Radiant Moments: A Thanksgiving Reflection

Zion National Park - November 2021 - fall leaves and cliffs

I began this Thanksgiving morning by setting myself a task: to describe my gratitude for specific things which are not controversial. (I have little taste for controversy today.) I thought first of the largest things, such as God, family, and country, but the very ideas of these are currently controversial. You may safely assume my profound gratitude for them, but I after a few moments I turned my thoughts toward smaller things. Granted, all things are smaller than the largest things.

So I made list of specific things for which I have felt grateful in recent weeks, and nothing is too small. A hamburger is not too small. But soon it was clear that I had sent myself on a fool’s errand, because even a hamburger is controversial these days. And I suppose it shouldn’t surprise me, in a time when many consider everything to be political, that a hamburger is easily politicized too. (I am not grateful for this.)

So the following are only relatively uncontroversial. Some are only relatively small. They involve people, you see, and people are not a small thing – but we are smaller than God.

Now that I have made the list, I see that every item, in some sense and degree, is a moment. Today, as on many days, I am grateful for moments. Here are ten and a spare. They necessarily reflect my own tastes, opportunities, and associations, but perhaps they will call to mind some of your own moments.

In neither ascending nor descending order …

Live-Streamed Concerts

One of my sons is pursuing a master’s degree in French horn performance at The Juilliard School, which is two time zones away from my home. The other day, we watched a live stream of one of his concerts over the Internet. The video quality was good and the audio quality was excellent. We have enjoyed this blessing many times, as he has studied and performed in New York City and before that in Indiana. The Internet is a big thing, though not as big as God (sorry, Big Tech), and music is bigger still (sorry again, Big Tech), and I’m grateful for both, but here’s what makes today’s list: that live-streamed moment and other moments like it.

Yes, a Hamburger

I saw my doctor for a checkup the other day. I went there fasting, to accommodate lab work, and the appointment wasn’t until late afternoon. Yes, I’m grateful for a primary care physician I like a lot, but that’s not what I’m listing here. After the appointment I tried a new hamburger place in American Fork, Burgers and Barley. Sorry, JCW’s, you’ll still see me, and I’m still grateful for you too, but I now rate Burgers & Barley as having the best burger in American Fork, Utah. It was a moment.

Pick a Book (Not Just Any Book)

Let us speak of a book, because I always have several I’m reading. The nearest to hand as I write this is one I’ve almost finished, a travel memoir by John Steinbeck, who is better known for his fiction. The quality and reliability of my delight in this book remind me of novelist Ann Patchett’s essays, of which I lately read another. (Perhaps we might concede, given their comparative statures at present, that she should remind me of him.)

Every time I sit in my unconscionably comfortable reading chair (UCRC) and open this ordinary-looking paperback, it’s a delightful experience. So am I grateful for the chair and the successful DIY surgery which has prolonged its life? Yes. For the offspring who gave me the book? Yes. The book itself? Yes. The author? Yes. The time to sit and read? Yes. All of these combine to produce an item for this list: the experience of reading it. The moments.

John Steinbeck - Travels with Charley in Search of America - moments

A Certain Subset of My Critics

Some of my (still older) retired friends are grateful for golf. I suppose writing fiction is my golf. I have written many things in my life, from ad copy to a short inscription now carved in stone on a monument, to speeches that were broadcast more or less worldwide and translated into many languages. Now I’ve set myself the arduous and mostly joyous task (over the past and next decades, roughly) of learning the art, craft, and business of writing fiction by the time I retire. I aspire to spend my days writing and perhaps return to teaching too.

Which brings me to my next list item: I have a local critique group of aspiring writers, some already published, each with different interests and tastes. We meet twice monthly to critique pieces of each other’s writing, which we’ve read in the past two weeks. The critiques are serious, substantive, generally helpful, and sometimes brilliant. We’ve somehow become friends too, despite the pain we necessarily inflict on each other and ourselves in the process. We have moments together, doing a thing with which we struggle, a thing we find ourselves compelled to love, and I am grateful.

They Danced, We Watched

Several weeks ago, my wife and I were given complimentary tickets to a fund-raising gala we could not otherwise have afforded. (Her role in the local arts community is larger than most people know, but the folks in charge of the new Harrington Center for the Arts are well aware.) There were other fine performances that evening, and I quite enjoyed them, but what makes this list is the few minutes I spent watching a pair of world-champion ballroom dancers dance. It lasted but a moment, but now glows in memory.

A YouTube video of a similar performance by the same dancers cannot reproduce the breathtaking in-person experience, but it may inspire your imagination.

A Funeral

On Saturday I attended a funeral, along with 400 or 500 other people, which tells you the deceased guest of honor left us too soon. He was a few years older than me. Ten years ago he was a new neighbor who quickly became a friend. A fine teacher and leader, a gifted wit, a first-rate conversationalist, an uncommonly good man – he feels too big to make today’s list.

Here’s the moment that makes the list. It was an extraordinary funeral, with plenty of music and more well-told memories of the man than we usually get at a funeral. I’ve planned and conducted dozens of funerals and attended many more, and Latter-day Saint funerals tend to be happier than some, but this one brought a rare, additional satisfaction. Yes, I heartily disapprove of my friend’s early departure, but as his son and others spoke of him, I deeply enjoyed a realization. They knew him longer and better, of course, but the man they described was the man I knew, and the man I knew was the man they described. Something still feels right about that. I am grateful for the moment.

Good Neighbors Make Good Moments

Speaking of last Saturday’s funeral, here’s another thing which is small only in the sense that it is smaller than God. On the eve of the funeral, a neighbor sent a text message to other neighbors, saying there were 500 inserts which needed to be stuffed into 500 printed funeral programs for tomorrow. Could anyone help with that?

To be sure, I was grateful that circumstances allowed three Rodebacks to cross the street within minutes to help. At the front door we met neighbors from three other families. His widow greeted us cheerfully and gratefully and invited us in. There we saw two other neighbors. (One is the man who clears the snow off all our walks in the winter and enjoys it). They had the job half-done already.

We all pitched in for a few minutes to finish. In the process we were joined by yet more neighbors, some of whom arrived too late to help with that project. We carried the programs and some other things to the local church, a few doors away, where we found numerous other neighbors setting up tables and chairs and everything else for the luncheon that would follow the funeral, and for funeral overflow too (which we needed).

List item: I’m grateful for the moments that happen when one is surrounded by such neighbors.

A bonus moment: While the setup proceeded at church, a bereaved granddaughter was in the chapel, rehearsing a song for the funeral, accompanied by yet another neighbor at the piano. A few of us carried things into the chapel and then were willingly drafted to be a rehearsal audience while she sang the song for us. (The musicians in my family find that useful too.) Everything’s harder at a funeral, but this granddaughter has a beautiful voice, and her performance at the funeral was even better than the portion I heard of her rehearsal. The bonus list item is this: Almost everyone else got to hear her sing once. I got to hear her twice. An extra moment.

On the Job

At my day job I report directly to the company’s two owners, but I work a lot with the whole management team, my small marketing team, and others at a small company in West Valley City. I’ve been there almost four years, and I consulted for them off and on for a decade before that. I work there with good, interesting people who are good at their jobs and work hard; who make and sell a quality product; and who value and look out for the people who work there and their families, not just the bottom line. They’re honest too. I do marketing (among other things), and not once have I been asked or expected to say something that wasn’t quite true about the company or the product. In fact, I’m expected not to.

I’ve worked with other good people before, producing other good products and services, but I have plenty of work experience about which I could not say all those good things. Now there are abundant moments to treasure along the way. Again, for me this is a small thing only in the sense that it’s smaller than God. These moments loom large on my list of causes for gratitude.

Onion Rings

A few weeks ago I discovered, here on the Wasatch Front, in yet another episode of not eating sensibly, the best onion rings I’ve experienced this side of Doug’s Fish Fry in upstate New York. Yes, I’ll say it. I’m grateful for amazing onion rings – and more specifically, for that moment I spent experiencing them.

What’s that? Oh, of course. Iceberg Drive Inn.

The Many Souls Behind the Moments

Here are two intersecting thoughts.

Out my home office window I see the home of another next-door neighbor. The father of the family and I coached our sons together for a few years in the city recreation department’s youth basketball league. I was the dad who volunteered because they needed someone and it looked fun. (It was.) He’s a real coach, with a gift for working with boys. When I watch televised games of the local high school football team, I see him on the sideline, because he coaches there too. He seeks no glory; he just wants to coach.

A few weeks ago, in behalf of the local high school marching band, I wrote a press release which no media outlet picked up, about the hundreds — hundreds! — of adult volunteers involved in an all-day, local marching band competition. Many of the same volunteers were involved much farther from home a couple of weeks later in St. George, at the multistate regional competition I gratefully attended.

(I took photos of the band, not the volunteers, that night.)

Am I grateful for the countless volunteers, not to mention the professionals, who have combined to influence my family profoundly? Yes, I have been for a long time. And watching the best high school marching bands from several states makes for an evening full of excellent moments. But here’s what makes my list. Somehow, circumstances and opportunities have combined to put me where I can see a lot of the good work and good people behind the scenes. These are blessed moments, and I’m grateful.

Beautiful Zion Here Below

My wife and I spend several hours of my recent birthday at Zion National Park. Here are some photos.

‘Nuff said?

Measures 19 thru 25 Especially

A few years ago, one of my sons and I visited my daughter in Southern California for a long weekend. While there we attended two fine musical performances at Walt Disney Concert Hall in downtown Los Angeles. We sat very near the back row, where the ticket prices nod subtly toward affordability. I enjoyed the first evening with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. The second evening was the touring Chicago Symphony, playing two Brahms symphonies under Riccardo Muti’s baton. It was exquisite.

It happened in the second movement of the Third Symphony, near the beginning. Allow me to explain.

The movement begins with the clarinet and bassoon quietly introducing a gentle, rapturous theme, echoing an idea from the end of the first movement. Flutes and horns enter, followed by the low strings. The second phrase echoes the first, adding energy. In the third phrase the oboe enters on a sustained note which recalls for me (like the opening phrases generally) Mozart’s Serenade No. 10 in B-Flat. (In the film Amadeus F. Murray Abraham’s Salieri exults over the sublimity of that oboe line specifically, in praising Mozart’s work.)

But back to Brahms. By this point in that evening’s performance, I was already enraptured by the beauty and perfection of what I was hearing with my appreciative, experienced, but minimally trained musical ear. Floating over the low strings, the woodwinds and horns seemed to blend perfectly into a single musical tone, yet somehow there was harmony.

Partway through the fourth phrase, nineteen measures into the movement, the clarinets, bassoons, flutes, and horns together, perfectly tuned, balanced, and blended, created one of the most sublime musical moments in my experience.

Brahms Symphony No. 3, Second Movement - score - moments

I cannot fully explain why that particular moment in that particular performance of that particular work struck me as few musical moments have, though of course Brahms was a genius and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra is world-class. I cannot explain any of my similar moments. Perhaps others in the hall experienced this one the same way; likely many others did not. But it lingers in my memory as especially sublime.

Reprise: Behind the Moments

If there’s a point here, besides gratitude, it’s the seemingly infinite web of people behind the moment itself. Am I grateful for Brahms? His teachers? His patrons? For the people who publish the music? For my recording of the same orchestra playing the same symphony, to remind me of that moment, and the stereo I play it on? For the UCRC, from which I listen to that recording from time to time? For superb musicians who devote their lives to their art, and – again – the many who support, encourage, and teach them? For the people who fund and build and run the concert halls? For the airplane I flew to California, the pilots in the cockpit, and the mechanics and air traffic controllers who helped us not to bump into other airplanes or return to Earth prematurely? Why not add the Wright Brothers and the shoulders on which they stood, and the smart folks who figured out how to produce aviation fuel and deliver it affordably and at scale? You can see that we could list thousands more — behind this and every other moment I have cited.

I savor these moments. I love them for the moments they are. But they are also a lens through which to view countless, mostly unheralded souls who make my moments possible. To peek through the lens is to know redoubled gratitude. To gaze through it at any length is to contemplate God. (Sorry about that. I foretold a smaller-than-God essay today, I think.)

Happy Thanksgiving. I hope you are fortunate enough to add to your own repertoire of moments today. If we can somehow add to others’, we can rejoice in that too.

Thanks for reading!


From the Author

David Rodeback

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