Dear Family and Friends,
Last Sunday the combined choirs at First (Scots) Presbyterian offered a big, exciting Christmas work (with brass and percussion accompaniment) that features lots of odd tempos and syncopated rhythms. But in the third movement, there’s a quiet interlude where the children sing a simple verse from “Sleepers Wake.” And the tenor section (“as from a distance”) throws a rapid, seemingly-random “Gloria in excelsis Deo” into the middle of the verse somewhere, on an odd upbeat. Despite weeks of practice, I never got that entrance right, not even once.
Of course, it did not matter. The congregation was focused on the kids out front. So why, writing this letter on a quiet morning three days later, can’t I get that single, random measure of sixteenth-notes out of my head?
And why does the rest of 2014 seem like such a blur to me? In February we organized the 14th annual Darwin Week in Charleston, with a brand new outreach component to middle and high-school students. Meanwhile a protracted battle raged in Columbia over South Carolina’s science standards, and a nasty sleet storm battered The East. The Charleston City Paper ran a funny article featuring Charles Darwin, the icy fingers of Satan, and yours truly, which is linked from our holiday website, if you’re curious.
In March Ginny successfully defended her doctoral dissertation at Oxford, with much celebration to follow. And when Shary’s spring break rolled around in April, she seized the opportunity to visit our globetrotting daughter and her happy hubbie in Paris. The threesome traveled to Normandy for a weekend, and were profoundly moved by the battlefields and cemeteries.
In June I was called on a mission trip to the Peruvian Amazon. Our team flew into Iquitos, the largest city in the world not reachable by land, and then motor-boated several hours upriver to the jungle village of Nuevo Valentin, where I taught hand bells to the children, the bells hardly bring the point of it, however. Then from Peru I flew directly to Mexico City, for a joint meeting of several malacological societies, and a week listening to scientists talk about snails in a language that I did not understand. But at least the Latin names were in English.
With all our blessings, some sorrows must come. Perhaps the sorrows make the blessings more sweet? Shary’s sister Leslie (or Karen) passed away quite suddenly in late July while visiting her daughter Kelly in Australia, with husband Ryan, precious Allana, and newborn Sebastian Forrest. The initial shock and subsequent sadness have been almost unbearable at times, but the love of family, friends, and most of all God, has helped Shary and her family get through each day. We are sure that Leslie is serving tea to the other angels as we write…
… and return to our blessings. In August, we were cheered by Ginny’s move to New York! She has accepted a position teaching history and world affairs at Poly Prep Country Day School in Brooklyn. She and Eric (who is still in France) have completed all the paperwork in for him to immigrate to the USA, and are currently anticipating courteous and efficient service from the State Department.
August also brought us occasions for cheer in the form of two family reunions. My mother’s-side family met in St. Louis for a marvelously-well planned and enjoyable weekend of catching up with the nieces, nephews, cousins, uncles and aunts. And Shary’s niece Michelle was married way up in northern Michigan on Labor Day weekend, as a rainbow broke across the shores of Lake Huron. At the Mackinac Bridge above, front: Ginny, Shary, Aunt Ellen, Aunt Isca, Aunt Diane. Back: Rob, Bryan, Eric, Uncle Jimbo. Uncle Pat took the photo.
Yet sitting at my desk on this quiet morning in mid-December, 2014 is a blur. I’ve been 32 years a professor at The College of Charleston, and Shary has taught almost as long at Orange Grove Elementary. I’m still singing barbershop and shape notes, while Shary still enjoys her book and card clubs. Bryan still works at Staples, but is taking the GRE tests this afternoon, looking toward a grad program in Information and Library Science at Carolina.
This morning, for some reason that I do not understand, my mind is transfixed by a single, random, skittish whisper, off-beat and out of time,
Gloria in excelsis Deo,
Rob, Shary, Bryan, Ginny & Eric