Two Ways to Deepen Your Observance of Memorial Day

I’m not much of a holiday person. My feeling is that something worth celebrating or honoring is worth celebrating and honoring in small ways each and every day. I feel that way about holidays like Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day- we should constantly be seeking for ways to serve and show love for our loved ones so that they can feel and experience love and appreciation every day; as well as for days like Memorial Day and the 4th of July- because for many of us the freedoms we enjoy each day are the result of sacrifices we did not make, at costs we ourselves did not pay. We do however, have the opportunity to express our gratitude for these sacrifices by being honorable men and women in our public and private lives, and through sharing the gifts and blessings we have been given with others.

There are many ways of observing Memorial Day. This year I have two rather unusual suggestions for you to consider that I hope will deepen your gratitude, lift your soul, and help another.

Here is the first. It takes twenty-five minutes. It is called “A Ticket for Thaddeus”.

Many movies focus on the violence of war. This episode of Screen Directors Playhouse focuses on the healing process of a new American citizen who survived a concentration camp during WWII. This is a gentle piece and could be used with children effectively if you take the time to discuss a few things beforehand and afterwards. It assumes that the audience knows what a number tattooed on a forearm means. For young children, letting them know that people were taken from their homes and loved ones by people who had guns and uniforms who hurt many, many people and then letting them share with you how they think that would make them feel (in terms as simple as scary, sad, angry, and lonely) is enough. The bulk of the program is about how people create a good life after such a frightening experience, while helping the viewers to have compassion for and greater understanding of the people around them whose lives have been touched by violence. As someone who has experienced murder and violence and interactions with law enforcement and the courts up close, Thaddeus’s thoughts and feelings and experiences are a sensitive and accurate glimpse into what the aftershocks of such experiences are like.

Not every person involved in this story is honorable, but it shows the healing that can happen when good people perform their duties well. I do not believe you can come away from this program without feeling a deeper love and appreciation for our country and those who sacrificed for it. I also believe it will make you want to be a better person. It may even inspire you with ideas and ways your family can serve in your own community. Please emphasize that one of the ways people from violent backgrounds heal is by meeting and interacting with people who are different than the ones they have known. They are unlikely to tell you, in part because it is generally a slow process that happens over time and is not immediately perceptible to them, but your kindness and the way you show respect for yourself and others has a power and influence that actively combats the evil that has been in their lives. This is not a small thing.

Memorial Day is a time when we remember those who sacrificed their lives for their country. The hope is that we do not enter conflicts unnecessarily; that when we do so it is for a just cause with emphasis on freedom and freeing the captives.

There are bills in Congress on a wide spectrum of issues at any given time. You can find the ones in process by subject here. One that I feel passionately about is H.R.515, a bill to extend Megan’s Law on an international level to help protect and free children from sexual abuse and trafficking. You can find out more about this legislation and those who are actively working to end human trafficking by watching the recent Subcommittee hearing on it here. This is an informative and respectful meeting that will introduce you to some of the people who are actively helping to free the captives of human trafficking. The depth and breadth of the problem is addressed and ways you may be able to help local victims heal is also discussed. It is half an hour shorter than what the videos say (because it was recorded live by C-SPAN and had a recess). If you’d rather, you can scroll down to read the testimony of individual witnesses there as well.

I encourage you to look up an issue/ freedom that is important to you on Congress’s site (or your local equivalent) and contact your representatives about your support for- or opposition to- current legislation about it.

Whether you choose to observe Memorial Day in these ways, or more traditional ones (perhaps sending a letter of appreciation to, or spending some time visiting with or helping out someone who has lost a loved one to war), I hope that this Memorial Day (or whenever you happen to read this), that you will each take a moment to pause and reflect – to remember- that ultimately we honor those who died for us best by living the best lives that we can, each day, now.

Grief, Joy, and Eisenhower on Mother’s Day

When I think of Mother’s Day, the first thought that comes to mind is the annual tradition my sister and I keep that honors our mother, which in the same breaths, honors hers as well.

The thought that usually follows it will likely puzzle many of you for a moment, but I hope after you read this that you will allow it to become a part of you from now on. It is a delicate, perceptive, and highly compassionate experience that Dwight D. Eisenhower shared with Walter Cronkite in the St. Laurent military cemetery in France where many of the American D-Day boys are buried.

“You know, Walter, I come here and the thought that overwhelms me is all the joy that Mamie and I get from our grandchildren. I look at these graves out here and I just can’t help but think of all the families in America that don’t have the joy of grandchildren.”

There can be great joy on Mother’s Day, but early on as a child I recognized that there can be great sorrow on this day too, for oh so many reasons.

Righteous and loving mothering and fathering should be celebrated. We all benefit from it, even if only indirectly. We benefit from the noble thoughts and actions these efforts instill in our young people and ourselves. They bring greater kindness, civility, and courage to the corners of the world we live in. I have been blessed in my life by a treasured handful of men and women who have stepped in to love and nurture me when I desperately needed it. I think of them and honor them in my heart and in my actions throughout the year, and on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day especially. It makes these holidays particularly tender and emotional for me.

My Mother’s and Father’s Days are enhanced each year by General Eisenhower’s words. Because children and grandchildren are gifts- privileges not always granted even to those who would fill the roles of mother and father remarkably admirably and well. On Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, I think of them.

I think of his words because they make me more appreciative of the people I am privileged to have in my life. They make me less likely to take my loved ones for granted and more likely to treat them better each day. They remind me of sacrifices made long before my birth that continue to bless me.

General Eisenhower’s words (for he was speaking as the Supreme Commander responsible for D-Day operations he had been as he uttered them) also help me to be more aware of those who are quietly suffering around me, who are within the reach of my arms and my influence. These words spur me to help wherever and whenever I can.

I hope that you all enjoy a sweet and tender Mother’s Day this year, with the additional hope that this year you are able to take a brief moment to consider the many individuals and families who don’t have the joy of children or grandchildren in their lives; exhibiting a thoughtful compassion towards them, similar in depth and scope to what President Eisenhower did. See if you can’t find a way, if only for a moment, to take those nearest to you into your heart and into your arms.

And for those among you who are suffering this Mother’s Day, in public or in private:

I am so grateful for the noble and tender thoughts and desires of your hearts that make this day a particularly difficult one for you. You bless our lives in ways we cannot always recognize. Thank you for being Heaven’s foster parents.

Much love,



Illness, German, and Persistence

I’m still working on German, albeit like everything else in my life e-x-t-r-e-m-e-l-y s-l-o-w-l-y. This is from necessity not choice. I’ve been really sick (as in freaking the nurse out with my vitals sick, which to be honest, cracks me up because even when they KNOW I have a heart problem, I don’t know, something inside most of them seems to believe that my vitals are going to somehow be… normal? And they inform me that what they’re finding is bad, as in REALLY bad and they wait for me to freak, but I don’t, because I’m being able to sit up and walk unassisted at the time and I’m thinking to myself, you think THIS is bad?). The long and short of it is that I am very sick, my last doctor’s visit concluded with the word permanent, and I’m still struggling to decide what I’m going to do with that. So far it’s been that every time I’ve had negative thoughts about my situation and my body, I move something. I do a set of leg raises if I can, walk, do something to strengthen my arms or my back. If I can’t move the larger parts I move the smaller ones. It hasn’t made it possible for me to be “well” or to skate, but it keeps a very heavy door from slamming shut on me permanently. Nearly two decades after specialists told me I wouldn’t be able to walk, I still do.

Which is why I’m willing to read books a paragraph a day if I have to and study in tiny moments of lucid opportunity. I’ve finished reading one novel in German that way. I’m closing in on the end of War and Peace in a similar fashion. It isn’t dramatic, it doesn’t have the triumphal vibe orchestrating the mood that quicker wins tend to. The spectators have left the stadium, but I plod on determined to finish even if it means finishing alone. It feels like being a living form of time-lapse photography, but you can capture stunning, surprising moments that way, and I do.

Here is a video that I discovered that perfectly sums up my own feelings about studying and using English and German. He cracks me up because what he says is oh so true! Even if you don’t ever intend to study German, this video will give you a different perspective of English in the comparisons. For those of you who are learning German, you will totally get this. Enjoy!

A Modern Day Scarlet Pimpernel and Human Trafficking

I’ve loved the movie The Scarlet Pimpernel with Anthony Andrews and Jane Seymour since I was a young girl. It led me to read the series of books that were behind it, written by Baroness Orczy. For those not in the know, Sir Percy and his band of volunteers are the Clark Kent/Superman, Don Diego/Zorro type of heroes of the French Revolution. I’ve mentioned before that a modern (for the time, Leslie Howard’s Pimpernel Smith) movie adaptation helped inspire Raoul Wallenberg to save Hungarian Jews during World War II.

I admire people who step in and rescue those who are in danger and dire circumstances. Tim Ballard and his team are some of those people who are stepping up in our own time to save children from sex trafficking throughout the world. A team made up of former CIA operatives and Navy Seals, they work undercover with governments throughout the world, including Haiti and Columbia, to rescue children and bring traffickers to justice. Tim points out that this isn’t just about the children they save physically by removing them from deplorable conditions and getting them the help and care they need to be safe and to heal; it’s also about the crimes against humanity that are prevented when traffickers are caught and brought to justice.

Human trafficking is not just an at-the-border, inner city, or in-a-developing-country-far-away kind of problem. According to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center, “Labor trafficking and sex trafficking of U.S. citizens and foreign nationals persist and thrive for a number of reasons, including: 1. Low Risk: Human traffickers perceive there to be little risk or deterrence to affect their criminal operations. While investigations, prosecutions and penalties have increased throughout recent years, many traffickers still believe the high profit margin to be worth the risk of detection. Factors that add to low risk include: lack of government and law enforcement training, low community awareness, ineffective or unused laws, lack of law enforcement investigation, scarce resources for victim recovery services, and social blaming of victims.”

Ordinary individuals can help with at least three of these factors that are contributing to the expansion of modern-day slavery throughout the world: low community awareness, scarce resources for victim recovery services, and social blaming of victims. I would like to add that any work you do within your family and community to stop or prevent domestic violence, drug abuse, and the use of pornography helps in the fight against human trafficking.

Want to find a local organization where you can help to abolish the slavery of human trafficking in your area but don’t know where to start? Try the directory of the National Human Trafficking Resource Center here. The State Department has a page of ways you can help fight human trafficking with links here.

I encourage you to read this article in the Deseret News as an excellent entry point to become informed and inspired about this issue. For those interested in how Tim has been able to work in such a difficult field without being swallowed up by the cruelty and the darkness of it, check out this radio interview here.

Thank you for being one of the helpers.

Something to Be Learned from the Christmas Season and War

Sunday night, as I made a quick notation in my journal, I noticed the date: December 7th.

December 7th is a day that makes me catch my breath each year it comes. That day was the first time that my great-grandparents believed they had lost their only son. It was the day my grandfather lost nearly all of his friends. He survived because he had been transferred from the U.S.S. Oklahoma shortly before that date.

I saw my grandfather suffer from his wartime experiences to the end of his life. I also witnessed how those experiences and that suffering affected every member of my dad’s family throughout theirs. They’ve all passed now, leaving a rather complicated family legacy.

Perhaps this is what draws me again and again to films like The Hasty Heart, They Were Expendable, Twelve O’Clock High, and The Best Years of Our Lives.

It’s also what draws me to programs like this:

The above program is the Wartime Farm Christmas episode from a brilliant series of documentaries with Peter Ginn and Ruth Goodman that place professional archeologists and social historians in time periods where they live as ordinary (but extraordinary) people in those times did. This episode is a superb way of finding gratitude amid the stresses this holiday season. I especially recommend paying attention to the segments on how war impacted the lives of children and what was done to help them.  You can learn a great deal about how to help meet people’s needs, both physically and emotionally, by watching the helpers, and seeing what small action you can take right now to be more like them. (For those interested in owning the DVD, you can order it through Amazon UK and watch it as I have via a computer with a DVD player and the free VLC media player download, or with a region-free DVD player. Edwardian Farm, my personal favorite of the series, is available in the United States and should play on any DVD player here.)

For those with less time and shorter attention spans, this true (and seemingly unlikely) story of how two WWII pilots healed and kept their humanity in war is also healing and inspirational to me. It happened in December, which makes this a particularly good time to watch it. I have special respect for the German officer who gave the life-changing counsel that would ultimately positively impact the lives of so many people he would never know:

For those with shorter attention spans still, this true story is told in under four minutes. It took place in December as well. In every form I’ve encountered it in, I always find it moving:

We are not guaranteed peace in our lifetimes, but I know from personal experience that peace can be found in the unlikeliest of times and places. Often it comes as a result of small, compassionate acts performed with courage and faith- not necessarily by others, but by us.

That kind of peace I wish you this season: that as you succor someone else in need, a hurt will begin to heal inside of you.

What My Seriously Ill Friends Understood

It has been a lonely time for me. Deep and lengthy sick tends to be that way, especially if most of the people who know you best are far away and it’s the holidays.

There are many people in my life who mean well, but who don’t have a clue what it is like to be really, likely-for-the-rest-of-your-life, sick. They are usually surprised that there is such a gulf between having a friend who has been deathly sick, and one who hasn’t. A difficult conversation with an acquaintance recently highlighted this difference for me. Having outlived my doctors’ prognoses by eighteen years, I have now outlived my friends who understood what deeply sick is like, who were there with me in the beginning and the middle.

For those of you who have someone who is currently seriously ill in your life, here are a few of the things these special friends of mine understood:

1) They understood what it was like to be treated as less because they couldn’t do more (of what everyone else was doing). Too often we base our worth and other people’s on what we are able to accomplish, visibly, in a twenty-four hour period of time. I did not have to perform or be “on” in order to be loved and respected by these friends. They loved me for my insides: my thoughts, my loves, my aspirations.

2) They understood what it was like to be stripped of privacy and treated as a disease rather than as a person. Any time you try to separate a person’s spirit from their body there is suffering. Murder does this. Ethnic bias does this. Pornography does this. Many medical professionals do this.

3) They understood that- just like healthy people- I would have good days and bad days. Getting sick does not suddenly catapult you neatly into the camp of “cheerfully saintly and long-suffering” or “crabby-and-miserable-forever”.

4) They understood that one (or more) good days physically did not mean I was suddenly and magically well and could do everything people around me thought I could do or should do. They also understood that how I looked didn’t necessarily correlate with what was or was not working in my body or how I was actually feeling at the time.

5) They understood that, as in war, who lives and who dies when doesn’t always make sense. We all knew people who lived health-conscious lives who died quicker, younger, and more painfully than the hard-drinking chain smokers who were seemingly bent on discrediting all of the Surgeon General’s warnings and counsel in the course of their own lifetimes. Sometimes (perhaps often), it was the most cantankerous of the bunch who fared the best of anyone. This matters because humans like to assign blame when they are upset or scared. Being deathly ill scares the individual and those around them. A lot of patients take heat for not recovering quickly and neatly enough for those around them. We hear “If you had more faith, motivation, medicine, gumption, _______ ….  you would be well. Why aren’t you?!” This constant barrage was behind the only bursting into tears I ever succumbed to in my second heart surgeon’s office, despite the years of the discouraging news I had to face there. In an oddly compassionate moment for him, while we were going over my current stats, my surgeon stopped what he was doing, looked me directly in the eye and said the most comforting words I would ever hear from him: “This is not your fault.” I don’t think I stopped crying until well after the hour-long drive home that night.

6) They understood what it was like to have people nervous to be near you, fearing they would mysteriously contract whatever you had. Don’t get me started on how many otherwise intelligent people thought they could catch my heart problem simply by standing next to me.

7) They understood the difference between tired because you haven’t slept your full eight, and tired because your body is shutting down and hurting to the very core of you.

8) They understood what it was like to come to terms with death while still trying to live a good life.

9) They knew how to talk about things other than being sick, but that still mattered. I like people who are real with me. Hopefully by the end of your life, your pretence dial is set to low.

10) They understood my sense of loss. The last message a friend of mine left me before he died was that he wasn’t worried about himself; he was worried about me. He had had a full life with a wife, children, career… He knew because of when my illness struck me, that these were things that I didn’t have, and may never have, in this life. That knowledge and understanding hurts. It’s a wound that doesn’t ever really heal and that unsuspecting people bump (or thwack) regularly.

It’s hard to be the one left behind, sometimes with seemingly so little to look forward to. But I comfort myself with the knowledge that my illnesses have put me in unique places and positions to receive much of the greatest wisdom and love these friends of mine had to offer. Far from what society often believes, some of the best sharing happens when death is near and heaven is close. It isn’t true for everyone, to be sure, but that’s why we have to hang in- because we don’t know with surety when and where these moments will happen.

I’ve read that the difference between a tragedy and a comedy is where you end the story. I’m hoping for a surprise ending that, looking back, will seem delightfully obvious all along.  In the meantime I’m trusting that I have hidden depths that I haven’t yet discovered, and that in the right times and circumstances, I will be able to share the best of me, as my friends once did, with others.

Meet the Mormons

I enjoy documentaries, oral histories, and peeks behind the scenes into how things are made and done. This weekend I had the opportunity to go with friends and family to watch the documentary Meet the Mormons.

There have been documentaries about members and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that have been made before, but this is the first one where the lives and stories depicted clearly resemble the lives of the majority of the Mormons I have lived with, worshiped with, and known. If you are interested in what life for us is really like (and I’ve been in congregations from one end of the United States to the other: West to East, North to South, city and country, along with several in Canada, Great Britain, and China), this is your chance.  

Also, if like me, you love the story of the Berlin Airlift and the Candy Bombers, this documentary is a special treat. One of the Mormons profiled is Gail Halvorsen, the man who started Operation Little Vittles. Not only do you get to hear the backstory of the Candy Bombers in his own words, you get to see his home movie footage from the time and hear from several of the children who were affected by it. On a side note: Gail and his wife, through this film, have joined the ranks of my fitness inspirations. If I live into my nineties, I totally want to be like them.

You can learn more about Meet the Mormons and if it is playing in a theater near you here. All proceeds from the film go to the Red Cross. Happy learning!

A Bit of Happy #1

When I was little my mom had places where she would mark our growing. I loved those pencil marks on the wall; seeing myself grow. There were many mornings when I would wake up and run to my mom first thing, announcing my thrilling news: “Mommy I grew! I grew!”

I would grab a pencil in one hand and her hand in the other, and bring them both to the wall, eager to see a mark just a little higher than the last to prove my growing to myself and everyone else I could drag to that sacred spot. I remember my mother trying to explain to me that I wouldn’t have grown in ways I could see in just one night, but after repeated (and persistent) pleading: “Mommy I grew! I know that I grew!” I could sometimes persuade her to check me against the highest mark on the wall one more time. Sometimes my mom would make the pencil mark just a touch higher than the previous one to quiet me. Not knowing this, I would walk away with an intense feeling of satisfaction. And happiness. I loved growing.

This year I have been confronted in my present with practically every trauma of my entire life- in fact, most of the members of my family have. Life tends to cluster in seasons that way. This is how our souls are watered so new joys can sprout, I suppose, through our own tears. This year I’ve irrigated!

If I thought it would help someone else to go into any of these things here, uncomfortable or not, I would. Thankfully- for me at least- I don’t get that feeling. But there is one part of this experience that I will share. Perhaps you will understand it now. If not, you will understand it later when the time is right for you.

I realized in these last few weeks that each time I was forced to face the truly horrible- horrible I had already tried to forgive and forget, learn from and release and move on from- that it was a gift from my Father in Heaven. It was as if, understanding the deep childhood need that has outlasted practically every other particle of my soul, God brought me to a place where I could perceive the evidence of what I have wanted so very much all of my life:

I grew.


A Bit of Happy #2: A Reason for the Dark

When I started this series of 30 happinesses, I intended to write them up in a month. I never thought it would be particularly easy. One of the reasons I was doing it in the first place was because my day-to-day life was incredibly hard and wasn’t looking as though it was going to be getting any easier. Seeing the hard was easy. Seeing the happy was hard. I wanted to focus on the happy in my life.

There was definitely more happy in the span from November to now than is recorded here, but my best happinesses during this time period have tended to be extremely private ones: happinesses with long backstories that are intertwined with other people’s lives in ways it wouldn’t be right for me to share here.

On the other hand, if I had to choose one word to describe this past year it would be: crippling. As disappointments and discouragement mounted so did the difficulties. It wasn’t just one person or one area of my life being affected, and it wasn’t that they weren’t life or death, because several of them were. And then on top of that, like a bad tv series, banquished foes came back into my life AGAIN.

I try to be patient, truly I do, but that last had me hollering to the heavens, “Oh come on!”

One of the things that convinces me of a premortal existence and a heaven to go back to is the innate understanding even small children seem to have regarding what is fair- along with the deep and profound frustration we feel when we realize so much of this world is not. I believe it’s because we sense that our souls originated in a place that was, and will be in the end.

Life hasn’t seemed fair, though it hasn’t taken more than half a second for me to recognize that I have things so much better than so many, in so many ways. That said, it’s been dark days on top of a lengthy span of dark days.

One night when I was completely shot, not knowing how I was going to be able to force myself on because nothing I did seemed to make the slightest difference in what was happening in my life and the lives of the people I love, a thought came to me: Without the dark, we couldn’t see the stars.

It isn’t that the stars aren’t there all the time- what changes, is our ability to see them.

For centuries men and women have relied on the stars for navigation and beauty and hope. I got the impression as I lay crying, that the dark in my life was a gift to help me navigate my life with greater clarity and assurance.

This realization didn’t make my difficulties resolve themselves. By itself, it didn’t make me happy, but it did give me the strength to get up the next day and to keep trying, despite everything, once again, and it fueled me again the day after that.

This week marks the centennial of the beginning of WWI. My great-grandmother Helen has been on my mind constantly for months. I have a few precious pictures of her at the only time in her life when she found it easy to be happy. In most of them, she is being held by or smiling at the young man behind the camera. She was married to that man for three days before he was shipped to France. Within weeks, he was killed while administering medical aid to a wounded soldier in the Argonne.

As a child I found it odd that the adults around me could not understand why she spoke of her time as a nurse so often. “It was only for a few months,” my grandmother would complain.

My great-grandmother lived into her nineties. She lived through two world wars, the Great Depression, Korea, Vietnam, the rise of the Iron Curtain. She was informed that her only son was killed in WWII and held memorial services for him- twice. She lived in a city known as Little Chicago because of the mafia influence there. Her brother was mixed up with some very bad men. She outlived her parents, her siblings, and two husbands- the latter an alcoholic who was haunted by his own WWI experiences all of his life. Her son would be plagued similarly (from WWII) for much of his own. She was not known for being a happy person, but she was magical with me.

My great-grandmother understood things. More importantly, she understood me. Several of my most cherished memories of my childhood were the times I spent with her. She treated me as a young lady able to appreciate and understand precious things. The older I grow, the more of myself I find has been planted by her. Many of the fruits finally budding in my life now are there because of her. They are there because she was there.

So many of my great-grandmother’s days were torture for her. When I hurt because the man who loved me best died when I was seventeen, I think of her. When I get to experience an elegant meal and use my special cups, I think of her. When I get to experience something new but feel prepared for it, I think of her- because she took the time to prepare me to appreciate a number of things, to be intrigued and excited by them instead of closed off and afraid of them- when I was a preschooler and a toddler.

This past month when I realized that it was never going to be easier for me to walk if I didn’t make the effort to walk now, I thought of her. Each day that walking ten minutes on the treadmill took me the better part of ten hours, I thought of her. And the days when it got harder instead of easier and I wanted to chuck the whole thing- I thought of her.

I was prepared to experience things both wonderful and heartbreaking because of her and her life- the life she lived when it hardly seemed worth living, around people who didn’t understand her, missing the people in her life who did. She lived it when she was sick and when she was well and while the world looked like it was being blown to pieces.

Her dark became some of the stars that shone in mine.

Thank you, Helen, for enduring long enough to provide me with the gifts of sweet and lasting love and happy.

A Bit of Happy #3: A Puzzle and the Proms

Fall is my favorite season. I begin looking forward to it from about April on, but July and August have something brilliant to offer as well: The Proms.

Each summer Britain hosts orchestras and performers from all over the world. You don’t have to be a classical music nut to enjoy the Proms. In many instances the Proms could be subtitled: Music for People Who Don’t Know They Like Classical Music. There is an astounding amount of energy there, something you can sense even from a great distance.

I would love to attend a Prom in Royal Albert Hall someday. Until then, I listen to them via BBC Radio every year and you can too.

I pull out a challenging puzzle- one I might not have the patience to do otherwise- and put it together while being transported and educated by the announcers and the performers I listen to over the internet, imagining myself in a different time and place (and outfit) as I do. It’s a great stay-cation and can be started and stopped whenever you need to.

This year marks the first year the China Philharmonic Orchestra is performing at the Proms. This is significant for many reasons, but I’ll stick to one. During the Cultural Revolution in China, musicians and music teachers were persecuted and even imprisoned for having played or taught Western Music. Listening to this orchestra playing and premiering orchestral music in the UK at such a brilliant level of musicianship, knowing a little about what life in China has been like, brings tears to my eyes and makes me very happy.

* Here are some tips for newbies to the orchestral scene to enjoy a bit of Proms happy:

First off, you know more about orchestral music than you think you do. If you’ve watched old-school cartoons or practically any movie with a soundtrack that’s moved you, the sounds of an orchestra have already worked some of their magic on you, so don’t get hung up about what key a piece is in or its form or even its composer- just let it move you.

Listen to one of the BBC clips that give you insight into the performer or composer or what the piece was written for or in response to; it helps.

Feel bored?

Pick out one instrument and see if you can follow that instrument’s sound throughout the entire piece. Sometimes this will be simple and sometimes this will be tricky. Be a real detective here- don’t lose your man!

Pretend the composer was hired to create a soundtrack to the movie of your life story. Which part of your life is this part of the music depicting? Did it suddenly highlight a moment or a feeling you weren’t expecting or an experience you had almost forgotten? Don’t care for this particular composer? Who would you hire instead? Why?

Conduct the music yourself. Try to match your movements to the music as it speeds or slows, whispers and roars. (You’ll likely find that simply waving your arms about for 15 minutes solid is more aerobic than you thought it would be, it can also help relax and release sore back muscles.) If you are competitive, have a contest doing this with your family and/or friends and see who can conduct the longest.

Not every composer, instrument, or piece will speak to you. That doesn’t make you unmusical and it doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy another one. Explore. Look up the name of a composer you’ve heard of or an instrument or your local symphony on YouTube and see where it leads you. Give yourself permission to stop mid-video and skip to another one whenever you want.

Try playing a musical instrument. I don’t mean buying an instrument necessarily or signing up for lessons, I mean trying to make a few notes on an instrument, any instrument. ( Or get creative- one of my brothers can get three notes out of a garden hose.) Oftentimes attempting something helps give us a greater appreciation for it and for those who do it. In the process you may discover a talent or an interest you didn’t realize you possessed.