Nobody claim 2022 as “your year”

please don’t suck

2022 asA friend of mine posted this graphic on their Facebook feed. Nobody claim 2022 as “your year”. And I get it.

I got to sing in my church’s Christmas Eve service for the first time in two years, which was great. Now, I felt rusty but that was OK. In 2020, the church had audio and video of the choir’s prior performances shown on the Facebook feed. Listening to the sounds of our voices was OK; I’d been doing so almost every week for months of the regular service. but watching the film of me, and others, singing made me EXTREMELY melancholy.

The Boston Globe readers commented on the past year. The intro: “If 2020 felt like a year like no other, then 2021 felt like more of the same. One step forward and two steps back, or vice versa? It depended on the day. We saw vaccines rolled out, then resisted. Bitter partisanship kept its grip on our politics.”

I love the word hegemony

If I read this article, The Respite Is Coming to an End. “All around us we can see the forces of white nationalist authoritarianism engaged in a second, far more methodical, far better coordinated, and already more successful attempt to do what they failed to do on January 6, 2021. If matters continue on this path, the Biden administration will prove only a brief respite before those forces snuff out the grand American experiment and secure a permanent, counter-majoritarian chokehold on the erstwhile republic.” And it’s a compelling argument.

And Foreign Affairs had a piece, The Real Crisis of Global Order. Illiberalism on the Rise. It addresses, among other things, the collapse of US hegemony, which Trump’s election helped to create and Biden’s election almost certainly can’t fix. For instance, as the Daily Show illustrated, Why China Is in Africa.

Rodgers and Hammerstein

I’m already exhausted from 2022, like Sinatra or Gordon MacRae singing Soliloquy from Carousel, musing what “my boy Bill” will be like. “Say, why am I carrying on like this? My kid ain’t even been born yet.” And neither has 2022. Well, maybe in New Zealand.

Perhaps I need more humour and a stiff upper lip, like Queen Elizabeth who lost her husband, Prince Philip, in 2021, who she’d only been married to since 1947, before I was born.

So I’m going to decide that 2022 will be great! Of course, I will also retreat to the ‘trust but verify” position about the new year, which is a quote Ronald Reagan cleverly pilfered.

Going to church together, or not

Live! In person!

First Presbyterian Church. windowMy wife and I have usually gone to church together over the past 22+ years. But often, we didn’t sit together, as I was usually perched in the choir loft while she was sitting in the congregation. The exception was during the summer when the choir was usually off. She really liked it, but it felt somewhat foreign to me.

Then there was the pandemic. When our service returned on Facebook beginning March 22, 2020, it was us sitting together watching a screen together. And we’d do communion together, either something my wife baked that weekend or a cracker to eat, homemade grape juice, or Nine Pin Cider to drink.

But we would be on separate computers for the adult education class. We had different ZOOM styles in terms of when to be on mute. For me, it was almost always, when I wasn’t speaking. Also, I found that couples on the same ZOOM screen are harder to hear/understand and especially more difficult to see.

On June 20, 2021, we began the in-person church, and we both went through the summer live, except once when we were away.

Risk assessment

So it’s curious that now we’re doing church differently again. We both go to adult ed online. But then I go to church in person, while my wife has decided to go back online. She’s teaching kids, most too young to be fully vaccinated yet, whereas I really don’t see that many people.

I was having a discussion about COVID and risk with a friend. It reminded me of a comment to a recent Weekly Sift article. “When there’s a threat with no end in sight…, we need to also measure risk against the reward… Eating in a restaurant is risky, so I won’t eat inside just any restaurant, but I will eat inside my favorite restaurant. Not because the risk is lower, but because the reward is high (in my case). For other people, it might be that you’ll spend time in a small room for a long time with vaccinated family but not with vaccinated strangers.”

My choir met at church on October 14 for the first time in 19 months, and we sang! All full vaccinated, masked, and distanced – it was difficult to hear the tenors – but we sang. And we didn’t suck! It wasn’t for the service, yet, but maybe we’ll record something in the next month or two to be used.

Rule of thumb: when there is both a remote and face-to-face option, I’ll almost always opt fr the latter. But I never mock other people’s more cautious approach.

In the year of the masks

do I want to know a secret?

Unity MaskIn some way, there was no date more 2020 for me than December 7. I received three packages. All contained masks.

One was a package of 50 disposable items I had ordered about a week earlier. The second was a mask featuring the mustache of John Green, which I had ordered about a month and a half earlier. It was a Pizzamas thing; don’t worry about understanding that, because I don’t either.

The third, though, I had ordered so long before that I had forgotten about it altogether. Ten black masks with the letters UNITY in white silhouette. Within each letter, a message. all in caps.

Healthcare for all. Back Lives Matter. Save the Planet. Protect Dreamers. Ensure voting rights. The image description from Democracy for America: “We believe there is more that unites us than divides us. These issues are not just for the few, they are for all of us.” I hope so.

In my Christmas stocking, Santa brought two more masks. One was a woodsy scene. The other was a black mask with Day-Glo musical notes. I like these.

One more

Finally, in the mail on New Year’s Eve, came a mask with a card, sent ostensibly from my church’s address. The lettering was intentionally designed to obscure the handwriting of the sender. The white mask had a pinkish rectangle that featured a white cross. In red letters:
FIRST PRES CHOIR
2020

For the last few years, an anonymous benefactor had left the choir t-shirts and pens, both emblazed with messages about the church, left near the choir loft. Since we haven’t sung since March 2020 – haven’t even been in the building – I was particularly surprised by this largesse. I have a theory about who it might be; my wife thinks it’s someone else. Thanks to the choir Secret Santa once again, whoever you are.

Football!

I went to the local grocery store on Tuesday, moving through as quickly as possible. The cashier wore a Pittsburgh Steelers mask. I asked her if her team was going to win this weekend. She said, “I hope so. They only lost by two last week, and they rested some of their players.” I added, “And the Cleveland Browns needed that game. But what about that three-game losing streak?” She sighed, “I don’t know WHAT that was about.”

I mention this because, too often, the mask is a sign of less sharing. You can’t see people’s facial expressions. But at that moment, the mask facilitated a human connection that I too often miss.

Here’s hoping that in 2022, I won’t need the masks anymore. But I keep seeing those newspaper headlines. LA Times, Jan 1.: Spiraling COVID-19 deaths leave morgues overflowing and funeral homes turning away grieving families. And even around here. Times Union, Jan. 1: In Albany County, the mark of 346 new infections in one day is 77 more than the prior record. So know I’ll still have those masks available in 2021. It’s good to have a variety…

At least I don’t have to deal with these folks.

Church choirs, Stacy Wilburn (and Chuck Miller?)

It’s nearly impossible to explain how tightly-knit a choir can be.

Did you ever do something and only later realize that there was a subtext that was totally unrelated? This would apply to my advocacy in favor of my buddy Chuck Miller, whose April 1 blog post on the Times Union site had gotten his post removed and his ability to post there suspended.

Somewhere during the various writing I did for la causa, I realized this wasn’t just about Chuck, or the misrepresentation of Chuck’s article by the newspaper’s editor as “fake news” rather than satire. It was that sense of powerlessness, being left in the dark, that resonated, rather like the events leading to leaving my old church.

Since I joined another FOCUS congregation, I have had opportunity to worship back at Trinity, the first church I joined in Albany. The former pastor has been gone for more than a decade.

The first couple times I returned there was really weird and uncomfortable, with church members cajoling and pleading me to come back. Enough time has passed – I’ve now attended First Presbyterian as long as I had attended Trinity – that it’s no longer an issue. Still, old members there greet me fondly.

I’m going to sing in the choir there again – today, actually – because one of my old choir compatriots, Quentin Stacy Wilburn, died on July 9. He usually went by Stacy, or Q. He was 91.

It’s nearly impossible to explain how tightly-knit a choir can be. I still recall that we were all together at a choir member’s house on Christmas Eve 1989 or 1990, before we were to sing, when we got the word that our tenor soloist, Sandy Cohen, had had another heart attack and died. (He’d had one before, IN CHURCH, during the service, but wouldn’t leave until he “finished the gig.”)

Until the choir director recruited more tenors, I sang tenor with Stacy for a few months, high in my range, and not as instinctive to me as the bass line.

So now we’re going to come together, Trinity folks and former Trinity folks and FOCUS church folks and friends and sing for Stacy, because that’s what choir people do.

What have I learned in 2016?

The cost/benefit analysis of singing in the choir mitigates in its favor

Melanie, who got married recently – congratulations, you’ve made an honest man out of your honey! – asks:

What was the most important thing you learned this past year?

That I REALLY have to be more selfish. I find this, at some level, to be an anathema to me. There’s all this service that needs to be done, people to be helped, tasks to be fulfilled.

And I get this message not from my church, though it emphasizes it, but from deep within me. It was modeled by my father and I understand its import.

But if I’M not happy, then I’ve got nothing to give. It’s like when you put your air mask on first if it should drop from the airplane ceiling. If I tend to the other first, without getting my oxygen, I’m likely to suffocate.

Not sure I can pull it off. But emotionally, 2016 was emotionally battering, and it wasn’t just Agent Orange and those who supported him.

Another thing I learned is that some folks just are not fact-driven. A person mentioned, on FB naturally, that “Under God” wasn’t always in the Pledge of Allegiance. In reply, someone wrote: “I’m too lazy to research it at the moment, but, actually, I think ‘under God’ was always in the pledge.” This person had IN HIS HANDS a device that would allow him to access the answer.

What is something you are hoping to learn this coming one?

I want to know if I really can write in long-form. Blogs are, relatively, easy for me, but I suspect a book, on one subject, would be hard. Yet I’m about 75% sure I want to write one, which will mean clearing the deck of other things.

But I’m not giving up the blog, because the blog is what keeps me sane. Looking for a graphic for something else, I came across the item pictured. I’ve known it a while, but it’s no less true for that. And sometimes I forget.

I don’t know ANYTHING, in terms of many opinions, until I’ve written it down, which may require looking up facts – REAL facts, not GMO facts. Until then, I’m in flux. This is why I always do those Ask Roger Anything things in the first place, to find out my truth, as it were.

I also need to keep singing in the choir. The cost/benefit analysis mitigates in its favor.

I’ve tired of half-read books, and old newspapers and magazines piling up. I want to read more, NEED to exercise more. But time is not fungible, it’s finite, at least on the three dimensions I understand.

Facebook will be a casualty; no big loss, though items will continue to be automatically posted there, since it is an effective tool.

Oh, I have a book on learning how to play bridge, the card game. Always wanted to learn that. To be continued…