That September Day


The soft and subtle glow of the sun sits right side of my shoulder. Bumper by bumper, we move at a close and constant pace while I relish the music washing over me. Grateful to not be harried and hurrying homeward,  I turn up the volume and conduct the air while I make the most of the slow wheels, asphalt-wise.

The twang of guitar, the soft snare and notes weave together, while a piano taps out a tune as if played by a nimble kitten.  A single voice enters the song, sending me back to a time when my mother sang these very same words. That was a long time ago, but the words are just as poignant today.
I wonder at my fellow drivers, if they’ll shake their heads while I agitate the air in time with the song.  I am moved, inside and out. Broadway lyrics are often deep, deep wells if you listen outside the lines.
                                Try to remember the kind of September
                                When life was slow and oh, so mellow.
                                Try to remember the kind of September
                                When grass was green and grain so yellow.
                                Try to remember the kind of September
                                When you were a young and callow fellow,
                                Try to remember
                                And if you remember
                                Then follow…
And while the world is remembering, as it should, that September Day, I would like to argue that it is good to remember simpler times, happier times, whole-er times. 
 Any September….the kind where the joy of the first day of school and crisp plaid dresses and black and white oxford shoes heralded the season ahead.  The season of fall and school carnivals and hide-and-seek and bike rides and roller skating.
The Septembers where neighbors herded and fed each others’ children, shared swimming pools and picnics, phone lines and fenceline conversations. 
At least that’s what I remember. And maybe your world has that kind of joy in it; I rejoice with you, for it is more and more rare. I daresay you are aware of that and praise God for it often.
Why sing? Why remember? 
Because our right here/right now world is tenuous and taut and fraught with fear. But there is a just-as-real and unseen world all around us, a kingdom where those Septembers and Mays and Januarys are beautiful, peopled with whole and happy citizens. 
Try to remember when life was so tender
That no one wept except the willow.
Try to remember when life was so tender
That dreams were kept beside your pillow.
Try to remember when life was so tender
That love was an ember about to billow.
Try to remember, and if you remember,
Then follow.
     So, in this right here/right now life we move forward because of faith—faith in what we know can be so. Faith that remembers how our God is with is, was with us, and will be with us in all of our Septembers.
     Not because there is no pain or horror or violence, but because there is a healer and a helper and a holder. And we can sing along with rich and full musical lines that help us remember.
                    Deep in December, it’s nice to remember,
                    Although you know the snow will follow.
                    Deep in December, it’s nice to remember,
                    Without a hurt the heart is hollow.
                    Deep in December, it’s nice to remember,
                    The fire of September that made us mellow.
                    Deep in December, our hearts should remember
                    And follow.
Let’s sing to each other. Let’s remember. Let’s follow.
I have written about the experience of living through September 11th with my daughter Leah when we were visiting New York City.  I wanted to share this today because my mother died on September 11th. In 1984. And she loved to sing.
“Try to Remember” is from the Broadway musical, The Fantasticks, 1960.
I was singing along with Josh Groban’s recording from his ‘Stages’ album, cranked up loud. 
Very loud.


My brothers are strumming their guitars in my sister’s living room and I’m thinking of the miracle of it all, how our mother loved to sing and each of these men taught themselves to play beautiful music because of that gift and their love for words and song.

The miracle is I’m here to witness it, when I think of our collective pasts, the five of us siblings bereft of parents at an early age, fatherless as teenagers, motherless soon after.  We ultimately raised ourselves, me as the big sister and chief Bossy Person and always in charge. My mother worked, we were left alone a lot. Our father gambled, we were poor……the list goes on and on.  Alcoholism affected us all.

I thought it was all on me, this care and concern, but listening to the stories we shared last weekend as we were together, it’s clear there was a hand larger than our own keeping us all these years.

I heard a song right before I left on our trip to see my family for this wedding weekend occasion–a recording by Amy Grant and my all-time, from way-back-in-the-past favorite vocalist–James Taylor.

Just hearing his voice takes me back to my teenage years and the memories flood in of life in that landscape of wandering….God was with me through it all.

Some online friends and I have been discussing the fact that many of us grew up feeling unworthy–of having any joy, of feeling important or valued or loved. Is it okay to want my dreams? Do my needs really matter? It is an area in my life Jesus is beginning to deal with and heal little by little.

The words of this song (Don’t try So Hard–Amy Grant, with James Taylor) brought the tears streaming down my face as I stood in our kitchen, thinking about God’s great love for me, right there, right then, through the words and music.

We’re lovely even with our scars.

Don’t Try So Hard-Amy Grant, Benjamin Glover, Capitol Christian Music
Another Monday comes and I just wanna breathe
‘Cause it’s a long, long week for someone wired to please
I keep taking my aim
Pushing it higher
Wanna shine bright
Even brighter now
Wish I could tell myself
Don’t try so hard
God gives you grace and you can’t earn it
Don’t think that you’re not worth it
Because you are
He gave you His love and He’s not leaving
Gave you His Son so you’d believe it
You’re lovely even with your scars
Don’t try so hardDo you remember how the summers felt when we were kids?
Ah, we didn’t think much about it, we just lived
Taking our time
Beautiful leisure
When did we start
Trying to measure up
When all this time
Love has been trying to tell usDon’t try so hard
God gives you grace and you can’t earn it
Don’t think that you’re not worth it
Because you are
He gave you His love and He’s not leaving
Gave you His Son so you’d believe it
You’re lovely even with your scars
Don’t try so hardDon’t try so hardDon’t try so hard
God gives you grace
You can’t earn it
Stop thinking you’re not worth it
Because you are
He gave you His love and He’s not leaving
Gave you His Son so you’d believe it
You’re lovely even with your scars
Don’t try so hard

The Gift

My mother Helen and I with my son Aaron
Christmas 1977
Well, it happened;  I wasn’t sure when the tears would come, but sure as it’s the Christmas season that feeling of happy sadness touched my heart. I blame it on James Taylor singing this song. (Sappy. Cheesy. But true.)
Out running errands, turning left into the rainless sunshine cracking through the clouds, there were the familiar lines in a familiar voice, reminding me of long ago.  My heart cracked a little, too.  How my mother loved to sing. Any time, anywhere.
Although my mother’s been gone over 30 years I can vividly remember her joining in on a Johnny Mathis tune, her throaty alto sounding the bass line.  She loved the soulful singers of the day–Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan and especially Harry Belafonte. (Oh, the Banana Boat Song.  ‘Day-O!’)
My mother’s appreciation of music and song rubbed off on all five us kids (my family and friends will tell you I’ll pretty much burst into song at the drop of a hat.) My brother, sister and I were all in glee club before it was cool, and my mom came to all of our concerts.
Although financially we couldn’t even afford a record player, we did have a radio. One. And it was on most of the time.
Because my mother was determined to expose us to ‘good music’ she made it a point to take us to free concerts in the Southern California area where I grew up.  Each year one of the outdoor malls had special Christmas concerts with full choir and orchestra.  I think this is where I first heard Handel’s “Messiah.”
Of course the Christmas music my mother enjoyed was sung by Andy Williams and Nat King Cole, Dean Martin and others.  As a teenager she heard me rave about James Taylor but what would she think if she heard him singing some of those traditional Christmas tunes today?
(Yes, he has a recording of that song, too.)
I think she’d be overjoyed–which makes me smile (and sometimes cry).
I think she’d also enjoy Josh Groban and Andrea Boccelli.  Probably Michael Buble (ah, sappy again.)
I miss my mother very much, especially at Christmas, but I’m grateful for the gift of music and song she gave me so very long ago.
And I’m grateful to my Saviour that I now know the One I was singing about all those years ago.
“Thanks be to God for his unspeakable gift.” 
II Corinthians 9:15