An American Elegy

“Ah, music,” he said, wiping his eyes. “A magic beyond all we do here!” — Albus Dumbledore in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

Composer Frank Ticheli has said that his hope for “An American Elegy” is that it might serve as “one reminder of how fragile and precious life is and how intimately connected we all are as human beings.” Ticheli was commissioned to write the orchestral piece to remember those who died in the shooting at Columbine High School in April of 1999, and to honor the lives of those who survived.

One of my dearest friends, about whom I’ve written often, heard the music played by her son’s school orchestra and was moved beyond words by the power of it, the poetic strength coupled with such vulnerable emotional resonance. She tucked away the title just like she tucked away other other things that moved and inspired her, quotes from Emerson and St. Augustine among them. After she died from metastatic breast cancer, Ticheli’s piece was played at the beginning of her memorial service, an instruction she had left behind for her family. Whenever I hear the opening bars, the music never fails to take my breath for a moment, in goosebumps and tears, just like it did the first time I heard it at her service. (more…)

Peace in the Storm

“There is peace even in the storm.” — Vincent van Gogh

A summer hailstorm kicked up yesterday afternoon, coming on quickly and with unexpected ferocity. As the hail grew larger, it fell faster, battering everything it touched. I don’t know why, but as I watched the storm, the tragic shootings earlier this month at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston came to mind.

“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.” —Mother Teresa

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Winter Reprise

“Weather kept them humble.”
— Annie Proulx
Last Sunday, we had blue skies and bright sunshine that hinted at spring; by Tuesday, a snowfall. Though it was short-lived, for the better half of the day it appeared as if we’d gone back in time to December. I suppose that never knowing what to expect can make even the mighty feel humble.

This winter, none know this better than the residents of the U.S. East Coast who’ve gotten wave after wave of the kind of snowfall for which we’re better known here in Minnesota, the kind for which you need a yard-stick, not a ruler.

Putting on five layers of warm clothing (I’ve never been known to love the cold), I trekked in to the marsh near my home to catch the snowflakes on video, figuring this might (wishful thinking, perhaps) be their final appearance here for this season.

“…winter, on its knees, observes everything with reverent attention.” ― Anna Akhmatova

Video Credits | Music by Peter Walker via freemusicarchive.  Field recording of snowfall by Peter Caeldries via freesound.org. Filmed and produced  by Lucy Mathews Heegaard.

Dear Rebecca

In the winter of 1863, my great, great, great, great grandfather, David Mathews, left home to serve in the Civil War. He was 36 years old, not a wealthy man, and regretted having to leave his wife, children, and extended family as he felt his greatest responsibility was providing for them in the lean times the war had brought.

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A Reminiscence of Wangari Maathai

A lucky moment, I caught Wangari’s smile while photographing a meeting at UNEP in 1987.

Environmentalist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai is being eulogized by presidents and prime ministers. She died in Nairobi on Sunday at the age of 71. Yet, to me, the most impressive testament to her legacy is the list of condolences from names you wouldn’t recognize. In a multitude of languages, these condolences are being posted in record numbers to her Greenbelt Movement website by regular folks around the world whose lives she touched with her warmth and genuine kindness as much as with her brilliance and her passionate dedication to protecting the environment and human rights. I am one of the many “regular folks” who share a fond remembrance of Wangari Maathai and mourn her loss.

Fresh out of college, I landed in Nairobi, Kenya in 1987 to work for the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP).  I staffed a committee of women who were advising UNEP’s Executive Director. Professor Maathai was one of those women and a mentor to me in those months I spent in Kenya. In my journal, I marveled at her ability to translate her wisdom into messages that compelled people to action. Her ideas, I wrote then, “come through in her writing very clearly–down to earth and to the point, yet reflecting the depth and breadth of her training as a biologist. She captures thoughts and creates solutions that are often downright brilliant in their simplicity.”

Beyond what I learned from her writing, I received the enormous gift of her friendship during my stay in Kenya.  She always greeted me with a smile.  Her joyful laughter infused our work with the best of energy.  She gave me rides in her big Greenbelt Movement van, amused, I’m sure, by a wide-eyed, young American woman off on a Kenyan adventure. She also gave me one of the nicest compliments I have ever received.  At my going away dinner, she said, “I like Lucy because she has such an innocent face– a face that wishes all the good things in the world, and to which all the good things come.” I can still hear the cadence of her voice as she said it. The thought brings warmth to my heart and a smile to my face even now.  I have been trying to live up to that compliment ever since.

My life intersected with Wangari Maathai’s for only a short blip in time.  I never saw her again in person after my stint in Kenya more than two decades ago.  And yet I have carried her presence with me for all these years because of the depth of her kindness.  The wealth of condolence notes on her website from “regular folks” like me lets me know that I am not alone in this experience of her.  Surely there should be some kind of prize– even bigger than the Nobel, I think– for people like her who can touch, move and inspire us in the short time our lives intersect and change us for the better for the rest of our lives.

Rest in peace, Wangari Maathai.

To read more about Professor Maathai’s work at The Greenbelt Movement, visit www.greenbeltmovement.org

To hear Wangari’s voice and read another beautiful tribute to her, visit the Being Blog at  https://onbeing.org/programs/wangari-maathai-marching-with-trees/