Thursday, March 31, 2016


Two weeks ago we explored connections through history.

Today I want to consider connections through music, art, literature, and popular culture—ways of connecting ourselves to people long gone from planet Earth, to their creativity, their world view, their time and mores. In a sense, seeing with their eyes.

I used to feel a deep sadness when I thought about Beethoven’s deafness robbing him of his ability to hear the grand and glorious music he composed in later years. One source reported that he was unable to hear either the orchestra playing his Ninth Symphony or the great applause that greeted its premiere.

After reading several articles about Beethoven, I no longer feel sad, because I’ve heard music inside my head, as he must have also heard what he was working on. What he missed was the orchestra’s interpretation of his symphony. What he always possessed was the way it was supposed to sound because he’d heard it first inside himself.

I have no training in art appreciation, so I bring very little knowledge to the viewing of a painting. What I can do, as I gaze upon the work of the Old Masters, is enter into their vision—see with their eyes for a short time. Was that man’s nose really that long? Was the woman’s chin so pointy?


What draws me most, connects me strongly, is the written word. From my earliest reading on my own, I could see inwardly the scene unfolding in the story. Only black marks on white paper, but, oh--! People doing things—racing to catch a crook; dashing about the country roads with the top down on the convertible, dust billowing behind; creeping through the trees at dusk to spy on the inhabitants of the old abandoned mansion . . . . People saying things: dialogue to help the reader follow the sleuth’s thinking, or show character strength, or make the transition from one scene to another; dialogue to stimulate the mind.

Description also sucked me in—but only if it was good description. Long before I attempted to write stories, I “osmosed” the need for all five senses to make a scene “real”—to make a book live in memory.

Early in my life I was allowed to stay up to listen to radio serials. The Lone Ranger was a favorite. Yes, I was one of the kids who lay on my tummy in front of the radio and “saw” the action in the cloth-covered speakers. Several years later, television appeared, but it never won me over the way the radio shows did. The stories about the Wild West appealed to me because my father had lived in Colorado in the 1920s and worked on a ranch as a young man. Whether he experienced any of the wildness of the time, I never knew. But I liked trying to picture him in that setting.

Movies are a category of their own. I wasn’t crazy about historical novels, but movies set in old times, far-off places, could transport me immediately. Again, it was the visual detail that captured me. I was taken to see Gone With the Wind long before I could appreciate it, but later viewings gave me a taste of what it was like to live and struggle in the South during The War Between the States. Though I never knew my Great-grandfather Cather, I knew he fought in that war on the Union side. That knowledge gave me a different sense of what the war meant to people like me.

Historical shows are still popular: Downton Abbey, Foyle’s War, Grantchester, to name a few. They're set in the 1940s and 1950s--historicals? I remember those times! Does that mean I'm old? (Hmm, something to ponder.)

My examples in this post come from times gone by. I've lived through many decades, so I know what the feelings were during those days, how we dressed, what was available in the grocery store. Connecting to someone who lived in my parents' or grandparents' time helps me understand them as young families--what they lived with, and through--and so my own ancestors become more alive to me.

You'll find connections everywhere. You don’t even have to look for them—just recognize them when they occur.

They may be as near as your mailbox, when you get a letter from an old friend. Or as close as the movie theater or video rental store. Libraries offer such a broad range of subject matter, settings, and time periods that you can lose yourself in any era you select. Or, people you meet may open a window onto a time or place or way of life you never experienced.

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