Fast Away

Fast away the old year passes, hail the new ye lads and lasses."

Though we often sing Deck the Halls as a Christmas carol, there is that fourth verse which hails the coming of a new year. And fast away the old years seem to go, especially the older I get.

In terms of Life In General, I have to classify 2014 as a Very Good Year -especially if I compare it with some of the Not So Very Good years we’ve experienced in the past decade. (2009, I’m thinking of you...) People who’ve finished Life In General have remarked about the posts written during that year. “Things were kind of grim there in the middle of the book,” one friend said.

“But then it got better!” I reminded her.

Thank goodness things usually get better.

Yesterday, in one of those strange synchronous events, I received an email from a friend that included a link to a NYT piece about Alice Herz-Sommer, the oldest Holocaust survivor who died in 2014 at the age of 100. Sommer was a pianist, and she credits her love of music with saving her- literally and emotionally - from the atrocities she lived through at Terezin. This was the camp where all the “intellectual” Jews were sent. Because she was a musician, she was allowed to live as long as she could play music and be trotted out as an “example” for foreign visitors. But it was her deep love of playing that kept her alive in spirit. “As long as there is music, than life is beautiful,” she said. “How can it be otherwise?"

Last night we were surfing through Netflix, trying to find something to watch, when we came across as short documentary film entitled The Lady in Number 6. Yes, it was about Alice Herz-Sommer, filmed in 2013. She was 109 years old, living in a small apartment in London. The film opens with her, frail and birdlike, shuffling over to her piano and sitting down to play the Bach Two-Part Invention in F Major, something I’ve been playing myself since I was 12 years old. 

“I play every day, starting at 10:00 in the morning, so my neighbors know every morning what time it is!" she said with a grin. “It’s always a beautiful day when you can play music. It’s the music, it is so wonderful."

Though she lost her husband in the Holocaust, and her only son died suddenly when he was 64 years old, there is not a trace of bitterness or discontent. “I don’t hate anyone,” she says. “Because of what happened to me, I learned that life is precious and not to be taken for granted. That is a wonderful thing to know."

I sat teary eyed through much of that film. I needed to see that, after the past month when I’ve been tired and then sick and generally feeling whiny and sorry for myself. Sometimes things come our way for a reason, sometimes the stories of other peoples lives can illuminate so much about our own.

This morning at 10:00 I went to the piano and played the F Major Two-Part Invention. These short study pieces are quite perfect in the way the two melodies intertwine, weaving in and out from one hand to the next.  I recalled all the times I’ve played it before - in my piano teachers basement, in the music room at high school, on stages for judges and competitions. I wondered where I might play it in the future - if someday I too will live alone in a tiny apartment and walk slowly to my piano bench each morning, my hands crooked with arthritis, but still able to find the keys.

How lucky I am, to have the gift of music, the gift of reading and writing, the gift of family and friends who honor it in me. These are the gifts I carry with me from year to year, through all the old years of my life, and hopefully into many more new ones.

May you find and honor your gifts today. 

And may you hail the New Year with joy.