Insight about eyesight

Eye chartI had a birthday last week. I’m not going to divulge my age. Suffice it to say that I know who Jan Brady is and I wore bell-bottoms in junior high.

As I’ve trekked through middle age, birthdays have become less, well, fun. I think I speak for a lot of tail-end Baby Boomers. Gone are the highly-anticipated birthday parties of our youth with games, personalized cakes and a bevy of gifts such as Barbie clothes, girly books, and craft kits. We no longer add “…and a half” when people ask our age. If anything we round it off to the decade.

Most of the time we celebrate at a special restaurant with a few friends, a movie, or some other entertainment that would bore today’s kids. We get a few birthday cards—the paper snail-mailed versions. (I got four this year; three of them from women over age 80.) Most greetings come via Facebook and emails. Some people forget due to life’s busyness. I don’t fault them as I totally blanked out my cousin’s birthday until a week later. We might even get a gift or two, usually not high buck. After all, at our age we have most everything we need except the high-buck stuff, like a retirement nest egg.

There is one high-buck gift I’d like, but it’s not something anyone can buy at a brick-and-mortar or online store. In fact, I’ll need to finance the gift myself—hopefully through health insurance.

It’s not liposuction, a facelift or Botox. It’s improved eyesight.

I’m nearsighted and have worn glasses since third grade. But I knew something else was wrong with my eyes five years ago when things weren’t as sharp and clear as I knew they should be despite stronger prescriptions.

EyeA routine eye exam revealed that I have Fuch’s Dystrophy. It’s a rare condition when cells in the corneal layer called the endothelium die off. These cells normally pump fluid from the cornea to keep it clear. When they die, fluid builds up and the cornea gets swollen and puffy. Vision becomes cloudy or hazy.

Yep, that’s me. I have “foggy mornings” even when the sun is shining brightly. Glares bother me, and I’m more sensitive to the sun. I tear up to the point where I’m afraid people will think I’m crying. When I was at the dentist having my teeth cleaned last year I could feel tears sliding down my face. I had to reassure the dental hygienist that I wasn’t crying because of pain.

Fuchs’ Dystrophy has two stages.

In the early stage, vision is usually hazy in the morning but gets better throughout the day. With stage 2, vision remains blurry all day as too much fluid builds up during sleep and not enough dries up during the day. Tiny blisters form on the cornea, the eyes feel sandy or gritty, and sensitivity to light increases.

I estimate I’m at stage 1.5. I don’t have eye pain from blisters, but the cloudiness sometimes lasts until after lunch, my eyes occasionally itch, and light sensitivity is increasing.

What’s the treatment?

I use sodium chloride eye drops that dry out my eyes and reduce swelling of the cornea’s cells. They work, somewhat. I roll my eyes (pun intended) whenever I see commercials for dry eye solutions. At times I could bottle my over-abundance of “tears.”

The only other treatment is—gulp—a corneal transplant, which would either transplant some of the cells, or the center of the cornea would be replaced. Sooner or later—probably sooner—I’ll need a transplant. The sobering fact is the cornea would have to come from a recently deceased person.

In the meantime, I’ve adapted by using the zoom feature on computers, keep magnifying glasses handy, and make sure I have plenty of light (and reduced glare) for typing and reading. I found large over-the-frame sun glasses which help my light sensitivity. I no longer drive at night because of the glare from car and street lights.

Insightful Research

The reality of needing a corneal transplant sent me to the internet for research. Sometimes I wish I hadn’t! One procedure made me cringe: penetrating keratoplasty. This surgery replaces the entire cornea. It could take a year or longer to get complete vision back. The risk of rejection is 3-in-10.

A less invasive procedure is a thickness corneal transplant when damaged front and middle layers of the cornea are removed and replaced. Another is when the innermost layer of the cornea called the “endothelium” is replaced. Recovery for these two range from 3-6 months and rejection is rare.

There’s one facet of the transplant procedure that I try to block out: I’ll be conscious the entire time! Sure, I’ll be sedated so I won’t care or be aware of what’s going on, but the thought of being awake during the procedure gives me the shivers! My mother, bless her heart, eased some of my apprehension when she shared a “Jeopardy” question/answer she had heard recently: “What is the only bloodless transplant? The cornea.” Good to know!

Wise up, coach!

Last year, Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer suffered a detached retina. He first injured the eye after scratching it during a game. Since then Zimmer has had eight surgeries to restore as much of his sight as possible.

I reeled at the news: EIGHT surgeries?

Based on news reports, I thought Zimmer was a bit cavalier about the situation—attending practices and games when he probably should have taken it easy to let the eye heal. I was perturbed at Zimmer’s attitude and was tempted to verbally wop him upside the head in an email. “Don’t take your vision so lightly, buddy! So you miss a few practices or games. It’s better than needing a white cane to draw out defensive plays.”

He finally took much-needed time off, and I hope he makes a full recovery.

Anyway, I digress.

When I was first diagnosed with Fuch’s Dystrophy, I recalled a contemporary Christian romance I had read. I discovered “Insight” by Deborah Raney during my genre research in the early years of writing “Embracing Hope”—before my sight problems.

Without giving away spoilers, the story centers on a successful painter, Reed, who undergoes corneal transplants to prevent blindness. The first transplant is rejected and he fears losing his sight entirely. As if to prepare himself, he tries painting with his eyes closed using his mind’s eye. He feels somewhat confident about what he had created on the canvas—until he opens his weakened eyes. All he sees is a mess.

Even though I’m not a visual artist, Reed became real to me. Like him, I pondered, “What if?” My first question was, “How would I keep writing?”

I did research into how I could write with greatly-reduced or no sight.

  • Voice recognition software is growing in use and technology.
  • A scribe could be used, much like those who transcribed oral traditions and histories of what would eventually become the Bible.
  • Braille can be used on computers or personal digital assistants (PDA) and there’s Braille translation software.
  • Applications for computer accessibility are always being developed and refined.

Yet I realize how laborious writing would be, especially after the ease of writing now—on my laptop sitting on the sofa, editing, proofing, rewriting, deleting, reading the content over and over again. I can’t fathom how I’d have to adjust my writing skills and flow of creativity.

More importantly I’d have to adjust my lifestyle, career goals, and, quite frankly, my entire outlook on life (again, pun intended). While I wonder and even worry a little about what lies ahead, I have hope that my eyesight will someday be corrected. Heck, I probably won’t even need glasses and those pesky middle-age cataracts will be removed.


The leaning evergreen of Greene

Tree leanAs I studied the 80-foot evergreen tree in the side yard of my mother’s home Memorial Day Friday, my head tilted to the angle of the tree. Oh, boy.

I walked around the base of the tree and saw two small cracks in the soil about six inches long, maybe a quarter-inch wide and a quarter-inch deep. Oh, boy.

I shifted my eyes to the guys on the roof of her house situated too few yards from the tree putting on a new metal roof. Oh, boy.

I think that I shall never see …

The tree had had a slight lean for years, and we would tease Mom about waking up one morning with a tree in her bedroom. We talked about removing it more for aesthetic reasons. I had visited her at Easter—five weeks before—and hadn’t seen anything different about the tree.

But the teasing had stopped Friday with a gasp and a gulp.

Recent storms with strong straight-line winds and soaking rains had pulled up smaller trees in Greene, a quaint Iowa town of 1,100, puncturing roofs and yanking up sidewalks and sod. How this tree had withstood this latest of nature’s assaults is purely Divine.

Tree 2Time to get serious

And Mom did. Minutes after I entered her humble abode for my Memorial Day weekend visit, she announced that the tree was coming down—that day. WHEW! Sure enough, within an hour the crew arrived with chainsaws, a wood chipper, and a scissors lift.

Less than two hours later, with a collective yell, (Disappointingly no one yelled “timber!”) the top third of the tree was pulled down, actually bouncing, branches flailing. Like ants, the crew quickly went to work sawing off the remaining branches and eventually the trunk. Due to the close proximity of a maple tree, the fall took out several branches of the tree. Unfortunate, but unavoidable.

By the way, the roofers continued working despite the possibility that their work could be null and void should the tree take a wrong tumble. They climbed down just before the final pull—to take cell phone videos. A few minutes after the tree had literally hit the ground, they climbed back onto the roof and resumed their work.

Reality TV in their front yard

The demise of the Leaning Evergreen of Greene took a total of four hours and drew some passing gawkers and neighbors. One couple across the street watched the spectacle from lawn chairs on their porch—who needs HGTV or the Discovery Channel? My brother, who lives two hours away had called asking if he should come. I snickered knowing he wanted in on the action. He arrived just after the top had toppled.

Tree 3Our family breathed a collective sigh of relief. All that remained of the 500,000-pound tree was a stump about six inches high. A curious roofer counted approximately 75 rings in the tree.

… a poem as beautiful as a tree 

As the days went by, I thought about that tree and the 75 years it had weathered Iowa’s four seasons:

  • Ice storms that downed powerlines and tree branches
  • Heavy wet snows that weighted down branches
  • Two deluges that saturated the ground and flooded the town twice in eight years, both dubbed “unprecedented” and “500-year floods.”
  • Countless wind storms—straight-line and even tornadic—kicking up dust or pouring down buckets of rain.

I pondered the tree’s history. It had been planted in the late-1930s or early-1940s in the shadows of the Great Depression and World War 2.

The house was built in 1919, so the tree was planted 20 years later. Why? Additional shade? To replace one that had died? To fill a gap in the tree canopy? In memory or honor of someone?

How much did a tree sapling cost back then?

How many kids from the house or neighborhood played under the tree for fun and picked up the fallen branches and needles for chore?

More importantly, what had caused the behemoth to lean? Mom said it wasn’t leaning much when they moved into the house nearly 20 years ago. I guess that would be a question for geologist or arborist.

In the meantime, I suggested Mom use the stump to display a pot of flowers. She will.

Pictured Below: Street View Before and After

Tree before.jpg



Wanted Dead or Alive: Cursive Writing

cursive alphabetIs cursive writing a dying art?

Are the days of curlicues and loops numbered?

Will cursive go the way of hieroglyphics found in caves that are now on display in museums?\

News of cursive’s demise has been floating around for years, surrounded by generational uproar (pro and con) and questions of its usefulness in the world of keyboards.

But recently, it seems to be making a comeback. Perhaps the uproar has stimulated interest, thus renewed support.

My Cursive Forecast
Cursive will never go away; just as paper books will never go away.  Schools might dump cursive writing classes or reduce the amount of instruction as time is precious with a growing number of subjects to study. But as an art form, it’ll stick around.

Consider the thousands of computer fonts available and always being developed. Look at the beautiful art and décor using cursive. Notice wedding invitations; most are in elegant cursive script, which conveys romance.

Unattractive and Unreadagood cursiveble
But there is a caveat using cursive. It must be READABLE. That leaves me out. I’m a half-and-half writer: half cursive, half block, wholly pathetic. I look back on papers from school and the early years of my career and see a penmanship style that flows evenly and is easily readable (left).

Then came the computer. Yikes! My use of cursive penmanship plummeted and became unreadable, even to me. When I’m in a hurry, it looks like a pathetic attempt at shorthand, which I never learned in high school. (Remember that class, Baby Boomers?)

I blame my pen-mess-ship on physical atrophy resulting from fingertip pecking on computer keyboards for 30 years. After writing a few words my wrist tires and my hand “stutters”, especially on Ws and Bs—which is bad news considering my name. I compensate by typing as much as possible: letters, fax cover sheets, file folder and address labels.

Signature Stress
Unfortunately, I can’t type my autograph in my books and signature stamps are a no-no. I dislike autographing because I fear I’ll leave a sloppy signature. Won’t that make the autograph all the more distinctive and valuable, you may ask? Nope, just disappointing to the reader and embarrassing for me.

Show of hands: How many hate signing the electronic credit card machines and package delivery scanners? No one can write legibly on those things. First, the stylus (or index finger) is larger than the minuscule signature rectangle. The machine wiggles either from being used as a drum by children going through the checkout line with their parents, or because the machine is being held by the delivery driver in one hand while he balances the package in the other. But the clerks and delivery drivers just shrug at the screens and let us off the hook.

A cure for Chronic Cursivitis
Cursive can be taught outside of the traditional classroom for those interested in learning. There are YouTube videos—some professional, some not so professional, and online curriculum.  Cursive has been added to art departments. Library and community centers offer classes.

Parents—and as time goes on, grandparents—can lead by example. However, it’s a good thing I learned cursive in school. My mother’s handwriting is poor due to a light case of childhood polio on her right side that weakened her right hand and resulted in shaky writing. My father’s pen-mess-ship was a bunch of miniscule stick letters reminding me of Woodstock’s conversations in the Peanuts cartoons.

Sign on the Dotted Line
One argument for learning cursive is to develop your personal signature to sign checks, receipts, legal forms, driver’s license, etc., thus preventing forgery and confirming identity. This concerned me because my signature is pathetic, and if I’m in a hurry, undecipherable.

My concerns, however, were put to rest by a clerk at the driver’s license bureau. She explained that as long as the first initials of the name are somewhat consistent from signature to signature, it’s passable. The rest could be a scribble or a mere line.

My signature may be bad, but the most pathetic signature I’ve seen was by a local government official. His signature was literally two jagged lines. The first initials weren’t recognizable. Yet the signature was, unbelievably, the same time after time.

A smattering of people—male and female—have been gifted with beautiful handwriting. And I’m jealous. Their script flows evenly, has character and sophistication. Sometimes I can’t help but judge their character based on their handwriting.  Had I been a Colonialist at the time of our country’s founding, I would have lauded John Hancock’s character just seeing his now-famous signature.

Bad cursive(I wince at how people would judge my character.)

Aesthetically, a signature can define your personality—become your personal brand. Case in point: Walt Disney and Picasso. Take a look at the “coolest” signatures, and you’ll see what I mean. Well, except for Kanye West.

Shakespeare, Longfellow, Sugar Creek Gang, President McKinley: Every book has a story beyond the story

old books.jpgAs much as I love the feel, scent, and perfect appearance of a brand new book (especially my own), I have an affinity for antiquarian books. There’s something about the musty smell; tattered, torn, dog-eared and stained pages; and ornate hard covers that grip my heart and stimulate my imagination.

Questions arise. Who were the readers? Where was the book first purchased? Was it a gift, and if so, from whom and why? For two decades I collected antiquarian books; nothing of monetary value; mostly sentimental. I’ve scoured through them in search of hand-written, scribbled notes on the pages, or bits of paper tucked between. I’ve found a frayed vintage bookmark and a yellowed pressed flower. Never found any $100 bills. When we moved three years ago, I downsized my collection, and kept those with personal significance.

The Sinking of the Titanic and Other Great Sea Disasters – It’s a 1912 original edition with illustrations and photos (including one of the supposed iceberg). I found it in an antique store during the height of my Titanic obsession in the mid-1980s. The front cover has detached, but I don’t intend to repair it so it maintains its time-worn integrity. I’ve read the book many times.

The Works of Shakespeare – This was in my Great Aunt Gladys Butler’s collection. It was originally presented as a gift to her mother, Minnie Notton Butler, which would date the book to the late-1800s. I wasn’t able to find a copyright date, but there might be a couple of pages missing after the gold-embossed hard-cushioned cover.

The 750-page book has gold-edge pages that are almost as thin as those in a Bible, and the print is tiny, possibly 6-point type. It includes a memoir of Shakespeare, his will, and a glossary of all those Ye Olde English words and phrases. There are illustrations of Juliet, Silvius, the Death of Cleopatra, King Richard, the Witches, etc. I looked for the book on the internet, but did not find one among the hundreds shown, which makes me wonder about the rarity of it. One can hope! Have I read it? Nope. Paged through it? Yes.

Minnie pageThe Poetical Works of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow – Copyright 1883. This also belonged to Minnie Notton Butler. What fascinates me is whoever gave it to her wrote Minnie’s name and date of the gift (May 31, 1894, the year she graduated from high school) in elegant and detailed calligraphy. Again, the pages are gold-edged and the type is small. There are many illustrations and a dozen pages of notes that are as difficult to understand as Longfellow’s works! I found the volume for sale on the internet for $5-$12. Have I read it? Nope. Paged through it? Yes.

Illustrious Life of William McKinley, Our Martyred President – Copyright 1901 (the year he was assassinated. This 460-page book, purchased in an antique store years ago, caught my attention as McKinley is in the Butler family genealogy. He had no surviving children, so I am not a direct descendant. (Note: The hero in “Embracing Hope” is Drew McKinley—not a coincidence.)

The book has numerous engravings made from original photographs. The first photo on the inside flyleaf was taken just hours before McKinley was shot twice in the abdomen by a crazed anarchist. McKinley died eight days later. The author was Murat Halstead, who described himself in the intro as a personal friend of McKinley’s for 30 years and author of “History of the War Between the States”, “The Story of Cuba”, “Story of the Philippines.” His writing style is formal, yet emits his emotion.

As readers would expect, the book is a comprehensive look at McKinley’s life and the times at the turn of the century: personal history, political climate, the assassination, national and world grieving, and a section on his Christian character. At the end of the book are the details of the trial of the assassin, who was executed by electrocution 45 days after McKinley’s death. I have read the book? Yes, although I skipped some of the political chapters.

The Sugar Creek Gang Series – Author Paul Hutchens wrote 36 volumes (1940-1970) of the wildly-popular Christian books geared for boys ages 9-12. The “gang” of youngsters embarked on many adventures, always learning valuable lessons on faith-filled living. My father, Paull Butler, was gifted with 11 books between 1944-46 from his parents, Garth and Hazel Butler; his Aunt Gladys; and his sister, Doris Butler. The titles sum up the adventures: “The Sugar Creek Gang in Chicago”, “We Killed a Bear”, “The Sugar Creek Gang Flies to Cuba” (Really!), “The Sugar Creek Gang Goes Camping”, “The Sugar Creek Gang Goes to School”, etc.

The series has been made into audio books featuring the voice of Paul Ramseyer, a Christian radio legend at the Northwestern College Radio Network in St. Paul, Minnesota. I worked with Mr. Ramseyer when I was in public relations at Northwestern (1993-2005); I was also an alum there. I knew of Mr. Ramseyer for years as my family faithfully listened to the radio network. So how did Paul Ramseyer end up narrating the Sugar Creek Gang books? Paul Hutchen’s daughter Pauline, was married to Rev. Kyle Wilson, who was on Northwestern’s pastoral staff. Ta da!!

And there you have it: the stories of my antiquarian collection of books. Will my humble paperback/Kindle romance ever attain such status a century from now? Naw. Then again, I do have three granddaughters and a great niece……

I’m glad I kept my school yearbooks!

yearbooksA scene in an episode of the TV sitcom “The Middle” caught my attention recently. Nerdy yet eternally optimistic daughter Sue Heck fawns over her senior yearbook asserting that she’d be looking at it all the time for the rest of her life. She clutches it to her chest and eventually writes her name on the cover with a bright pink marker.

I chuckled. I had thought the same thing back in 1979 when I graduated from Allison-Bristow High School in Iowa (now North Butler Schools). My name was embossed in gold at the bottom of the yearbook. It had a bright red cover that featured big black “1979” and the head of the school mascot, the Trojan. I had leafed through the glossy pages several times that first year after graduation. Whenever I heard my classmates had married, I marked the year and spouse under their senior photo.

Leaving High School Behind

I lost track of (and interest in) my high school yearbook during my college years and left it behind in my childhood bedroom. I bought four years’ worth of The Scroll yearbook from Northwestern College (St. Paul, MN); I was on the yearbook staff my junior year.

The contrast between the high school and college yearbook was stark, which wasn’t a surprise. The hard cover of the high school yearbook was twice as thick as the inside pages (small school; 40 in my class). All photos were black and white and captions were mostly names; although it featured the senior class will and prophecy.

The thickness of the college yearbook cover was equal to the pages, which had about a dozen color pages. There were several 2-4 paragraph stories; candid student, event, and sports photos; a contents page and an index of student names. Wow! Such sophistication for a small private college in 1983.

I put the yearbooks away when I joined the workforce and began an exciting new stage in my life. I was too mature to bother with yearbooks of my high school and college years, so I thought. When I saw my parents’ yearbooks from the 50s on their bookshelves I wondered why they bothered to keep them.

Interest Reborn

When I got a public relations job at Northwestern 10 years later, a co-worker was the students’ yearbook advisor so my interest returned. The book hadn’t changed much in size, thickness and the embossed hard cover. But it had more color, better photo quality, and gasp!—GRAPHIC DESIGN! I began collecting them in my office more for research than anything. Several professors and staff remained from my college era so I enjoyed seeing how they had changed—or not changed.

When I left that job I was able to take a few yearbooks with me: those from my college years and a few from my employee era. I have a dozen that sit on a shelf of my nightstand. They are so heavy I fear the shelf will eventually break. I rarely look at them.

About a decade ago I was wandering around an antique store in Waverly, Iowa, and a book with the word Scroll caught my eye. I knew immediately that it was a Northwestern Scroll (circa 1940s). In fact, I knew of the original owner from the college’s history, who had lived in nearby Waterloo, Iowa, but was since deceased. The yearbook must have been among her belongings put up for consignment. I bought it for $2 and took it home. I leafed through it, reading the many handwritten messages from classmates and a few notes on their deaths. Eventually I lost interest and, yes, put it on the Northwestern shelf.

Back to High School

In the meantime, my high school yearbook was buried in the hope chest, along with my wedding dress. I dug it out once when my first classmate died. I paged through it looking for his photos; sadly, there weren’t many.

In the past 15 years I inherited Allison-Bristow High School yearbooks from the 1960s and 1970s as my parents downsized. In all, I collected 11 yearbooks and put them on another nightstand shelf to collect dust.

Occasionally my parents would tell me news of Allison-Bristow alumni who lived in the area (or whose parents still did): jobs, kids, grandkids, divorces, remarriages, deaths of children and parents. Many times I remembered the name, but the faces were fuzzy, so I referenced the yearbooks to put the faces in focus; sometimes I had to figure out a maiden name to make the connection.

Yearbook vs. Facebook

Facebook emerged and long-lost schoolmates re-emerged. Connecting with them was fun as we caught up on decades of news. We had all aged—some better than others. Some had moved down the road from where they grew up; others to Texas and California. As we reminisced and even posted old school photos, I found myself looking at the yearbooks more.

When “Embracing Hope” was published and word was getting out in my home towns and the school district, I connected with more schoolmates on Facebook. Soon I was sitting on the floor beside the nightstand paging through entire yearbooks, one after the other. I admit there were tears; after all, life has changed all of us in one way or another. Yet it was enjoyable looking back on simpler times and their “far out” styles and reconnecting with my roots. I haven’t made notes of schoolmates’ and teacher deaths, and I don’t plan to.

So, Sue Heck, you won’t look at your yearbook all the time for the rest of your life. You might forget about it or misplace it for a decade or two. But there will be times when you’ll have a reason to search for it, page through it and be glad you have it.

A Requiem for the Titanic and a Classical Musician

Titanic booksTitanic.

In the 105 years since its doomed trip across the Atlantic, just seeing the name dredges up morose terms: panic, death, drowning, hypothermia. Another word that always emerges in my mind is arrogance, which is illustrated by the razor sharp contrasts of the ship’s reputation from the day the keel was laid in Belfast to the day it sank below the black waters and tumbled 2.4 miles to the bottom of the North Atlantic.

Opulence to tragedy.

Leisure to chaos.

Unsinkable to death trap.

I’ve had a fascination with Titanic since the pitiful remains of the ship were found on the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean on 1985. I’ve accumulated a vast collection of books, watched movies and documentaries, and visited the traveling exhibits of relics pulled from the wreckage. I even touched a chunk of ice the same temperature as the water that awful night and shivered not from the cold, but from the horror of the reality.

Naturally, I was drawn to the 100th anniversary of Titanic’s sinking in April 2012. Its history came to life yet once again by a plethora of stories, including rehashing of survivors’ accounts (and debunking tall tales), and present-day events recognizing the milestone. I re-read many of the books I had collected. I even found a Titanic Twitter account which chronicled the trip in real time through the “experiences” of passengers and crew. On one hand, the unfolding Twitter story was interesting. On the other, it was creepy knowing the ending.

Titanic album_“The Titanic Requiem”

A story emerged from the entertainment industry that grabbed my attention and has never released its grip. A classical music creation, “The Titanic Requiem”, was being composed to coincide with the anniversary of the sinking. And the composers of what was being touted as a masterpiece were most unexpected: Robin Gibb and his son, RJ.

Yes, Robin Gibb as in the Bee Gees. The twin brother of Maurice and little brother of Barry. The group famous (or infamous) for the disco sound of “Saturday Night Fever” and 50 years of pop music.

Yet it’s evident that the potential for Robin’s first classical composition had always been there. The Bee Gees sold more than 220 million records worldwide, making them one of the world’s best-selling music artists of all time. They wrote all of their own hits, as well as writing and producing several major hits for other artists. Their albums in later years illustrated the musical range, maturity, and sophistication of their sound. Their music has been considered pop by most, but to me it was deeper due to the thought-provoking themes and lyrics.

A New Titanic Focus

Robinn GibbWhen I heard about “The Titanic Requiem” my interest in the Titanic was reborn with a different focus: the fragility of the composer. Robin had been battling major health problems during the creation of the masterpiece and was eventually diagnosed with colorectal cancer in November 2011. But he pressed on with RJ’s support.

“The Titanic Requiem” premiered on April 10, 2012, at the Westminster Central Hall in London, performed by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and the RSVP Voices choir. Robin was too sick to attend and RJ spoke on his behalf. He died on six weeks later, on May 20, of liver and kidney failure, complications of the cancer that left him skeletal at the end. He was 62.

A Final Message

I’ve watched part of the performance on the internet and listened to excepts on YouTube. In my opinion—and I know next to nothing about classical music—the 15-movement album is absolutely stunning in both the complexity of the music and the messages in the lyrics.

The movements range from majestic and soothing to mystical, and eventually building up to haunting. Titles chronicle the life of the ship and its occupants: “Triumph”, “Farewell (Immigrant Song)”, “Under the Stars”, “SOS”, “Distress”, “Salvation”, and “Reflections.” They’re a long way from “Night Fever” and “More than a Woman.”

I was almost overcome by the combination of goose bumps and a punch to the heart when Robin sang “Don’t Cry Alone.” The song poignantly and sorrowfully illustrated not just the human tragedy of the Titanic, but became Robin’s final message to his family, friends and fans.

But I did cry. I still tear up each time I listen to it.

Since discovering “The Titanic Requiem” I have come to see Robin through a different lens. I see him beyond the album covers, publicity photos, and concerts as a Bee Gee. And if you take a few minutes to listen to excerpts from “The Titanic Requiem”, you’ll understand why.

More about “The Titanic Requiem”

On the edge of extinction: The Clock

ClockThe clock above the sixth grade classroom doorway reads 3:21. Nine minutes and the bell will sound signaling the end of the school day and they can stop identifying irregular verbs. It’s Friday, which makes clock-watching doubly momentous.

Peeking up from their notebooks and books, the kids count down the minutes to the weekend. Each tick of the second hand brings freedom closer and closer.

3:26: The teacher glances at the clock and around the classroom, then shakes her head and says, “I can see your attention spans are glued to the clock so let’s call it a day.”

Books slam shut. Notebooks rustle. Backpacks are stuffed and zipped. Chatter escalates with plans for the weekend: the dance in the gym that night, Emma’s birthday party at the bowling alley Saturday, Vikings vs. Packers on Sunday.

3:29: The teacher flips her hand with a “Have a good weekend, but take at least an hour to study for Monday’s test. Now, get outta here.” Chairs scrap on the floor just as the bell sounds.

3:30 on the dot.

Clock Watchers

As you read that little story, did you remember sneaking peeks at the classroom clock as it moved at a snail’s pace? Did you “hear” the seconds tick off? Did you “see” the minute hand land smack-dab on the six as the bell rang? If you’re over 30, probably. Any younger than that and your eyes were focused on a rectangular digital display on your cell phone or iPad.

digital clockMy jaw dropped last week when I read about a study that showed just 1-in-10 Oklahoma City kids ages 6-12 own a watch. And only 1-in-5 know how to read it. More than 150 students took the time-telling survey, which featured 15 questions. Only 31 students passed. Only 15 earned perfect scores.

Say what?

Time in your hands, not on the wall

For today’s youth, the means to tell time is in their hand, not on their wrist or on the wall. Clocks have become passé, ignored—gulp—old-fashioned.

To refresh your memory (pay attention, kids), the clock is that round thing found on walls with numbers 1 through 12 spaced at equal intervals edging the inside of a circle. It has a long pointy stick (the hour), a short pointy stick (the minute), and a long yet narrow pointy stick (seconds) moving in a rhythm fast enough to watch. The numbers could be I through XII; 3, 6, 9, 12; or III, VI, IX, XII. There might be 60 little hash marks (minutes) spaced evenly apart. (Not hash TAGS!) But the time-sensitive principle is the same.

Just like reading books, telling time has gone digital. However, reading on a digital device such as a Kindle or iPad is the same as reading on paper. Letters make up words which make sentences, which make paragraphs, which make pages (or screen grabs).

Telling time on a clock is very different from digital. You have to interpret the placement of the three sticks as they travel around the clock, thus it takes a second (sorry, couldn’t resist) to determine the time. I admit digital is easier to read. One glance tells you it’s 12:10. And while some clocks can be read in the dark, digital clocks seem to be made for the dark.

Time Stands Still

So what’s the future of the boring, has-been clock?

Big BenHere in Minneapolis, should the $2.1 million to overhaul the clock tower atop City Hall be used to convert it to digital?

Can you imagine what London’s Big Ben clock would look like digitally?

What would the mouse run up in Hickory Dickery Dock?

And what about the sun dial?

Just some things to ponder as you change the digital clock on the microwave or climb on the step stool to change your 12 Birds of North America clock that hangs above the TV for Daylight Savings Time.