Dogs on Valentines

It’s a beautiful Sunday afternoon, quite a change from Friday’s 3 inch blizzard, and I’m just in from a long walk with the dog, Sam. If you wonder what single, unattached folks do on Valentines day, well, there you have it. We walk with our dogs. I am still struck at how much we, people single and married and young and old, can love our animals. I was reminded of such a few days ago.
You might remember a eulogy that I wrote in tribute to my old dog, Tyler, a few years ago. The piece was really more about my Dad, who endured and shared my grief on the long morning of Tyler’s death, than it was about my dog.
This past week, I was given the chance to repay my dad’s kindness.
On Monday, I played at a pleasant gathering about 4 hours from home. While I was there, brother Gary called to pass along the news that Dad’s dog, Pepper, had been diagnosed with very advanced cancer which, mercifully, had done nothing to effect Pepper’s demeanor or activity until just a couple of days ago, when he seemed a bit lethargic and slow of breath.
On Tuesday, I woke up early, drove home in a rain that seemed appropriate to the mood of the day, and arrived at the farm about half past nine. A teary-eyed Dad informed me that he and Mom had decided to put Pepper down, which they did mid-day, at the hand of the same gentle vet who used to take care of Tyler. That afternoon, we buried Pepper beside the chapel in a pelting rain.
Dad apologized for being a ‘crybaby.’ I don’t think I’d like him nearly as much if he were too manly to weep at the loss of a loved one.
I was on good terms with Pepper; he would stay in my house when the folks were out of town, even slept at the foot of my bed, but there was never any doubt whose he was and where he’d rather be. And there is one thing in particular that I’ll remember about him. He could on occasion be quite a yapper, a noisy, barky, poorly disciplined boutique dog. And he got his share of scoldings from everyone, including A.C., from time to time. But there was one place where he was safe from every rolled up newspaper or magazine in the county. …
Dad had a way of holding Pepper, in the crook of his arm, in which Pepper sat upright and with a look on his face that usually seemed to say, “you cannot touch me here.” And he was right. That cradle at Dad’s elbow, right next to his heart, was a haven of refuge to that little 10 pounds of canine flesh, and when he was there, he was immune from any ill temper or unkind gesture that the world might intend for him. That picture is a good one, and points to Something higher.
Might we all be so fortunate to have such a place in this world.
Sweet dreams Pepper. Tell Tyler his old friend still misses him.

The Power of Song (a film recommendation)

i cried, in a good way, as i worked on a new song today. That happens sometimes and reminds me, whenever it does, just how powerful music can be. When inspiration, melody, and lyric all line up just right – and it always happens unexpectedly – the cup, to use David’s phrase, “runneth over.” The song will be on the new recording that i’m working on at present. i don’t know that anyone else will be moved to tears, but i like to think that, if a piece of music gets me, it just might stir someone else’s heart.
Speaking of the power of music, might i recommend a documentary, one that will inform, inspire, and move you? “The Singing Revolution” is about the quest of the small Baltic nation of Estonia, overtaken by the Soviet Union in 1939, to gain its independence during the second half of the 20th century. Central to that struggle are the songs of the people, and the role that singing played in their eventual return to sovereignty.
“Singing together was our power,” said one of the persons interviewed in the film. And for Estonia, singing together literally meant singing together. At a well-known festival ground, a choir of 30,000 performed each year (and, i gather, still performs) to a massive outdoor audience which joins in on familiar songs. The documentary gives some idea of how beautiful the singing must be but i imagine the real thing is breathtaking.
The film is history (culminating in a tense, remarkable standoff between Estonia and the USSR that, i’m sad to say, pretty much escaped my notice when it occurred in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s), it is heart (sadness, fear, courage, hunger for freedom and affection for ancestry all come through clearly), and it is music (the energy and joy of the people as they sang and sing is, by itself, tear-inducing).
i’ve heard myself say a lot in the last couple of years that i won’t leave home unless work requires me to do so. i think i could be tempted to buy a ticket to Estonia just to hear that massive choir someday.

If you ever get the chance …

Just in from a very enjoyable 4 day trip to Texas. For years, I’ve heard of Laity Lodge, a retreat property at which musical comrades David Wilcox, Andrew Peterson, Sara Groves, and Gabe Scott have performed over the years and at which writers Eugene Peterson, Leigh McLeroy, J.I. Packer and numerous others have been featured speakers. The facility can only host groups of 75 or less, meaning that the gatherings are intimate, up close and personal, exactly the sort of venues I enjoy most. Add to that that this past weekend’s event was a womens conference and you’ll hardly be surprised that I was looking forward to the trip. … All of the glowing reports that I’ve heard about Laity Lodge proved well founded – beautiful surroundings, gracious and capable staff, top-drawer facilities, and quality programming – and I could hardly have asked for a more attentive, energetic, pleasant group to be a part of (“just me and the girls”). … If you ever get the chance, you’d enjoy a retreat at this tranquil get away in the Texas hill country. (www.laitylodge.org)
Quick footnote: here’s a photo of me and a new friend from San Antonio after a concert that i gave on Saturday night. i sang “Ode to the Rusty Strings” and gave Mrs. Julie, beautiful at 91, a guitar string ‘halo’ to thank her for being part of the weekend.