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Wake up, America! We’re in the midst of not one but two epidemics. The second is an advanced case of irresponsible behavior in the matter of guns. The majority of thinking adults in the United States favor gun control, yet we cannot seem to enact the legislation that would assure public safety.


This epidemic of violence spreads with each succeeding incident, as the guns proliferate and the publicity swells. There are many causes for this epidemic and many remedies proposed for its relief, but the central fact remains: if the guns were removed from these actions, many lives would be saved.


What is the cure? License all guns, just as we do cars. We don’t put matches within the reach of kindergarteners, or give cars to ten-year-olds. Require gun owners to carry insurance on each weapon, and then tap that income to pay for the resulting societal and personal damages. Scotland and New Zealand show us that restriction is possible. Christ, Gandhi and Martin Luther King have taught us that violence begets violence -- it is not a pathway to peace or ‘security’.


The striking photos of our planet from space show how isolated we are in this universe. We have a choice: destroy all life (the easy thoughtless path, just a finger pressing a button), or respect each other and preserve it. We need to look each other in the face and see “Fellow Human, Friend” rather than “Evil Stranger, Enemy”. Let us grow up to our responsibilities as world citizens, and work for the common good. Let us begin at home, and get the manufacture, sale and use of guns under control. Let us arrest both of these epidemics and follow a path which leads to justice, peace and health for all who dwell on this planet.


-- Alice Parker

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"I can't breathe!" is the horrifying refrain we hear echoing around us in these desperate days. Breath means life itself, and to watch it snuffed out in front of our eyes is the stuff of nightmares. . . and a mandate for social change.


Breathing is at the center of another ongoing crisis in the world, as it has become clear that COVID-19 spreads principally through our breath. We must cover our mouths and keep distant to avoid infection. To have the virus take away our choirs and choruses and communal celebrations seems like a cruel deprivation.


However, choral music isn't dead: it's just temporarily out of reach. Song itself is available to us with every breath. We can weep for what is missing -- or we can triumph over adversity with our individual voices. Here is one way that needs no book or lesson or conductor or audience. Try it!

LIFE SONG

At the beginning, a baby is born, takes its first breath, and lets it out in sound.

That first cry is the first song, and that ability is with us all our life long.

Life Song.

We breathe in air in order to live, and we breathe out air because we must

in order to breathe in again,

and the possibility of song is always with us, with every breath.

Of course singing together will be the last action returned to us

in the present emergency.

Nothing is closer to our inward expression, to the core of our humanity,

than breath let out in song.

Of course it is dangerous! When we share song, we share breath and life.

We must value it, save it for safe time -- and spend it now in unsafe time.

We don’t have to be together to sing.

No one will be gladder than I when we can sing together again.

I had never realized how much I need human touch, human sympathy,

human voices blending with mine in patterns of song.

But let’s use this time that is given us to reconnect with our beginnings.

Listen to the birds!

They have songs in choruses that live from generation to generation.

They have daily concerts that arise from nothing but the gift of life.

What can we do, now today, here in this place, to respond to that imperative?

We can sing.

Not in the way we are used to, with our wonderful repertoire and choirs large and small

and lessons and rehearsals and concerts.

But alone. By ourselves. For no reason but the gift of song.

Be quiet. Sit down. Sink into the silence. Listen to your breath: in, out, in, out.

Awaken the bird in your throat and hear what it wants to do.

Allow it to go where it wants.

One long descending sigh or a siren wail.

High, low, fast, slow, with words or without.

If it turns into something you’ve heard before, let it.

If you forget the words, make them up or leave them out.

If it just wants to sit there with you, unchanging, let it.

It is your breath turning into song. Always there, always ready to be listened to.

It’s our breath, our song. We can sing alone or share it with those living with us.

Sing to babies: they listen and understand.

Sing with children – often! Share their songs; awaken their throats.

Sing to trees and rivers and sunsets and cliffs.

Sing because we have the breath of life and are grateful.

No one can take away from us the ability to sing. Remember that it is always present in our throats, ready to help us through both the storms and the calms of our lives. And think how well we will sing when we are able once again to join our voices in chorus! All that stored up song will burst forth in world-wide celebration. And perhaps we will be reminded that when we sing together we are at our best, affirming our common humanity and giving thanks for the gift of life and breath. Just like the birds. Life Song.


Alice Parker


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Stephen Mitchell’s translation of the Tao te Ching* is a book of ancient Chinese wisdom that I turn to often. Here is a quotation:


I have just three things to teach:

Simplicity, patience, compassion.

These three are your greatest treasures.

Contemplating these three concepts is a breath of fresh air in our present world situation. Let’s examine them more closely, looking at synonyms and antonyms from Roget’s Thesaurus.**

Simplicity: austerity, plainness, severity (unadorned, easy, plain, modest)

difficulty, pretense (unnatural)

Take your own line of work and think how this goal would affect it. The sign above my work table says “Can this piece be simpler than the last?”

Patience: forbearing, long-suffering (meek)

haste, itchiness


Does anyone teach this now? Our attention span has decreased in exact proportion to the speed of our electronics. Where is waiting for someone else to go first? Or not complaining about an invasion of your ‘rights’? Or even stopping to think before responding to - or in - anger?


Compassion: yearning, mercy, clemency, humanity, pity, grace

accusation, retaliation

We at least pay lip service to this idea. After all, it’s the Golden Rule: do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Or, share one another’s burdens and rewards. There’s a lovely old phrase about marriage “doubling our joys and halving our sorrows.”

What would our world be like if we tried to choose the simplest options? If we acted with restraint and good will? If we showed mercy and grace to ourselves and all others? For some time I have thought that only a world catastrophe might unite us as human beings, and jolt us out of our narrow views. The present world situation is exactly that shock. This is the moment to imagine and work toward a society that cares for all its members, curbs its wastefulness and walks in humility.

In a way, it comes down to old-fashioned good manners. That’s more than saying “Please” and “Thank you.” It means always thinking about the well-being of the person facing you. It’s the small things: the daily courtesy, the willingness to work and share, the quiet presence in the explosive situation. It’s the web of mutual support that we weave when we treat each other with respect -- at home and abroad.

Here is a closing thought from the same verse of the Tao:

Simple in actions and in thought,

you return to the source of being.

Patient with both friends and enemies,

you accord with the way things are.

Compassionate toward yourself,

you reconcile all beings in the world.

-- Alice Parker

*Lao-tsu: Tao te Ching, tr. Stephen Mitchell, New York, Harper & Row, 1988

** Roget’s Thesaurus, ed. Norman Lewis, G. P. Putnam’s Sons, New York, 1959

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