“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language. And next year’s words await another voice.”
“And to make an end is to make a beginning.”T. S. Eliot, “Little Gidding”
My dad was 71 when my mother died suddenly. He was 72 when he married Dorothea and began a whole new life. He had been a scientist – a chemistry professor – and an athlete who played tennis until he couldn’t and then took up golf.
My dad was also the one who introduced me to Beethoven and Brahms and Chopin and to the sounds of the instruments in the orchestra. He was the one who sat next to me every day, with immense patience, when I practiced piano, beginning when I was age 6.
Dorothea was an accomplished pianist and organist. At age 73, she taught my dad to play the piano, much to his delight – and hers.
At Christmas that year, the family gathered for a special treat. Dad had planned a recital for us all. He had also taken up calligraphy and had written up several copies of the program in elegant script. We were impressed!
Three generations gathered around the piano on recital evening, applause ringing out as our tall, handsome, distinguished father approached the piano bench and opened his music. Then, respectful silence as we awaited the first chords. He began. We were so proud and happy for him. Our dad! Playing the piano!
Then it happened. A mistake.
He stopped, his face flushed. He lifted his hands from the keyboard and said,
“Wait! Let me start again!”
Taking a deep breath, he began anew. And everything was perfect.
“Wait! Let me start again!” How many times have any of us wanted to say just that?
How many mistakes have we wanted to do over? How many words have we wished to take back?
Families, friendships and communities have been broken by division and pandemic over the past two years. We all know that. We’re discovering that much of the old language doesn’t work anymore and too much of the new language has left us empty, angry and depressed.
“Wait! Let me start again!”
My Dad was also wise. He was my moral compass, in word and deed.
“Marti, you’ve got to learn to think for yourself.” I was in my teens when he gave me that advice. Thinking for myself became a lifelong exercise in finding language that would remake me when I needed a new start. I found the core of that language through my Christian faith. In one form or another, it has always been the language of love: the most profound kind of love that we are created for.
You don’t have to be a Christian to find words about love to be transforming. They form the foundation of every spirituality, every faith, every search for meaning. They are the words of the Apostle Paul in the New Testament:
“Love is patient and kind: love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends…”I Corinthians 13:4-8a, Revised Standard Version
These words have always been a radical language. They have confronted me all these years with difficult choices and hard truths about myself. But when I am thinking for myself and about myself, when I am seeking the language of the voice that makes me a better human being, I am humbled and challenged to start over and begin again and again.
“Wait! Let me start over.” That is a statement of hope. The hope that underlies every beginning. The hope that we, who are so weary, will find the new voice that we long for, the new language that is the touchstone, the grounding of who we are meant to be.
And that is grace.