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Pauline Lerner

February 28, 2005 at 5:04 AM


Last night I went to a potluck dinner at the home of some friends from my church. Everyone there was from the church, and we were getting to know each other better. This is a Unitarian Universalist church, and UUs are generally music lovers. In fact, one of the ways I evaluate a church, and one of the ways that UU churches often select their ministers, is by their music. This group was no exception. One of the members is a professional jazz musician. He organizes jazz festivals, plays jazz, and teaches music in a public school. Someone asked him how he likes being a professional musician, and he said that music is a great career but he doesn’t have much money. Someone else asked him what instruments he plays, and he responded with a long list which included the didgeridoo, a traditional instrument used by indigenous people in Australia. He explained the circular breathing technique one uses to play this instrument. It sounded to me like inhaling and exhaling at the same time, one through the nose and the other through the mouth. He said that he could do it passably but not really well. A couple there, who have been married for 45 years (wow!), have a son who is a sculptor and a rap musician. One of the women there thought this was very funny because the rapper’s father is such a quiet man. The rapper has included some of his family members on some of his CDs in interesting ways. For example, he recorded the message on his parents’ answering machine and used it as background for one of his recordings. Someone remarked that talent in music and in the visual arts often go together, and that musical talent is common in scientists and mathematicians. I said that I’m a modest example of these concurrences because I’m a scientist and I love to play the violin and do nature photography.

During the Joys and Concerns part of our Sunday service today, one of the “senior statesman” (really not pompous) spoke about both joys and concerns of himself and his wife. She has Parkinson’s disease. He said that their joy is the deepening of their love as they cope with her illness together, and their sorrow is the illness itself. He said that she talks to him about what she can and can’t do and that she’d like to talk to the rest of us, too. After the service, I went to talk with her. She is a truly lovely person. Everyone who knows her agrees about that. I told her that I remember that, when I was nearly killed in a car accident a few years ago, she had been very kind in helping me, and I’d like to help her now. She smiled and said that a lot of people are helping her. She is a professional artist and works mainly in watercolor. She saves unused scraps of her watercolor paintings that “didn’t work” and uses them to raise funds for the church. For a $5 donation, you can choose your own watercolor scrap and another church member, who does calligraphy, will write your name on it, and you have a very distinctive name tag. For my name tag, I chose something with warm colors (pinks, yellows, and oranges) and had the calligrapher write Pauline Lerner with a treble clef between Pauline and Lerner. It’s a great name tag and a great bargain. The fellowship hall of the church doubles as an art gallery with some of her framed watercolors hanging on the walls. They are for sale, and 20% of the price goes to the church as a donation. Recently I told the artist that when I get a job, I’m going to buy one of her watercolors, and it will be a gift to her, me, and the church. Although she is now frail and small, and she tires easily, her spirit is strong. Today I told her that her watercolors are full of warmth, light, and life, so I know that she still has these qualities within herself. I had been feeling like a hermit in a cave, with no car and, sometimes, not enough breath to go out and walk much because of my asthma. I walked around the room and looked at her watercolors. I love them all, but my favorites are paintings of flowers. One painting, in particular, called to me. It shows a vase of flowers just inside a window and the path the sunlight takes into the room. I was looking at this painting while I was talking to another friend, and, suddenly, I stopped talking. The friend asked me whether I was OK, and I told her what had just gone into my mind, like the sunlight into the room in the painting. I told her about the strength of the artist’s spirit and about my feeling of living in a cave. Then, while I was looking at the painting, some lines from a poem had illuminated my mind. “Stone walls do not a prison make, nor iron bars a cage” (Richard Lovelace, To Althea in Prison). I must buy that painting and hang it up in my home for its sheer inspiration.

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