analysis, it is between you and God; it was never between you and them anyway.

So don’t let anyone or anything rob you of your happiness! Not your shrew of a mother-in-law, your cheating husband, nor the COVID-19 pandemic.

I’ll leave you with the immortal words of Bobby McFerrin — “Don’t worry.  Be happy.”