One of the things I inherited from my parents was a tremendous love of music. Growing up my folks didn’t have a lot of money, and as is common with many immigrant households financial instability was a reality of their first years in Canada. However, there were two possessions they had that I will always remember.
One was a Zenith radio that had a place of prominence on our kitchen table. It was encased in black plastic and measured about 12 inches long by 6 inches high and 5 inches deep, and it had a clock as well as various dials. My parents purchased it around 1960, and it was still operational until about 2002 when it finally died. That radio was tuned to my parents’ favourite radio station, and every morning before going to work they made a point of turning it on and listening to music.
Later, when they saved a bit of money, they purchased an Electrohome stereo. Mahogany in colour with built in speakers it included both a radio and a record player, and it was my father’s pride and joy. To this day it sits in my living room even though the radio is scratchy and the record player long ago succumbed to old age.
Over the course of 45 years my parents amassed an amazing record collection. Henry Mancini, Gogi Grant, Helen Whiting, Jane Morgan, Andy Williams, Perry Como and Mantovanni were just some of their favourites.
I often wondered what was it about music that resonated so strongly with my parents. My father played the organ and my mother played piano when she was much younger. However, I wouldn’t describe them as musical. Their connection with music was, I believe, a function of the times in which they lived. They were both born in England in the 1920’s, grew up during the Depression, and were profoundly impacted by World War II, especially the Battle of Britain. For them, music was a form of release. It brought inspiration. It provided joy. It was an escape from the daily trials and challenges of war. I often recall them speaking about the hope and inspiration provided by wartime artists such as Dame Vera Lynn and Glenn Miller.
In the middle of a dreary winter I am reminded of this as I reflect on the sad and sorry state of our country and the world in what has been called the Omicron wave of this pandemic. Politics, the economy, the environment, all now take back seat to the daily barrage of news about infections, lockdowns, hospitalization rates, vaccinations and boosters. The news seems to go from bad to worse. People wonder if the end is in sight.
“When You Believe”
Quite by accident recently I discovered a video from a Disney musical several years ago. The movie was “The Prince of Egypt”. The song is entitled “When You Believe” performed by the amazing duet of Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey.
I have long been a fan of Whitney Houston. She had a phenomenal voice. While Mariah Carey is best known for her many Christmas songs the vocal range she displays in this song is incredible.
Admittedly, the singing and the orchestration in this song are exceptional, but what resonates for me most profoundly are the words. Three lines in particular are noteworthy for those of us struggling with the current realities of our world.
“We Were Moving Mountains Long Before We Knew We Could”
The older I get and the longer I coach the more astounded I am with my clients’ innate abilities. People have an incredible capacity for creativity, adaptability and resourcefulness. Their capacity to dig deep and traverse obstacles and challenges is profound. You see this in sports. You see it in military campaigns. You see it during times of crisis.
When I first started coaching, I had a client I will call “Jake”. Jake was an older gentleman. After about the third coaching session he revealed a personal detail with me that, quite frankly, left me shocked and stunned. He had been attending a wedding out of town and staying at a nearby hotel. He had an innocent exchange with a hotel guest near an ice machine down the hall from his room. Suffice to say he was accosted, drugged, beaten up, savagely attacked and robbed. This kind of incident would have left many people emotionally traumatized. Despite this horrific event which left him seriously scarred having to undergo several plastic surgeries Jake remained focused on his job search and deeply committed to getting his life “back on track”.
We’ve seen this resourcefulness and persistence throughout this pandemic. Brick and mortar stores have shifted to online. Restaurants that once offered dining in have switched to delivery. Companies that once made gin now manufacture antiseptic cleaners. Firms that once made hats now make masks. Creativity knows no bounds. People refuse to “call it quits”.
“Though Hope is Frail, It’s Hard to Kill”
Another extraordinary aspect of the human spirit is our capacity to endure. Faith is both a comfort and a sustaining force during times of struggle and fear.
I am reminded of this in the case of Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig, the two former Canadian diplomats who were held hostage in China for nearly three years following the detention of a Huawei executive at Vancouver International Airport in December 2018. Repeated efforts to secure their release through normal diplomatic channels proved unsuccessful. Nothing seemed to work, not even appeals from other foreign governments during their trials in 2021. Yet, surprisingly and very unexpectedly, both men were released by the Chinese government in late September 2021.
“A Small but Still, Resilient Voice says Help is very Near”
There may be times when the odds seem stacked against us. Despite that, people have this enduring capacity to thrive and survive. They often do so with the assistance of individuals or organizations who weren’t always perceived as allies or supporters. These silent angels are everywhere.
I’ve spent a fair bit of time in the United States. One of the extraordinary qualities I most admire about Americans, in addition to their patriotism, entrepreneurship and creativity, is their incredible sense of voluntarism. There is a sense of civic consciousness and community that I honestly believe is a unique American trait. That “can do” spirit allows people to dig deep and realize extraordinary accomplishments in the face of overwhelming adversity.
This was brought home to me very clearly years ago when I was vacationing in New England. I remember driving through a small town in southern rural Vermont, and coming across a rather dilapidated arena. The building was probably close to a century old and had clearly seen better days. In front of the arena a sign had been erected as part of a fund-raising initiative. The amount of funds they were trying to raise to rehabilitate this building was formidable, and well in excess of half a million dollars. Despite that, they were 95% of the way to achieving their goal.
I don’t know where or how their civic leadership raised the money. At the time I wondered how such a small town with only a few thousand people could raise such a substantial sum of money. I do know that in addition to Americans’ strong sense of civic consciousness they also possess an incredible generosity of spirit; again, another distinctive quality for which they do not get sufficient credit. Digging deep, sharing unselfishly with others, and resilience, can pay huge dividends, especially when it is done with the goal of helping those in need.
A Final Thought…
The capacity of art and artists to inspire is well known. Anyone who lived through the Battle of Britain in the 1940’s will attest to the enduring inspiration and sense of hope conveyed by Vera Lynn in songs like “We’ll Meet Again” or “The White Cliffs of Dover”. I’m not sure what will be the song or message that resonates with our generation and inspires us with fresh confidence and renewed hope. I would suggest that Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey’s rendition of “When You Believe” might well be a good start and a hopeful reminder to us all.