LongTimeTraveller

2010: The Best Year Of My Life!

In The Spirit of December on January 2, 2011 at 10:47 PM

Well here it is: The beginning of 2011 and the end of 2010. Normally I am not a fan of putting years in perspective or trying to make a memory reel out of them, but it’s been a rather incredible year and so I feel like it merits some sort of conclusion, particularly considering I lived in a different continent for half of it. Lord willing my computer won’t decide that it yet again randomly hates me and decides to shut off and forget to remember everything that I have saved, so here’s to hoping technology won’t let me down.

I recall someone saying while I was in France that they year 2006 had been the best year of their life. I can’t remember why this person said so, but they very distinctly remembered 2006 being an excellent year. Interestingly enough I too recall 2006 being an excellent year for many of the same reasons that 2010 has probably been the best year of my life. In 2006 I graduated from high school, played Bach’s E-Major violin concerto with my orchestra of which I was concertmaster and began attending Hillsdale College, which would ultimately shape me into the person that I am today. I met great people many of whom I am still friends with today. 2010 had some similarities both musically and educationally to 2006. Allow me to start at the beginning of 2010 because it was also similar to the end of 2010.

I remember at the end of 2009 I celebrated New Year’s Eve, which apparently is now being shortened to NYE, with my great friends Ariel, Ben, and Brandon. We met up in Ann Arbor for a great Italian dinner and then went to the Blue Tractor for a Muddy Martini before heading back to my house to watch the ball drop, watch Monsters Inc. and crash on the couch. New Year’s Day started with a great big breakfast and anticipation and nerves for our last semesters of college. It’s amazing looking back on that moment to where we are now. All of us have graduated and started new phases of our lives in vastly different ways. Ariel started working at a school in Houston, Texas and is dating one of my best friends, Ben is also dating some one new and living in Argentina for a year doing Bible classes after he had anticipated joining the Marines, and Brandon is working in Minneapolis for a Conservative Think-Tank and engaged to a wonderful girl in anticipation of being married this coming summer.

With me, on the other hand, things have kind of gone as I have anticipated them to a certain degree. With my music degree finished in terms of class work my last semester I took three foreign language literature courses towards fulfilling my French major and German minor, which meant constantly reading in other languages and when I wasn’t doing that I was very occupied in preparing for my senior recital. I had begun preparation for my senior recital starting half way through my junior year when I decided to play a junior recital to help give me a taste of what the Senior would be like. I remember Sunday, March 14 2010 very clearly. I remember thinking about my older sister Sarah’s senior recital that I had attending many years earlier and felt like I know knew what she had gone through in preparing for the culmination of her musical career.

In comparison to some of the other recitals at Hillsdale I always felt like my recital wasn’t really about me but about my friends and family that had helped me get to that point. The programming was very specific and each piece reflected a different piece of my personality and the people who have been most important to me during my four years at Hillsdale.  All in all the recital was almost 2 hours long full of music that I had completely memorized that ranged from a Mozart sonata that I played my freshman year at Hillsdale to a Jewish show piece by Ernest Bloch to reflect my own Jewish heritage. At the end I sang a quartet with my wonderful friends Ben Parker, Elizabeth Henderson, and Monica Way who had arranged the quartet version of The Parting Glass for us to sing on my recital. The truly incredible part to me, however, was how many people came to see the recital. I had been looking forward to it for so long because I wanted many people to see it and I was so blessed and honored by the almost 200 people that showed up.

Seeing the shocked looks on my music professors faces as people were pulling in as many chairs and extra couches just to have seats is something that will always stay with me but not as much as looking out into the audience once I was on the floor of McNamara Rehearsal Hall and seeing the smiling faces of all the people throughout the years who had supported me and continue to do so even to today. Even more than my 6 months in Europe, I can truly say that my senior recital was the highlight of 2010 because of how intimate and personal the whole experience was. Even after seeing the Berlin Wall, the Eiffel Tower, the Coliseum, the London Bridge, and many other incredible sights in Europe, those things pale in comparison to seeing the smiling faces of Mrs. Thomas and Cynthia, Priscilla and Sarah K, Julie, Heather, and Lizzy, Brandon and his parents, my nieces and my Savta and so many others sitting in the audience all in support and testimony to our friendships.

It wasn’t so much about the music to them and it wasn’t about the music to me, it was about what the music symbolized for us. It was a means by which we all took joy in each other as Christians and as loved ones. Each piece was picked because I wanted my audience to be able to enjoy very easily each of the pieces I was playing and be able to think about whatever it was that brought them to hear it. I simply wanted to be an instrument that would enable each of these people to enjoy being with one another and find value in the time that they spent and sacrificed to come listen to me play.

Of course I wanted to play well and that being the case I was probably practicing about 5 hours a day leading up to the recital and had it not been for my little blue pill and God’s never ending grace it wouldn’t have happened the way it did. I’ll never forget the sound of people cheering for me when I first got out there and walked down the aisle down to the stage and began playing. Under normal circumstances I would have been so nervous, but because I had this little pill that calmed my heart rate down I could settle in to the pieces I had learned and play them just as I had practiced and without fear of each and every little jump or shift.

The reception afterwards I also remember very dearly not only because of the amazing work that Vivian Jago had done in preparation, but also because it was most notably one of the last experiences I ever had with Ben Parker’s brother Daniel. Every time I look at pictures of my recital I always come across the pictures I have with almost the entire Parker family and seeing Daniel there with me always stuns me. His presence there truly adds to the incredible memory of the evening and my memory of him. After my recital, looking back on it the month of May was truly mind-boggling. After a very late Spring Break that corresponded with Easter we came back to Hillsdale to three weeks of classes and concert after concert and recital after recital and exam after exam and party after party. It was for this reason that I had intentionally scheduled my senior recital for before Spring Break so I wouldn’t have to be worrying about all of these things in addition to my recital. In retrospect, that was probably one of the best decisions I have made.

The Spring semester of 2010 appropriately ended on my birthday. After the year before where Commencement was 2 days after my 21st birthday and I had had over 200 people at my house for an amazing birthday celebration, I had been looking forward to simply celebrating a quiet birthday and more importantly celebrating the graduation of my over 300 classmates, most of whom I had come to know during my time at Hillsdale. Similarly I was looking forward to walking with them at Commencement, as they were all my 2010 classmates. However, due to the circumstances that led to the necessity of my time in Europe I was not allowed the privilege of walking at Commencement in 2010. Although I pushed and pursued and petitioned to walk on my 22nd birthday, the administration wouldn’t budge I was forced to simply idly watch as many of my closest friends shook hands with the Provost and President of Hillsdale College in recognition of their work and well earned degrees at Hillsdale College that began August 17, 2006 and ended for most May 8, 2010.

I am eternally grateful, however to Abby Ashmore Thistleton for her words of encouragement to me as she walked up to receive her diploma. As the president of our class and a friend, I appreciated that she as well as many other close friends had all agreed, if necessary to sign a petition to allow me to walk with my classmates. It was a difficult moment to watch all of my housemates, the men I wish to be my groomsmen one day, and so many of my sisters move on to the next phase of their lives knowing that I wasn’t moving on with them. Yet Abby’s few words to me in that moment made it that much easier for me to bear and helped me to be able to truly be joyful for my friends in their great moment of educational glory with the professors that taught us so well to use our minds and no longer be deceived by the lies of the world.

Although my parents had come up the night before for my last orchestra concert at Hillsdale where three very important women in my life sang and played absolutely beautifully, they did not stay for the ceremony but rather took me out to breakfast and then wished me well for the rest of the day and the celebration that was about to occur. I will admit this saddened me out of respect for my housemates. My last two years at Hillsdale were spent living with great men at our house that we called The Donnybrook. Fortunately on that day we were able to get a picture with most of us in it that I will forever hold as one of my most fond memories of my time at Hillsdale. It was the culmination in many respects for all of us because all of our families were there and we had a place where we could host them all with great food and welcome them into our house to meet and speak with the men that had become men while living with each other and learned many important life lessons together. I only wish that my parents could have been there to help me celebrate that occasion. As it was, Elyse’s family filled in quite nicely as my surrogate family for the day in celebrating with all of us the many accomplishments of the Men of The Donnybrook.

But the excitement didn’t end on that day. In fact the following week would bring much more excitement than I think any of us had anticipated. The week following graduation I had been invited to three weddings, one on Monday, another on Tuesday, and the last on Saturday May 15th. Hannah and Jason had a beautiful wedding at Countryside where Pastor Lillie married them and Peggy Evans helped coordinate a beautiful wedding reception at the church. The following day God was at work in the lives of Eric and Wendy up about an hour and a half from Hillsdale at a beautiful inn where Wendy’s father married the two in front of many close family and friends. God also worked amazingly that day as I had forgotten the music for Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee, the piece that Wendy had specifically requested to walk down the aisle to. As I was the coordinator and 1st violin in the quartet that had been put together, I was the one responsible to get the music and I had totally forgotten to grab a hymnal and make 4 copies of the music for the quartet to play. With an hour before the wedding, and obviously not informing the groom or the bride of the small mistake that had occurred, I ran out desperately hoping to find a church in the area that would not only be open, but would have a hymnal with the hymn as well as someone who would enable me to be able to make copies for the quartet. Only later in that week would I be praying harder than I did at that moment and God pulled through in an incredible way for only a mile down the road did I find a church where this woman, truly an angel really, saw me pull up right as she was about to pull out asked me what I needed and not only opened up the church for me but also found the music for me and had keys to the office and made the copies for me at no charge and simply God’s blessing for the quartet and Eric and Wendy on their wedding day.

After the wedding I went home and prepared for a quick three-day trip up north with Gwen Tuma, Eric Anderson, and his lovely girlfriend Catherine Korell. We had an incredible mini weekend together eating great food, not spending a lot of money, tasting great beer, walking around Traverse City and doing wine tastings all before coming home on Friday May 14th. At the time I had largely been anticipating James and Sarah’s wedding the following day but the day took a twist no one expected.

I remember very clearly the whole day, in fact even more so than the day of my senior recital. After we drove home and my car almost got trashed by an idiot on the highway who kept hitting cones and knocking them under my car taking out the protective cover under the passenger side front tire, I dropped off my three friends and headed over to the Treehouse where Ben and Kate Olson were hanging out watching Lost. That weekend was also the weekend of the Jonesville Riverfest and Cameron Blaauw and Daniel Parker were going to be trying to claim yet again the crown of champions in the Triathlon in which one person would run (Cameron) the other bike (Daniel) and then together canoe to the end of the race. As Elyse was dating Cameron she wanted to go watch him run and therefore I went with her and told Ben I would see him there as he was going to come a little later to see Daniel and Cameron finish the race. I got into Elyse’s blue Taurus (Tuna) and we drove out to the track and ended up seeing Cameron as we pulled onto the road of the track. We ended up following him in and parking the car to wish him congratulations as he finished first, far ahead of anyone else in the race.

I had noticed as we were looking for a parking spot that there were ambulances at the check point, but there had also been a police escort for the racers and so it only made sense in my mind that the ambulances with lights on were there to symbolize the end of the 1st task and act as a check point. As Elyse and I got out of the car however we realized that the scene was not as it seemed. Someone had been hurt and people were wandering around looking for someone who knew the person who had been hurt. Wanting to wish Cameron congratulations we hardly even knew what was going on until Cameron showed up running frantically saying that it had been Daniel who was the one who had been hurt and that he needed to call Mrs. Parker to come to the scene as quickly as possible. I immediately pulled out my phone and called Mrs. Parker and within minutes she had arrived. About fifteen minutes after our arrival the ambulances took off with Daniel and rushed him to Hillsdale Hospital. Mrs. Parker had been babysitting some of kids of one of the families at church when she arrived and being in the worried state that she was asked me to drive the van to the hospital. Elyse took her car back to Hillsdale to try and find Ben because I was having trouble reaching him on my cell phone. During the drive Mrs. Parker was trying to find someone who could take the kids so they wouldn’t have to continue to worry as well as provide her a little more time to simply gain a sense of what was going on. As God’s grace would have it right in the middle of down town Hillsdale just two minutes from the hospital we saw someone from church and immediately we stopped the van and she took the kids. At the same time Ben showed up in my car and we swapped so he could drive his mom to the hospital and I followed behind them. After about 15 minutes at the hospital the doctor informed us that Daniel was being airlifted to Ann Arbor.

At the time we didn’t know what was going on but from what we knew of the accident we thought Daniel was going to be ok. The family went up to Ann Arbor to make sure everything was going to be ok and fill out paper work and I returned home. Cameron came over that evening to watch a movie and spend the night and at about 10:30 we got a text from Ben saying that the accident was more serious than they had originally thought and Cameron and I began praying for Daniel and the family. It was late and after praying and talking for a while Cameron and I fell asleep. It was at about 2am I recall that we got the text that he had brain damage and it was looking like he would most likely be in a vegetative state for the rest of his life. At this point Cameron and I prayed for an additional two hours and talked about the amazing person that Daniel was.

Cameron had eaten lunch with Daniel that day and looking back it brings a smile to my face knowing that Cameron said Daniel’s last meal was a chimichanga from El Cerrito in Hillsdale. But more than that, I saw Cameron incredibly impacted by what was going on. Elyse had lost her dad that fall and so she was prepared to help Cameron to cope with whatever the result turned out to be. In the morning we decided that we were going to drive up, Elyse, Cameron, and I, to Ann Arbor to be at the hospital with the family. I brought dress clothes with me at the time not knowing what was going to happen. At the time no one had anticipated that the doctors would tell us he wouldn’t make it and after receiving that sort of news there was no way I was going to be able to in good conscience go to the wedding so I sent a text to James Wegmann and informed him to send my regards but not say anything to James or Sarah as to what had happened.

We stayed at the hospital until very late and knowing that I would be back in the morning I realized that it was more efficient to spend the night at home rather than drive all the way back to Hillsdale. I’ll never forget the support and time that Anne Morath gave to the Parker family during that time. She was there every single second doing everything she could for the family for about a week. It was on Sunday May 16, 2010 only a week after Ben graduated and three weddings had occurred that Daniel passed away. I returned back to Hillsdale in order to support Ben whenever he might call I wanted to be ready to be there for him. I knew that the family would need some things and so I went to the store and not only bought lunch for the family but also remembering from Elyse’s dad, I brought over toilet paper and paper towels so the family wouldn’t have to worry about that while dealing with everything.

The Parker’s asked me to play for Daniel’s service and I willingly obliged and gratefully played remembering all of the times that Daniel and I had sung together for the worship team with Brandon, Rob, Pilgrim, and Jeff. After Ben flew out to California at the beginning of the year fro Emily Johnston’s Dad’s funeral, she in turn flew out for Daniel’s and I was very glad that she did because as much as I wanted to support Ben, I wanted more than that simply for Ben to be supported as best as possible and I knew Emily could do that for him and was therefore glad and praised God when she arrived. During the service, Ben got up to speak and I will never forget him standing up on the podium at church. Standing before hundreds of people offering a testimony to his brother’s life but more importantly to the sovereignty of God, I saw no longer my quirky blond haired best friend who liked to spend more time on his iPod touch than giving people attention while they are talking, but a transformed Christian man who had taken on very quickly the role of being a man and putting childish things behind him.

The following weeks would be spent in adjustment for many of us. Yet, many positive things occurred that I know the Parker family can tell you more of, but particularly for me my attitude and perspective towards Countryside and the members there changed drastically. I recall writing Pastor Lillie afterwards and informing him that it was during the times at the hospital and the preparation for the service that I finally felt like I had become part of the family at Countryside. I felt like I finally had a covenantal church family that I could identify with and belong to, and for which I am still very grateful and anticipate spending more time with when I return in a couple weeks.

But time continued to pass nonetheless. Once June hit I had left Hillsdale along with almost everyone else who had been there and realized I had to move on from Hillsdale and begin mentally preparing myself for 6 months in Europe. Looking back it’s really amazing to think that those 6 months have already passed. As I have stated previously the entire time felt so much like a dream. In many respects I wish I could go back and actually live there for an extended period of time. As much as it became life and the feeling of immigration had occurred, looking back even though it’s only been two weeks it almost felt like camp and hence the feeling of a dream.

I am not going to relive every detail of the six months simply because my blog has already served that purpose. I left June 30th in the morning out of Detroit with no idea what was in store for me but with all of my senses heightened in anticipation for a new world of which I would know almost nothing. July was spent in an intensive course learning as much German as I could and by the end of the month of August where I had traveled to different parts of Germany and spent a week in Austria, I felt like not only did I want to spend more time in Germany and Austria, but that I had truly fallen in love with Germany and the people there. I am sure I am not the only one who can say that there is truly something incredibly wonderful about summer time experiences. There is simply a large distinction that I think almost everyone can identify with between time spent in the winter together and time spent in the summer. It can be described in so many ways but for me, it is always means joy and peace and contentment. Even once I had arrived in France the month of September when I met Claire and Nicolas and became friends with the English students from Birmingham, the weather was still incredible and we had so many fun evenings out together simply enjoying one another’s company knowing that the smiles on our faces came from good friendship and good weather.

The trimester by comparison offered a very different environment to the first three months I had spent in Europe. Where the sun and warmth had created marvelous experiences and fantastic friendships, the fall brought change as it always does and a new environment that would only become dear as I left it. My friendships with Claire and Nicolas grew and I wish both of them the absolute best as they both now enter into their own experiences at University, for Claire in Vermont and Nicolas in Bogotá, Colombia.

I could talk about the evenings spent at La Cabanne in Tours, the trip to London where I saw my dear friend Sarah Hall for the first time in 6 years, the weekend in Rome with Nicolas, going to the club until 6am with 5 guys from Aachen, Germany, the conversations with Ana and Hector, learning Spanish because I never spoke English because the group I spent time with was almost entirely Spanish speaking, and great food consistently throughout the entire thing, but those things are only the details. In many respects I feel like I need another 6 months to truly be able to address the impact of leaving America for 6 months. I know just from being back for two weeks that I am simply a little bitter to be back and therefore can’t speak objectively about how it’s impacted me. It’s simply too deep within the emotional spectrum and not enough within the contemplative to actually say anything critical and fruitful about it. I see that now having just recapped my last semester at college. It will simply require time to be able to do the same about Europe.

So there’s 2010. So many people have truly made the experiences that I have had memorable and as I write cause me to reflect back in gratitude for what they have taught me and how they have helped me to become the man that I am today. It really has been an incredible year and I can fairly say that amidst the plethora of emotions and experiences that I have had, it has been the greatest year of my life. Full of highs and lows the best part has been the fact that I can say with full assurance that God has lead me through it all. It is His grace and love that have brought me here and will continue to lead me. Amidst my failures, successes, worries, and victories, it is all nothing and utter vanity if it is not done for Christ.

I would say the greatest lesson I have learned this year I have learned from Daniel Parker. He was the first one to encourage me to read the book Living In The Light Of Eternity by K.P. Yohanan and that book’s message has never left me through my entire experience in Europe and even now looking back and seeking to identify where some of my insecurities come from. Where my life perspective has truly changed is in knowing that the difference between us as Christians and the rest of the world that desperately needs Christ, is that we live each day working towards a higher purpose. Not a higher purpose in that it makes man out to be something almost mythical in his capacity to create and build, but a purpose that places God and His Will as the ultimate authority by which we lead and live our lives. Each of our actions has an eternal consequence. We can choose to live for an eternity of hell by following our own desires and living our lives under the misconception of “only got one life to live” or we can choose to fix our eyes on Jesus and His Kingdom and His Glory for His Name sake, that we might hear the greatest words ever spoken, “Well done my good and faithful servant.”

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