My mother, Virginia McDaniel, loved Perry Como. So did Nita Gilger's mother.
I grew up watching my mom listen to him sing and listening along with her. I loved and love his voice, and I love the image of my mom loving his voice. This image is, for me, a pocketful of starlight. I wrote a page on her in Open Horizons; take a look if you're interested by clicking here.
But that was a while back. Enter 2021. I am surrounded by people who, in light of the trials and tribulations of a very difficult year, are doing yoga and meditating on a regular basis in order to be mindful in the present moment. I am doing the same. In the spiritual alphabet of humanity, "A" is for attention: being aware and attentive to what is happening in the here-and-now in a relaxed or non-anxious way. Sometimes the object of focus is breathing, sometimes sound, sometimes movement, sometimes images. Mindfulness helps you become present to the world in a relaxed and creative way: become a better listener. It's a good thing. 2021 needs mindful people.
With all the emphasis on being mindful in the present moment, we can too easily forget that the present moment includes the past through memory and the future through anticipation. At least this is what process theologians say. The present includes what they call "the past actual world" and "the not-yet-determined future." Any emphasis on being “mindful in the present moment” can rightly include being mindful of pleasant memories and hopes, letting them speak to us and, when possible, sing to us.
Pleasant memories can be sacraments: holy icons through which divine light shines, warming the heart and offering perspective. We can be as mindful of them as we are our own breathing, and mindfulness of pleasant memories can bring a refreshment sorely needed. And, they can bring hope for the future, which we may well need to save for a rainy day. If this is nostalgia, then let there be more of it. Call it blessed nostalgia.
Blessed nostalgia is a spiritual practice available to people of all ages. We need not live in the past, but we can live from the past, in constructive ways, through love and creativity. The gift of blessed nostalgia is that it allows us to create new meanings about the past, to reframe it according to hopes and needs, as situations require, all the while remaining mindful of it. The past remains past, but its meanings can change.
Even God is Nostalgic
Process theologians suggest that the very soul of the universe -- God -- is forever remembering what has happened in the world and interpreting it in fresh ways, weaving a new tapestry. And what God remembers are not simply external events but feelings, experiences, joys and sorrows. What happens in the world becomes part of God's ongoing life. When we practice creative nostalgia, we are practicing divine presence and, in our small way, participating in the divine life.
And what can it be like to be mindful of memories? It's like catching a falling star, putting it in your pocket, and saving it for a rainy today. Nita Gilger understands this and so did her mother. Something tells me Perry Como did, too.
- Jay McDaniel, Dec. 1. 2020
Catch a Falling Star When in Need of Light
By Nita Gilger
When I look at the stars on a dark clear night, I am full of gratitude for the lessons given to me by my parents under the vast Texas sky. Waves of mesmerizing memories flood my mind and heart as I look at the stars. It wonderful to look back on my childhood and rediscover the jewels of teaching and love that shaped the tender places of awareness that have given meaning and beauty to my life.
I am thankful for the cache of storied memories of my dad. He used to have me get out some quilts and lay on them with him in the backyard as he spun stories of the stars. I always laid right beside him with my head on his strong bicep and elbow. He was an amateur astronomer who later became president of the Astronomy Club in Tyler, TX. He loved his telescope that he purchased much later in life.
Dad was also a professor/teacher of history and English literature. So, as we lay there watching the stars, meteor showers, and moon, dad would tell us all about the constellations and the Greek mythology stories to go with them. I was captivated. Dad could sure tell a story. And many years later when I went to Greece (my favorite place is Delphi), I felt the gods and all those stories come alive again and I understood the power and purpose of those mythological and cultural understandings.
What I had not realized completely until recently, was just how much reverence Dad was teaching me. I understood that he was teaching me a love of literature and nature but the dots are now connected to see how much reverence was a part of those precious moments. Dad had an almost Native American point of view in caring for the earth and thanking nature for its provisions. He did not call it reverence. He used words like gifts of God, gifts of beauty andresponsibility. He talked a lot about our responsibility to leave things as good or better than we found them etc. But it was all about reverence and teaching us how to be aware of the gifts of nature. He read poetry to us and directed us to Emerson, Thoreau, Shakespeare and beyond. He taught me to pay attention and be aware of the gifts of the universe.
Then there was my mom who did not like being outside much. Her idea of camping was the Holiday Inn. So, she would come outside when we were immersed in Greek mythology and star gazing and start singing, "Catch a Falling Star and put it in your pocket. Save it for a rainy day." She loved the singer, Perry Como. Her idea of reading was Better Homes and Gardens or a crochet magazine--not Shakespeare. But her sayings and simple homespun wisdom were also teachers of reverence and awareness. I am so glad I had both Socrates and sewing; Aristotle and Perry Como. Mom understood gratitude as a part of reverence. She was the only one in her family of 7 children to earn a high school diploma and an Associate's Degree from college. Her parents were raised poor in eastern Kentucky and came to Texas to get away from the crooked politicians and bootleggers, according to her dad. Not sure they did??? Her dad died when she was 16 therefore, I was never able to interview him about his migration and the hoped-for results.
Mom had a wisdom that was deep and rich. She knew how to teach us about manners, respect, and reverence. She knew how to treat people. She was a feisty person of justice and fairness, and stood up for her friends from all backgrounds and races in a time of segregation and civil rights injustices. She may not have had much "book" expertise, but she had people sense and a deep faith.
Reverence, gratitude, and awareness were core values bred into me. Wow! I cannot even begin to count the ways that my two imperfect parents taught me those qualities and so much more. Together, with their very different gifts and personalities, they taught me well. I am so, so thankful.
Now, I live in the country away from city lights where billions of stars are at my fingertips nightly. As I reach out to touch them, I know that this gift of awareness of nature and solid family values are tender places that my parents gave to me with their deepest love.