What is it that is key to “ties that bind”? First and foremost, of course, are strong family ties; I feel very blessed in my family. Regarding friendships, the first group in my adult life that formed an exceptionally strong bond involved seven would-be Foreign Service secretaries who arrived at the Meridian Hill hotel in Washington, D.C., in 1960. It was wise of the State Department to bring us in as groups; for me it was a first-time experience of feeling in tune with my peers. We were all but one of us in our 20s and had left home not knowing where in the world we would wind up.
One said she had planned to avoid making strong friendships because we were to be in D.C. only seven months. Quite the opposite occurred. Several of us have maintained contact with yearly letters for 59 years — visiting each other in various places as we’ve had the chance. We were widely dispersed across the globe for our first tour: to Paris, Geneva, the Middle East (Libya, Jordan and Israel), Laos and Bolivia. One friend married a Jordanian and still lives in Jerusalem. In two years, most of us moved on to other posts.
Music also promotes lasting ties. A flautist I accompanied in college (also from the same tiny Black Hills community) suddenly fled Vietnam to Taiwan with her children — amazingly we reconnected at my second post on the other side of the world!
Church and secular choirs become tight-knit communities, having lots of fun and laughter together while preparing music. And there’s nothing comparable to playing with other musicians. I felt it strongly when Sabrina and I performed music of thanksgiving and praise on the wonderful piano and organ of our church. Building crescendos almost lifts you off the bench and fills the church with sound.
Music is as mysterious as God, awesome and majestic, communicating strength and comfort. Currently, loved ones of our choir are undergoing serious health issues, which added an emotional dimension to our playing. This brings up another valuable tie — being there for each other in trouble. I played, “Be Still My Soul,” the grand theme of “Finlandia,” which was composed by Sibelius in 1899 when Finland was experiencing severe repression and censorship by the Russian Empire. It was said to be a folk tune instantly recognizable to the Finnish people but not to the Russians — a cry for freedom. Wikipedia describes it as a “covert protest,” but claims Sibelius wrote it. Anyway, it became Finland’s theme, beloved also by the world.
Churches generally create strong ties, particularly small-group Bible study within a church. We learned that in Argentina, regularly hosting a group in our home. We always had tea afterwards, the Argentines having acquired that wonderful custom from the British. Such groups also have fun, but studying Scripture gets one into serious issues: What is the nature of God, good and evil, life and death, the mystery of suffering? Sharing on such subjects creates deep friendships, strong and lasting. I’m still in touch with members of the Argentine group, a Houston group and am happily involved in a similar group here. We recently had a lovely afternoon, sitting outside enjoying autumn colors and a river flowing by, food and fellowship and completing our latest study. It doesn’t get any better than that!
As you are with loved ones this Thanksgiving, treasure the time — the ties that bind. They can end suddenly and unexpectedly, for this life anyway. Last week, there was a shooting of a young mother in our Walmart parking lot and eventually (after a lengthy time holed up in our movie theater) the shooter shot himself. Every moment of life and love and fellowship is precious.
A dear friend called as I was writing this column — sterling example of ties that bind! Before she and her husband moved to San Antonio, she practically held my hand over the telephone as I coped with care-giving for an increasingly ill husband. We haven’t talked as frequently since he passed away and they moved, but it’s always a wonderful catch-up time when we do. She gave me the perfect quote with which to end this column:
“You know absence is alive with hidden
presence, that nothing is ever lost or forgotten.”
— John O’Donohue, Irish poet.
No, these special ties live on in memory. A happy and safe Thanksgiving to you all.
Verna Benham, who lives in Kerrville, worked for the U.S. Foreign Service, which took her across the globe, including to Argentina, Taiwan and Chile.