I do not routinely engage in social media. Several weeks ago, my daughter Stef – who does – called to tell me a person in England reached out asking if she was related to the “E.S. Kraay” who wrote The Hamsa. Understanding my ineptitude with social media, Stef explained to me how I could respond to the inquiry on ‘messenger.’ An hour or so later, I was talking to my new friend in England, Pat Easton.
Pat is a proud member of the Great British Home Chorus Friends [GBHCF], a virtual choir that evolved from the COVID lockdown in the UK last year.
To mark this year’s Holocaust Memorial Day in the United Kingdom, the choir performed and recorded “Who Guides All the Ships?” a Yiddish poem by Zishe Landau (1889-1937) set to music composed by contemporary Israeli singer and composer Chava Alberstein, daughter of Holocaust survivors. As the choir sings this haunting song, individual singers light candles of remembrance and others hold pictures of victims of the Shoah. This is what inspired Pat to find me…
Pat appears at the 1:35 minute mark in the right middle frame holding a picture of Bronisław Czech, the protagonist in my novel The Hamsa. Like most of us, Pat knew little about this unknown hero and wanted to learn more. Her search led her to The Hamsa.
She had acquired the book prior to our connection, and graciously sent me the YouTube link to the Great British Home Chorus Friends’ performance. I watched with great emotion as the choir, led by soloist Polina Shepherd – an accomplished Yiddish performer, composer, and choir leader born in Siberia who now resides in England – literally ripped my heart out with Landau’s poem set to Alberstein’s poignant melody…
Who guides the ships That sail the sea?
God guides the ships That sail the sea.
Who sends the gentle breezes That blow in the evening?
God sends the gentle breezes That blow in the evening.
Who plays with the children And takes some of them away?
God plays with the children And takes some of them with Him.
And who’s that we hear singing Around us day and night?
It’s the little children singing In heaven day and night.
I listened with a humble heart, awestruck by a project that involved so many talented people starting with Zishe Landau when he wrote the poem 80 years ago… Chava Alberstein, moved to create the melody… Polina Shepherd, who pulled hundreds of singers like Pat Easton together to create this beautiful tribute…
I moved back in time to 2008 when I wrote The Hamsa… and farther back, still to the three Olympic Games – 1928, 1932 and 1936 – when I competed with Bronisław Czech… and finally, to the time I shared with him in Auschwitz as I wrote about his final days…
As Pat explained in a recent email, “We really have met through Bronisław. I think it’s special that 77 years after he died, we are talking about him and what he and so many others went through and this is what the Holocaust Memorial Day project is all about.”
I am reminded of a passage in The Hamsa when Father Michael tells Bronisław, “They can take everything you own, everything you hold dear, but they cannot take your dignity unless you let them. There is a light in the heart of darkness.”
Indeed, there is, and it shines through once again in this beautiful tribute from Pat Easton and the singers from the Great British Home Chorus Friends. Thank you, Pat, thank you, Bronisław, thank you, GBHCF, and everyone who was a part of this performance.
I am pleased to announce that The Vitruvian Man’s Book of Hours is now available at Amazon and other online retailers.
A thin 80 pages and a mere 7,500 words it contains 84 ‘offerings’ distributed through three daily hours – sunrise, midday, and sunset – each day of the week. My hope is that it finds its way to nightstands, coffee tables, and other locations within arm’s reach that will encourage people to reach for it and spend a few minutes every day in spiritual thought.
It is currently available as a paperback. We have not made a decision on the eBook.
You don’t wake up one morning and decide to be a writer.
The need to communicate is in every creature’s genes. Its physical attributes dictate the way it can communicate. All creatures communicate if only to ensure or extend survival.
Social media has expanded the technology that enables humans to communicate. Positives and negatives abound on both sides of the equation.
A writer takes the need to communicate a step beyond that which drives all humans to express themselves. A writer writes because he has something to say, is driven to share it, and is compelled to say it with words.
I write every day. I have several book-length manuscripts in some stage of development – one, nonfiction and a handful of stories, two are sequels to previously published works. I do not anticipate completing any of these manuscripts in 2021. I write, edit and manage four websites – two of my own, a friend’s business website, and another friend’s non-profit website. I contribute articles to one other website. I advise two businesses and this mandates weekly reports and annual reports.
I write every day.
Stephen King advises writers…
“Read and write four to six hours a day. If you cannot find the time for that, you can’t expect to become a good writer.”
I’ve told you what I am writing. Here’s a taste of what I’m reading…
- In the last several years, I’ve read seven of Wendell Berry’s ‘Port William’ novels. I will read the final two – That Distant Land and Andy Catlett – this year.
- I am currently reading Stephen E Ambrose’s 1975 dual biography Crazy Horse and Custer, The Parallel Lives of Two American Warriors.
- I read two quarterly magazines: Parabola and Plough.
- I am looking forward to Steven Pressfield’s new novel in March, A Man at Arms: A Novel, described by the publisher as “an epic saga about a reluctant hero, the Roman Empire, and the rise of a new faith.”
- I am reading the World Wildlife 2020 report “The Living Planet.”
- I am reading Pope Francis’s 2015 ecological encyclical Laudato Si!
- I am reading Born in Slavery: Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936 to 1938 and am halfway through Alabama.
- I am reading the archaeological record “Petroglyphs of the Picacho Mountains, South Central Arizona.”
My extended ‘to read’ list includes…
- Stones from the River by Ursula Hegi
- May the Road Rise Up to Meet You by Peter Troy
- House Made of Dawn by N. Scott Momaday
- The Fortress of Solitude by Jonathan Lethem
- The Man Who Walked Through Time: The Story of the First Trip Afoot Through the Grand Canyon by Colin Fletcher
I read slowly, and that list will ensure I lack nothing to read in 2021.
Whether you are a published author or a frequent media participant, I encourage you to continue writing and to improve your skills with a strong dose of good literature each and every day. It’s as essential as eating an apple.
I open my novel Tobit and the Hoodoo Man, A Mystical Tale from the Civil War South with these 89 words…
“Once upon a time, the only sounds that came from the sky were sounds of nature. The buzz of bees, the call of a soaring hawk, and the roar of thunder that strikes fear into the hearts of restless children before advancing east to other lands that live in the lassitude of unbelief. Those sounds of life still bless us with their grace, but there are not so many bees and fewer hawks, and the thunder is more distant. I cherish the sounds and the memories they recall.”
In the summer of 2018, I pulled my copy of Garrison Keillor’s Good Poems, American Places from the bookcase next to my desk. Continue reading Good Poems