You Never Know…

Several years ago, I lost a very good friend of mine, a person who knew me like no other. Her name was Greta Seelig and for five years she sat next to me for seven Mondays at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City. She was 78. Our friendship started casually with small conversation. Soon I found out that she had had the same seat for about 30 years with her husband. Her cousin Lotti now joined her and sat in her husband’s seat. She would tell me about several people who sat in my seat in years past that she had met.

In the course of time Greta and I would talk about Opera and religion. She was a Jew and very active in her congregation in New Jersey. Soon she had me joining her and Lotti at Carnegie Hall to hear Opera Orchestra. The friendship continued. I marveled at what she had seen and heard during the course of her life. Her personal calendar was really a performance schedule. She went to everything it seemed. We swapped holiday greetings. Every so often she would call me to see if I would buy a spare ticket to something. She knew I was a sucker for a good concert. She was right because I always said yes. At intermission Greta would always break out the chocolate and offer Lotti and me a square.

In our continued sharing I found out that she barely escaped the holocaust. She came to the United States from Nazi Germany. I sat in amazement, as she would tell her story. We discussed current anti Semitism in this country. I continued thinking what a life this woman has lived! One time I said how much I was looking forward to hearing Norma next year. She told me in response that Norma was her husband Carl’s favorite. Carl died in 1993 just a few weeks before their 50th wedding anniversary. She also had two sons the same age as my brother Peter and me. Norma, as it turned out was the first Opera Cameron and I heard at the San Francisco Opera in our first subscription here in California.

I was planning the next year to join Greta and Lotti in a small subscription series to City Opera. I tried calling her for more detailed information, but she seemed not to be home. I thought she might have gone to her son’s for Passover. I got the call on Monday morning (April 16th), from her son Jack to say that Greta had died suddenly and quietly two weeks before. That she spoke of me often and how glad he was that I left my number on the message machine so he could call and tell me in person. I went to the Opera that night feeling very alone. My Opera buddy was gone. I think what I will miss is the fact that Greta knew a side to me like no other person. She understood my passion for good music, and I understood hers. Because music is such a big part of my life, she learned quite a bit about me, and I about her so easily. There is something eternal in both the nature of music and spirituality. In some cosmic way it also has to do with human beings.

God shares love for us in ways we never know by bringing in special people for a time into our lives in the strangest places. Greta was one of those people and for the more than 35 operas and various other concerts that we shared together I am grateful for her presence in my life.


A Shark’s in the Water

Once upon a time there was great big school of fish that loved swimming around the ocean. All the time they would swim together, and furthermore they enjoyed each other’s company.

One day, along came a big shark. He swam right into the big school of fish, opened up his mouth and – WHAM!, he ate a bunch of the fish. The fish were caught off guard, “My God, what happened?” they thought!

The next day the same shark swam into the school of fish opened his mouth and ate some more of the fish. When he was done eating, he swam away. Day after day this happened. The shark would enter the school of fish and -WHAM-would eat a bunch of them.

One night when the shark wasn’t around the fish had a meeting. “What are we going to do about this shark?” they said. “Every day he keeps coming and feeding on us. Isn’t there anything we can do?” How frustrated they were! They felt powerless against this shark.

Then one night during the meeting one of the little fish said, “I have a plan. When the shark is fast a sleep, we will surround him, and all of us will grab hold and bite him as hard as we can.”

“Well, what good is that going to do?” some of them, replied. “It won’t kill him. In fact, it will only irritate him.”

“Well it IS something.” the little fish said.”Why not give it a go. We have nothing to lose. Let’s see what happens.”

So the next day after the shark had eaten, he swam away to sleep. The school of fish did exactly what was planned. They all swam around the sleeping shark and on the count of three bit him as Hard as they could. “YEOW!” was the sharks response. “YEOW!” and he swam away in obvious pain. But the next day, the shark came back to feed on the school of fish and sure enough ate some more. But the next night they swam up to the sleeping shark and bit him as hard as they could another time. “YEOW!” Still the next day the shark came back.

Again the fish voted to continue biting the sleeping shark every day as long as any of them remained.

And bite the shark they did.

And then one day the shark, tired of being bitten every time he fell asleep, decided to swim away and look for another place to feed.

When the remnant group of the school of fish realized that the shark was gone, and that they had won, they rejoiced. Who would have thought that a bunch of little fish could chase away a great big shark? Well they did it!

And sure enough they threw a party to celebrate. During the party one of the older fish saw a young female fish crying. “Why are you unhappy?” he asked her. She told him that one of last times the shark came back the shark ate her husband.

The old fish said, how sad it was that sacrifices had to be made so that they could live without fear… but with justice comes sacrifice.


What sharks swim in our waters? What sacrifices are we willing to make? Dare we name the sharks that eat us and our community: hunger, selfishness, depravity, racism, anti-Semitism, homophobia?

As Jesus sacrificed himself for humanity… is it fair to ask what sacrifices we are willing to make for God’s Holy Realm?

Think about it,

A Persistent Faith

One of my many joys working with young people over the years is to hear profound answers to simple questions – ones that I don’t expect. It is these answers that make me think and say to myself, “Gee whiz! I wish I had thought of that!”

One time I remember time teaching young people about Jesus calling the fisherman to be disciples.  So often I have asked the question, “And why did Jesus call fisherman?” Most of us learned the rote answer, “Because he wanted to make them fishers of men.”

This particular time when I asked this question, a young person answered, “Jesus, called the fishermen because fishermen are persistent.” The young person then went on to explain, ” When my grandfather goes out fishing he never gives up. He fishes day after day.  He goes out fishing weather he catches anything or not. He never gives up. Jesus wanted people like that.”

This past week in our discussion of The Serenity Prayer, we discussed the line, accepting hardship as a pathway to peace. I did not mention this Sunday morning, but here is a perfect illustration of this line. Making a living as a fisherman is not easy. It involves many long hours, oftentimes dealing with adverse elements of nature. It’s hard, often times very hard. And yet somehow, all seems forgotten with a great haul on a particular day.

Obviously, this child’s answer went much further than I ever expected. As a people we are called to a persistent faith in good times and not so good times. It is good for us to reflect on this as we consider how we utilize our faith. It is good for us to realize as we enter into a time of transition.  How easy for us to get wrapped up in our wants, our needs, and our fears! How easy it is easy for us to forget that a strong, persistent faith yields us a wonderful dividend – hope!

Think about it,