Let the Lights Shine this Season

cheerful graphicJust as nights become colder, darker and longer, neighborhoods and towns are beginning to sparkle with the warmth and joy of holiday lights. Main Streets glitter with decorations, Christmas trees warmly glow through living room windows, and barren trees come to life with strands of colorful bulbs. Holiday lights have a magical ability to make us feel happiness and hope.

Most of us like to decorate our homes at least a little for the holidays, and we usually have some pretty strong opinions on the matter. Some of us like to keep it simple. Others like to go all-in like Clark Griswold with his fuse-blowing decor in Christmas Vacation. Chances are we could each weigh-in on a discussion about white or colored lights, big or tiny bulbs, flashing or continuous settings, and, of course, those inflatable yard decorations. I do love driving around seeing people’s holiday decorations, and I always appreciate the effort even if they’re not exactly to my taste.

One year I wasn’t able to micromanage the hanging of the lights in our own yard, because I needed to attend my school’s winter chorus concert. I left detailed directions, including a carefully-drawn graphic, for my husband and teenage son. When I returned home that evening, I chuckled smugly at the tacky lights flashing from someone’s house down our street. As I drove closer, my heart sunk when I saw the brightly colored lights haphazardly strung every which way were in my yard.

I took a deep breath, walked into the house, and said with as much enthusiasm as I could muster, “The lights look so…fun.” My husband and son fell on the floor with laughter. They got me. I always feel like I passed some great test of Christmas spirit by not completely freaking out. Of course, those lights came down that very evening, and we all had a great time decorating according to plan.

I’ve had the chance to see some amazing holiday lights around the country, and I’m thrilled that this year there is a huge holiday light display right in my hometown. For the first time, our local museum is celebrating the holidays with more than a million sparkling lights. The only thing better than holiday lights are holiday lights mingled with beautiful architecture, sculptures, and artwork!*

Whether the display is large or small, extravagant or simple, holiday lights inspire all the wonderful feelings of the holiday season. It’s impossible to look at twinkling holiday lights shining against a clear dark sky filled with its own brilliant stars and not feel joy for the beauty of the world and hope for all of humanity. If we’re very lucky, some of that enchanting light will sink deep into our souls so we can go out into the world and shine a bit of our own light this holiday season. §

“This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine. Let it shine! Let it shine! Let it shine!”
~ Traditional Hymn 

*For information about The Lights at Cedarhurst Center for the Arts in Mt. Vernon, Illinois, go to cedarhurst.org or call 618-242-1236.

The Elegance of Showing Up

One gorgeous morning this fall, I found myself gathered with a handful of like-minded souls to write and illustrate poetry at Cedarhurst Center for the Arts. I couldn’t help but think how many other things we could have done that Saturday morning, but we each decided to show up. Brené Brown said, “Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen.”

Showing up at all can feel vulnerable, but showing up creatively takes guts. Our creativity can be expressed in many forms including art, music, writing, dance, performance, and innovation. On this morning, I taught a lesson on haiku poetry and Shrode Art Center director Carrie Gibbs taught sumi ink drawing, but we were all there to create.

Golden sunlight flooded through the windows magnifying the creative energy in the studio classroom. After three hours, I felt more alive than I have in a long time. I shared another quote by Brown with my fellow workshop participants, “The only unique contribution that we will ever make in this world will be born of our creativity.”

Here’s a sample of participants’ fall haikus, each contributing beauty, peace, and elegance to our world. §

mushrooms grow from the floor
their hats like umbrellas
covering them from the downpour
by Avery

black, white, red crouched low
hop, extend, push down, lift up
whooping crane takes flight
by Cindy

crows caw a greeting
among yellow crimson leaves
autumn morning song
by Debbie

a tree lit by the sun
a gush of wind blows by
whoosh! the tree is peaceful again
by Allie

in my reflection
my thoughts return to my roots
leaving soul to bare
by Brian

“Show up in every single moment like you’re meant to be there.”
~Marie Forleo

The Elegance of Live Music

It’s a fall afternoon and pianist Brian Woods fills the small performance hall with soul-stirring classical music that beckons autumn leaves to dance and transports the audience to another time and place. For a brief magical time, we are lifted above our everyday lives and united in the joy and elegance of music. 

The pianist from St. Louis ushered in the first of four concerts at our local cultural arts center, each of which I look forward to attending. I am no music expert; I just know how it makes me feel. Experiencing live music is different than listening to it at home or in the car. There’s something special about joining an audience of diverse people who come together specifically to experience the emotion and awe of a live performance. 

In a world fraught with conflict and division, music can bring us together in a delightful way. This summer, my daughter and her husband took us to a popular piano bar after a baseball game at Wrigley Field in Chicago. People of all ages, sporting Cardinals and Cubs gear, belted out Elton John’s Benny and the Jets at the top of their lungs. If those die-hard rivals can put aside their differences to sing together, there is hope for harmony. 

“Music has a great power for bringing people together,” said media mogul Ted Turner. “With so many forces in the world acting to drive wedges between people, it’s important to preserve those things that help us experience our common humanity.” Music genres can be diverse as people, but with an open mind, lovers of jazz or rock may discover they also enjoy Tchaikovsky and Beethoven. 

Opportunities to experience live musical performances can be found at regional schools, churches, universities, libraries, bars and restaurants, and cultural centers like Cedarhurst Center for the Arts in my hometown.*

According to Americans for the Arts, there are many good reasons to support the arts, including boosting local economies, strengthening communities, and improving academic performance among students. The organization points to research that shows participation in the arts reduces depression and anxiety and increases life satisfaction. In the 1700s, Jean Paul Friedrich Richter said, “Music is the moonlight in the gloomy night of life.” 

On the sunny afternoon the pianist swept his audience away with stunning musicianship and stage presence, I took a moment to notice the expressions on the faces around me and knew we were  experiencing something significant. As composer Aaron Copeland said, “So long as the human spirit thrives on this planet, music in some living form will accompany and sustain it and give it expressive meaning.” §

“In the presence of great music we have no alternative but to live nobly.”
~ Sean O. Faolain

*If you are in southern Illinois, tickets for the 2022-2023 music series at Cedarhurst Center for the Arts are available online at cedarhurst.org/music-series/. This year’s line up includes a Brazilian father-daughter duo Oct. 15, a standards-singing trio in March, and a dynamic flutist, pianist and educator in April. You won’t be disappointed! 

The Elegance of Community

IMG_1847 (1)Six-year-old Mariah sat perfectly still as I carefully painted a swirling green vine across her forehead and around her soft cheek. We chatted breezily as I added yellow sunflowers to her sweet face. A touch of gold glitter made her smile sparkle all the more.

I recently jumped at the chance to volunteer with a local museum, Cedarhurst Center for the Arts, at a community event held at our town’s park. It’s the same park I frequented as a child. I still remember sitting at the small concrete amphitheater listening to someone dressed as The Cat in the Hat read a Dr. Seuss book. I was just about Mariah’s age.

On this sunny June morning, local groups gathered to kick-off a state-wide collaboration called the Sunflower Project. This community project will beautify the area, regenerate soil, and increase natural pollinators like butterflies and bees.

The park was buzzing with people of all ages planting sunflowers, browsing educational booths, devouring funnel cakes, and getting their faces painted. It warmed my heart to see people coming together at a time when we see so much division. A Saturday morning in the city park of one little community painted a different picture.

I’m inspired by the good citizens of our community. They volunteer at hospitals, schools, churches, museums, and other charitable and service organizations. They donate their time, food, money, and other resources. They attend events people work so hard to bring to about. Their support of local government, businesses, athletics, the environment, education, and the arts makes a real difference.

Being part of a community requires the elegance of our participation. Involvement is what makes any community more successful, whether it’s a family, school, workplace, town, state, nation, or planet. Coretta Scott King said, “The greatness of a community is most accurately measured by the compassionate actions of its members.”

I can hardly wait to watch the sunflower seeds so carefully planted in our park grow and bloom into a joyful patch of yellow flowers. What a perfect symbol for a thriving community filled with strong and happy citizens. Wherever you spend this fourth of July weekend, I hope you take pride in all of the various communities you are a part of and look for ways you can get involved to make a difference in your life and in the life of others. §

“Alone we can do so little; together, we can do so much.”
~Helen Keller

Featured Art ~ A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, Georges Seurat, 1886.