Tuesday, February 19, 2013


(I admit it’s a little late for my annual solstice post, but better late than never.)

I am sitting under a quilt in my living room, listening, as I have for the past forty years, to the Christmas Eve service broadcast (live!) from Kings College, Cambridge.  
“Adam lay ybounden, bounden in a bond; four thousand winter thought he not too long.  And all was for an apple, an apple that he took, as clerkes finden, written in their book.  Ne had the apple taken been, ne had never our ladie been heav’ne queen!  Blessed be the time that apple taken was, therefore we moun singen.  Deo Gracias!”

I've sung this ancient carol before, and I love listening to these Old English words in the candlelight.  As I sit in the pre-dawn dimness, I can see the congregation all those thousands of miles away in the English twilight.  I can hear them rustling and coughing in their seats. I see the adorable-looking boy sopranos in their starched cassocks and surplices.  (Although having been the choir mom for a men and boys’ choir, I know that this is “surface cute.”  The contraband magazines in their music folders are not the kind of reading material you expect pink-cheeked boy sopranos to be reading, until you realize that they are 12- and 13-year-old boys.)

But I get to thinking about the words of the carol.

“Blessed be the time that apple taken was, therefore we moun singen.  Deo Gracias!”


Isn’t that the “original sin” we keep hearing about?  Why was this apple-taking a good idea?

Because “Ne had the apple taken been, ne had never our ladie been heav’ne queen!”

Oh, that's right.  I forgot about that whole redemption thing.

Then I got to thinking about Sleeping Beauty.  (This follows…it’s  Christmas, right?   The magi brought gifts…we give presents on Christmas…the good fairies gave Briar Rose gifts of beauty, wit and musical abilities…good.  Glad you’re coming along with me on this.) 

Remember, Briar Rose’s parents didn’t invite the bad fairy to their new baby’s party?  So she got mad?  So when the good fairies gave her all the nice presents, she decided that the baby would prick her finger on a spindle and die when she was a teenager?  The last good fairy, you remember, was able to modify this gift a little bit…instead of dying, Rose would sleep for one hundred years, when a prince would wake her with a kiss.

(Scholars of Grimm’s fairy tales, if this isn’t EXACTLY the way you remember it, give me a break.  I’m not even going into how this story is constructed of bits and pieces from earlier myths and stories, including Brunnhilde.)

And of course, despite her worried parents burning every last spinning wheel in the kingdom (and just what did everybody do for clothes, in this pre-industrial age, with no spinning going on for fifteen years), Rose managed to find the only spindle in the entire kingdom – isn’t that just like a kid – and pricks her finger on it and falls asleep.  And so does everybody else.  The rose bushes grow up over the castle.

At this point in the story or the movie, everybody says, How Awful!

Well, no, think about this.  Because she falls asleep for a hundred years, Rose awakens in her own future.  (She’s kind of like an early cryogenic time traveler, if you read a lot of science fiction, which I do.)  She gets to take all her family and friends and culture with her.  And she is awakened by her true love, who wasn’t even born until at least 90 years after she fell asleep.

Boy, no wonder the bad fairy got so irritated -- Malicious Gift turns into Happily Ever After!

This brings me to extended life spans.  Apparently there is a lot of talk right now about new biotechnology that may extend the human life expectancy to 120, 150 or beyond.  Just how long would most people like to live?  David Ewing Duncan did a survey, and found that, although the majority of people he asked wanted to die around 80, a few wanted to live to 120.  They had things they wanted to get done that just wouldn’t fit into a normal life span.

That’s me.  I often feel like I wasted the first forty or so years of my life.  I’ve done a little bit of everything.  Directed one musical.  Sang in one major opera production.  Acted in one film, ran one choral program, directed one choir, sang with one symphony, acted in one play.   Jeez, just settle on something, anything.  Three bad marriages.  (Two beautiful children.)  Ran a pasta company, worked for a lot of non-profits, but I never felt like I stuck with anything long enough to really accomplish anything.  If I can live to be 120, maybe I’ll finally do something significant with my life.

And those three bad marriages really bother me.  What a waste of time!

But…wait.  Each of those marriages had a gift.  George, thank you for the gift of Mozart and the musical training and opening of horizons that came because I moved to Baltimore with you.  Paul, thank you for the gift of my beautiful daughter, and for that pasta business that turned me into a real foodie.  Tim, thank you for creating a situation that forced me to realize that I can choose to be happy, leaving unhappiness and abuse behind.

The last gift those three “failed” marriages gave me was, of course, the last twenty years of happiness with Ed.  I learned how to recognize a good man when I saw him, and how to gratefully accept a good life with him.

Sometimes it takes four thousand years for the exile from heaven to make sense. 

Sometimes you have to sleep, surrounded by thorns for a hundred years, before your real life can start.

Like my daffodil bulbs, sometimes you can't bloom until you've sat in the cold dark winter, waiting for the light to dawn.  And it always does.

Like I said, better late than never.  Welcome Yule!