Memorial Service "Choose Something Like a Star" - Frost

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Memorial Service "Choose Something Like a Star" - Frost

Post by ~greg » Sun May 24, 2009 2:30 am

It will be sung at my father's memorial service,
hosted by the Unitarian Society of New Haven,
in a couple of weeks.

I don't know who selected it. And before I read it carefully
several times I had no hope at all that it could possibly be
at all appropriate.

The title is not promising. And I know that some people wrongly think
that everything by Frost is always simple and safe and appropriate
to every occasion.

But it is appropriate. It is extremely appropriate for my father.
And I'll mention just one of many ways in which it is.
So when at times the mob is swayed
To carry praise or blame too far,
We may choose something like a star
To stay our minds on and be staid
Way back in 2002 "the New Haven Board of Aldermen passed a resolution
opposing the 'impending U.S. military action against Iraq' ... by a vote of 24-2."

Which was a very odd thing for a board of aldermen to do!
I don't believe there were many, if any, other local governments
that took that stand at that time.

One thing I am certain of.
My father had much to do with the decision.
Ward 11 Alderman Walter Wells, who was a soldier
in northern Africa and Vietnam, spoke poignantly about his
adopted Vietnamese daughter and the ravages of warfare.

"I abhor the idea of using war as an instrument of policy," Wells said.
"I feel too that a 'pre-emption' is a synonym for aggression.
I hate to see us be any part of it."

-- ... ?badlink=1
(There's a factual error there.
My father was never a soldier in Vietnam. He was
the director of the American-Vietnamese bi-national cultural center in Saigon.)

Choose Something Like a Star
by Robert Frost - 1947

O Star (the fairest one in sight),
We grant your loftiness the right
To some obscurity of cloud --
It will not do to say of night,
Since dark is what brings out your light.
Some mystery becomes the proud.
But to be wholly taciturn
In your reserve is not allowed.

Say something to us we can learn
By heart and when alone repeat.
Say something! And it says "I burn."
But say with what degree of heat.
Talk Fahrenheit, talk Centigrade.
Use language we can comprehend.
Tell us what elements you blend.

It gives us strangely little aid,
But does tell something in the end.
And steadfast as Keats' Eremite,
Not even stooping from its sphere,
It asks a little of us here.
It asks of us a certain height,
So when at times the mob is swayed
To carry praise or blame too far,
We may choose something like a star
To stay our minds on and be staid.
Randall Thompson's choral arrangement -
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Re: Memorial Service "Choose Something Like a Star" - Frost

Post by mat james » Sun May 24, 2009 2:49 pm

A father should be a beacon.
Lucky you, Greg.
Enjoy the wake.

"Without light or guide, save that which burned in my heart." San Juan de la Cruz.
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Re: Memorial Service "Choose Something Like a Star" - Frost

Post by Diane » Sun May 24, 2009 4:17 pm

Commiserations, Greg. I'm happy he could stay to watch you grow.
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Re: Memorial Service "Choose Something Like a Star" - Frost

Post by lazariuk » Mon May 25, 2009 2:39 am

Thanks for this and the many times you have added one of your stars to our sky.
may you always be comfortable to continue doing so
my happy and sad thoughts are with you
your friend Jack
Everything being said to you is true; Imagine of what it is true.
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Re: Memorial Service "Choose Something Like a Star" - Frost

Post by Cate » Mon May 25, 2009 4:40 pm

Dear Greg,

I'm sorry to hear of your Fathers passing.
The Frost poem you and your family have chosen is beautiful.
Thank you for posting the youtube link so that we could hear what it sounds like sung -exquisite.

my love to you and yours,

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Re: Memorial Service "Choose Something Like a Star" - Frost

Post by lizzytysh » Mon May 25, 2009 8:23 pm

Oh, Greg, I'm so sorry to hear of the death of your father. This has to be a very hard time for you. Our fathers are so often our rock and our star, fastening us at each end... our life and our dreams encompassed in both. You very clearly were very close to him and even in the little you've said, it's also clear that he was an impressive man and a very good person. My heart is with you and with your family and your father's other loved ones... and especially with you.

The video and choral arrangement are so poignant and moving, with the incredible, evocative images from the Hubble. The singing of the poem at your father's funeral will be just beautiful. It sounds very much to be appropriate for him.

"Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken."
~ Oscar Wilde
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Re: Memorial Service "Choose Something Like a Star" - Frost

Post by imaginary friend » Mon May 25, 2009 8:48 pm


I am sorry about the loss of your father. You had mentioned before that he was not doing well.

The anecdote you told on The Butcher thread, re. your father's determination as a nine-year old child to see his own father in hospital before he died, was an early indicator of his strength of character. Thank you for sharing that story, and this new one re. his comments on the invasion of Iraq. Peace.


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Re: Memorial Service "Choose Something Like a Star" - Frost

Post by Manna » Tue May 26, 2009 4:27 pm

Dear Greg,
May you find comfort. Your admiration for you father has been evident here. May you continue in life knowing you honour him.

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Re: Memorial Service "Choose Something Like a Star" - Frost

Post by John K. » Tue May 26, 2009 4:37 pm

Greg - I am very sorry for your loss.

I'm well-acquainted with Randall Thompson's "Frostiana" arrangement of "Choose Something Like a Star", having performed it in choruses from high school into adulthood. It's a beautiful piece. I wish you and your family well.

John K.
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Re: Memorial Service "Choose Something Like a Star" - Frost

Post by Boss » Wed May 27, 2009 8:46 am

Deepest respects Greg.

2009 - Melbourne
2013 - Melbourne, Brisbane
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Re: Memorial Service "Choose Something Like a Star" - Frost

Post by abby » Mon Jun 01, 2009 12:10 am

Thank you for sharing this here, with us, in this way. Death does have a way of calling the stars to mind- how huge it all is, as if our deceased beloved were out there, among them. If only the star would tell us where he went...

My thoughts are with you, Greg, my love too.
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Re: Memorial Service "Choose Something Like a Star" - Frost

Post by ~greg » Fri Jun 19, 2009 5:46 pm

Thank you all, very much!

I didn't expect this. I expected maybe a comment or two about Frost's poem.
Honestly, it was not my intention to inflict on you "la petite obligation malheureuse de consoler"!

Which is the Babel Fish translation of "the little unhappy obligation to console."

Which is a phrase, original with me, and modeled after "la petitie mort",
and therefore much deeper in the French than in anything else.


Which was my nervous attempt to make light of this matter.

Which I would do, if I could, first of all, because, as this thread reminded me,
l am myself very bad, clumsy, derelict, and delinquent, at consoling others.

Which a human being must not be! After learning how to breath,
learning how to console others is the single most important skill
that every human needs to quickly and securely acquire. Because
there is never any situation that doesn't call for it. When you think
about it.

Nevertheless, among other things, it was undoubtedly the impending prospect
of my having to console others, on top of myself, that gave my intestines
the unoriginal dim idea to try to cheer me up by making light of the matter,
by ballooning up and twisting themselves into every amusing shape
in the entire menagerie of the Aberdeen bestiary.

Which, at first, I assumed were the symptoms of cancer and heart disease
and diabetes and all the other baubles that God, in His perfect right, could
conceivably be hiding in my pinata to surprise me with one fine day.

And it was only when I remembered mama, and her chicken soup, and ginger ail,
that I realized that my "sickness" was undoubtedly what it could never be with me:
just simple ordinary "nervous stomach"! Because it was the ginger ail that
seemed to help. Although that turned out to be a fortuitous placebo effect
(albeit with the omnipotent force of the memory of mama's smile behind it -
mary.jpg (19.72 KiB) Viewed 5213 times
) - because "ginger ail" these days no longer contains any real ginger!

But then I did try real, crystallized, ginger. And just in case any of you fellow
cast-iron stomach types ever do paradoxically find yourselves harboring
the fugitive menagerie in your gut, let me tell you, ginger works! It is
the real miracle drug for this kind of thing. (Look it up. And then give yourself a
tummy massage, concluding in a burp, because this too sometimes helps,
just as it does with babies, and for the same reason: there is just too much
to swallow in this world!)

As to why the prospect of a family reunion might make me (or rather my stomach)
nervous, is something that I might want to talk about later.

But for now...

Another reason I'd want to make light of this matter, if I could,
is that I know perfectly well that not everybody had perfect parents
like I did!

And I am joking, of course.

It's just that Mat saying "Lucky you, Greg" really startled me!

Of course I knew he'd said it only after he'd said "a father should be a beacon".
And that by that he was obviously referring to what I had just said about my father,
in my post, - about him being a good rational pacifist,
- which is a classic type of human "beacon".

And it's certainly true that in that respect at least (and in others)
I am quite certain that my father could easily have beaten up every
other kid's father on the block.

But it did remind me that in the last few critical years I was in high school
my father was almost completely absent from my life. Through no fault
of his own. It was because of his job. And many other kids I knew
back then also had absent fathers. Except because they'd died.
Or were "making license plates". Or were drunks. Or worse.
Sometimes much worse. So was I lucky? Or luckier?

I suspect that most people loose their parents much too early in their lives,
so that it cripples their perspective on them. My parents did have faults.
And I was always aware of what I thought were some of them.
But one of the many ways in which I am quite certain I am very lucky
is that my parents lived at least long enough that I got to know
them sufficiently more accurately that I can't honestly regard
any of their "faults", as faults at all.

Roger Ebert in his review of the movie "Felicia's Journey"
wrote this about the writer William Trevor -
Trevor at 71 is one of the greatest living writers,
and one who approaches his characters with the belief that to understand all
is to forgive all. There are no villains in his work, only deserving and undeserving victims.
- ... 90301/1023
Which I would like to elaborate on a little bit.

Back during the US elections I quoted extensively from a book in the thread:
> Everything Else > from: "Dreams from My Father" - Barack Obama.

Before I'd read the book, all I knew of Obama was that he had
impressed a lot of people with a speech he'd given at a national
convention, which I hadn't heard. And I didn't get what the appeal
was from just the snippets I had heard of him speaking.
(It wasn't until much later, after I'd heard him talk for an hour,
that I realized what the real deal was - that he is less of a
demagogue than any other contemporary politician; he thinks
in terms of structured novels, rather than in terms of pamphlets
and broadsides. So that his quality isn't blatant. It's only
gradually revealed.)

Anyway, there are a few specific paragraphs in his book that
convinced me on the spot that Obama is the most mature
politician I'd ever known about. They are what got my vote,
and are what I was hoping would be picked up on by someone
in this Leonard Cohen appreciation forum. (-In that Obama and
Cohen are similarly extremely sensitive people, I guess. But
I forget the specific parallel I had in mind.)

I am referring to Obama's evolved perception of his mother,
in regards to the 1959 movie "Black Orpheus", which I saw
when I was a kid, and very much loved. Later in the 1960s
I also became aware that not everybody saw things like that
in quite the same way. And Obama expresses both
perspectives on it as well as anybody, so I'll let him tell it.

But what really impressed me wasn't that he recognized
that different people have different perspectives. It's that
he could get so far beyond his own initial perspective that
he entered into the realm of "to know all is to forgive all".
One evening, while thumbing through The Village Voice,
my mother’s eyes lit on an advertisement for a movie, Black Orpheus,
that was showing downtown. My mother insisted that we go see it that night;
she said that it was the first foreign film she had ever seen.
..."And when I saw this film, I thought it was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.”
{she said}
... The film, a groundbreaker of sorts due to its mostly black, Brazilian cast,
had been made in the fifties. The story line was simple: the myth of the
ill-fated lovers Orpheus and Eurydice set in the favelas of Rio during Carnival.
In Technicolor splendor, set against scenic green hills, the black and brown
Brazilians sang and danced and strummed guitars like carefree birds in
colorful plumage. About halfway through the movie, I decided that I’d seen enough,
and turned to my mother to see if she might be ready to go. But her face,
lit by the blue glow of the screen, was set in a wistful gaze. At that moment,
I felt as if I were being given a window into her heart, the unreflective heart
of her youth. I suddenly realized that the depiction of childlike blacks I was
now seeing on the screen, the reverse image of Conrad’s dark savages,
was what my mother had carried with her to Hawaii all those years before,
a reflection of the simple fantasies that had been forbidden to a white
middle-class girl from Kansas, the promise of another life: warm, sensual,
exotic, different.

I turned away, embarrassed for her, irritated with the people around me.
...And the same thought had occurred to me then that I carried with me now
as I left the movie theater with my mother and sister: The emotions between
the races could never be pure; even love was tarnished by the desire to find
in the other some element that was missing in ourselves. Whether we sought
out our demons or salvation, the other race would always remain just that:
menacing, alien, and apart.

“Kind of corny, huh,” Maya said as my mother went to the bathroom.
“The movie. It was kind of corny. Just Mom’s style.”

For the next several days, I tried to avoid situations where my mother
and I might be forced to talk. ....
But then his mother did talk.
And Barack listened. And heard -
“Well, I think it’ll be wonderful for you two to finally get to know each other,”
she said from the kitchen. “He was probably a bit tough for a ten-year-old to take,
but now that you’re older…”

I shrugged. “Who knows?”

She stuck her head out of the kitchen. “I hope you don’t feel resentful towards him.”

“Why would I?”

“I don’t know.” She returned to the living room and we sat there for a while,
listening to the sounds of traffic below. The teapot whistled, and I stamped
my envelope. Then, without any prompting, my mother began to retell an old
story, in a distant voice, as if she were telling it to herself.

“It wasn’t your father’s fault that he left, you know. ...
Her chin had begun to tremble, and she bit down on her lip, steadying herself. ...
She sighed, running her hands through her hair.
“We were so young, you know. I was younger than you are now.
He was only a few years older than that. ...
She stopped and laughed to herself.
“Did I ever tell you that he was late for our first date?

And then Barack Obama wrote this most remarkable paragraph.
Which was exactly what got him my vote --
My mother laughed once more, and once again I saw her as the child
she had been. Except this time I saw something else: In her smiling,
slightly puzzled face, I saw what all children must see at some point
if they are to grow up -their parents’ lives revealed to them as
separate and apart, reaching out beyond the point of their union
or the birth of a child, lives unfurling back to grandparents, great-grandparents,
an infinite number of chance meetings, misunderstandings, projected hopes,
limited circumstances. My mother was that girl with the movie of beautiful
black people in her head, flattered by my father’s attention, confused
and alone, trying to break out of the grip of her own parents’ lives.
The innocence she carried that day, waiting for my father, had been
tinged with misconceptions, her own needs. But it was a guileless need,
one without self-consciousness, and perhaps that’s how any love begins,
impulses and cloudy images that allow us to break across our solitude,
and then, if we’re lucky, are finally transformed into something firmer.
What I heard from my mother that day, speaking about my father,
was something that I suspect most Americans will never hear
from the lips of those of another race, and so cannot be expected
to believe might exist between black and white: the love of someone
who knows your life in the round, a love that will survive disappointment.
She saw my father as everyone hopes at least one other person might see him;
she had tried to help the child who never knew him see him in the same way.
And it was the look on her face that day that I would remember
when a few months later I called to tell her that my father had died
and heard her cry out over the distance.

mom and dad - 1940:
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Re: Memorial Service "Choose Something Like a Star" - Frost

Post by mat james » Sat Jun 20, 2009 12:37 am

you've got my vote, ~greg.

"Without light or guide, save that which burned in my heart." San Juan de la Cruz.
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