Open Letter to the Generations Before Me

The following is for the blog tour of Emily Wierenga’s memoir Making It Home. Did you know Emily has provided blog prompts?

Here are Emily’s blog prompts 14 and 15:

14. How would you encourage a woman who feels unnoticed, left out, or no longer relevant as she grows older?

15. How can the older generation encourage the younger generation to stay focused on God’s peace, identity and purpose through multiple life changes and seasons?

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Dear Christ followers of the generations before me:

I once overheard someone ask a woman in her twenties, “Are you going to the women’s mini-retreat?”

“Nah,” the twenty-something replied, “It’s just going to be a bunch of old ladies.”

This young woman came to church dressed in classy leather boots and neatly arranged, fashionable clothing. Her hair was expertly highlighted and curled, her makeup applied with a model’s know-how. Her dad was an influential leader in the church. When she threw a party, all the other young and younger ladies wanted an invitation. She landed a go-getter job that could easily extend into a prestigious career. She volunteered in the children’s ministry and was popular with kids and teens.

These are the girls and teens who heard her say, essentially, that she’s too cool to hang with the old ladies.

I wish that twenty-something woman and those girls and teens would be intentional about getting to know you. I wish they knew Amelia Sorensen, the woman in her eighties who taught my husband’s Sunday school when he was in first grade and invited families with teenagers over for a home-cooked meal. I wish they knew Hal DeMooy, the man who modeled daily Bible reading and encouraged the young to do the same—or Jim Downing, the Pearl Harbor survivor who, at age 102 and counting, is mentoring teens. I wish they knew the python-slaying Egelers.

I wish they knew the value of interacting with you, the generations who came before. Because if they don’t, they miss out on a chance to be rich—like passing by a cave of precious metals and walking away without mining it.

Get all the advice and instruction you can,
so you will be wise the rest of your life.

(Proverbs 19:20)

Your white hair and wrinkles represent decades refined and lived out under God’s grace, like nuggets and flakes of gold. You have the advantageous perspective of looking back on the same years and experiences younger generations still look forward to. You have already seen, perhaps multiple times, the same struggles and blessings I am experiencing right now.

I once sat on a panel to answer a local MOPS group’s questions about parenting. The young moms asked questions like, “What can you do when the kids don’t eat?” and “What if you and your husband don’t agree on the kids’ discipline?” and “How do you educate the child about ‘stranger danger’ and still encourage them to treat strangers kindly?” All of the questions were narrowed down to one person’s specific situation.

It occurred to me that a single answer could address every concern brought to the table:

You.

You are the answer that would provide a custom solution not only for every young mom but even for that individual’s pinpointed question at that Q&A.

So I encouraged those moms leaning forward and eagerly asking questions of the panel before them:

Find a mentor. Or several mentors.

Then I told them I get together with Jill once a month and Jean once a week. My senior year in college, when I was a newlywed navigating the new relationship with my husband’s parents, I pursued Mary to ask about her in-law relationships. I call Linda when I’m having a parenting crisis. When I was a new mom, I turned to Miriam, the Byrnes, Paula, and others. One day a few years ago I called Dorothy and asked, “I need help with marriage. Could I come over?”

“Sure, dear. When would you like to come?”

“What time do you get up in the morning?” I asked. I was there at seven a.m. the next day.

Richard Peck, Newbery-winning YA author and former high school teacher, agrees with me that we need you. He makes sure an elderly character appears in each of his novels:

I need them. Young readers need them more. The old folks are there in the novels as counterbalances. They provide wisdom and seasoning won only through long lifetimes, and compassion unavailable from the peer group. They offer alternatives in the accelerating battle between parents and children, and glimpses of the problems and sorrows of old age for a young generation fixated on their own.

– Richard Peck, Invitations to the World (New York: Dial Books, 2002), 26-27

We need you, and we need to pursue relationships with you. I’ve asked myself, How could I draw out wisdom from the older women around me? How do I mine wisdom from the quiet ones? What questions should I ask? What steps of relationship should I take? More than once, I’ve started by asking you for a recipe in hopes that it will lead to deeper friendship.

Though good advice lies deep within the heart,
a person with understanding will draw it out.

(Proverbs 20:5)

And then you remind me that every person is both young and old, so I ask myself questions as an older woman, too: What young person could I reach out to today? How can I be winsome and inviting to the young? What can I learn from the young?

Thank you for welcoming me into your lives. What would we do without you who have gone before?

With deep gratitude and appreciation,
Monica

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How Crossbeams Values Every Person

Crossbeams Building Toy

In real-world engineering, there is no MVP. A team isn’t a true team if one “best” worker shoulders 80 percent of the load, leaving others’ work optional, insignificant, or less influential.

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Teamwork means no one is the star player (“It’s all hanging on me”) whose sole performance makes or breaks a project. Real teamwork means the project depends on every team member. Similarly, real teamwork means no one can claim to be irrelevant—no excuses for flaking out or disengaging (“I don’t need to do much. I’m not needed here anyway.”).

True teamwork means every member’s contribution is not only helpful but necessary. The game hangs on everyone’s play.

Two misconceptions about teamwork and community:

Falsehood #1: “I’m more important than the others. We can do without them.”

. . . and the flipside:

Falsehood #2: “I’m less important than the others. They can do without me.”

In Christian community, too, there is no MVP.

It’s easy to see how putting others down can damage a team. But putting yourself down is just as damaging. In fact, the Bible addresses that issue first.

Antidote for Falsehood #2:

The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up one whole body. So it is with the body of Christ. . . . Yes, the body has many different parts, not just one part. If the foot says, “I am not a part of the body because I am not a hand,” that does not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear says, “I am not part of the body because I am not an eye,” would that make it any less a part of the body?

– 1 Corinthians 12:12-16, NLT (emphasis added)

Antidote for Falsehood #1:

If the whole body were an eye, how would you hear? Or if your whole body were an ear, how would you smell anything?

But our bodies have many parts, and God has put each part just where he wants it. How strange a body would be if it had only one part! Yes, there are many parts, but only one body. The eye can never say to the hand, “I don’t need you.” The head can’t say to the feet, “I don’t need you.”

In fact, some parts of the body that seem weakest and least important are actually the most necessary.

– 1 Corinthians 12:12-21, NLT (emphasis added)

You are needed. You . . . and you . . . and you . . . are needed.

Crossbeams teaches this.

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Charles Sharman, Crossbeams inventor, created a Team Build concept for several large designs.

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Last week, members of the local library’s MiniMasterminds STEM club accomplished the Crossbeams Team Build for the Saturn V (pronounced “Saturn Five”), the rocket that took us to the moon.

Each child built one of twelve modules.

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We collected the completed rocket sections . . .

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. . . and connected all twelve modules. Once the builders (and the adults who accompanied them!) realized how big the finished rocket would be, you could hear the room stirring in increasing excitement.

“Wow, do you realize how huge this thing is going to be?!”

“I told you this was going to be really cool!”

“This is gonna be taller than I am!”

“Taller than the tallest person here!”

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The end result was seven and a half feet tall.

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It takes the fastest Crossbeams builder about two and a half hours to build the Saturn V by himself. But in this Team Build, twelve beginners who had never seen Crossbeams before finished it in 75 minutes.

Discussion questions concluded the event. Some were:

Q: How can beginners beat the fastest Crossbeams builder?

“We all did it together!”

Q: How did your own part look compared the completed rocket?

“Mine was pretty big, and looked pretty cool, but it was way cooler to see the full rocket at the end.”

Q: How important was your part in building the rocket?

“Very important. . . . The rocket wouldn’t have worked without every part.”

Team Builds by Crossbeams, made by a company named after the Golden Rule, emphasize teamwork, the importance of everyone, and a well-engineered end-product everyone can be proud of.

———-

For further reading:

The Crossbeams Team Build Concept (includes Team Builds Instructor’s Guide)

Seven:Twelve Engineering, the company behind Crossbeams

A summary of a previous Team Build event: Eiffel Tower (includes video)

The Story Behind Crossbeams

What sets Crossbeams apart?

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Photo credits for the Saturn V Team Build event: Pikes Peak Library District, Rockrimmon Branch

Curbing Comparison (by Jennifer Dukes Lee)

The following article appeared at Today’s Christian Woman. Reprinted by permission of Jennifer Dukes Lee, award-winning journalist and best-selling author of Love Idol: Letting Go of Your Need for Approval—and Seeing Yourself through God’s Eyes. Jennifer (and others) have traveled to Ferguson “to listen to people’s stories, and maybe to write some of those stories … to get a first-hand look at what’s been happening in Ferguson, to talk to people doing good work there, and to see how the Church can lead better in times like this.” Follow Jennifer on Twitter for updates.

I have asked Jennifer for permission to reprint her article “Curbing Comparison” because I identify so closely with every word.

365 Days (2009): Day 107

by Jennifer Dukes Lee

I learned early how comparison can wound a person.

I was 12 years old, sitting on a street curb with my friend on a July afternoon. It was so hot that the street’s tar bubbled up around our flip-flopped feet.

I had called a curbside meeting because I needed her ear. I don’t remember what had troubled me, but I do remember how I thought my heart might burst with sadness. Tears spilled down my face.

I wiped my cheek with the back of my hand and started to confide in her.

“Oh-OOOOH-ooh,” she interrupted me. “Sounds like trouble in paradise.”

I remember how she rolled her eyes, how her blonde ponytail whipped through the air when she shook her head—and how it felt like she took satisfaction in my momentary troubles.

My friend saw only the outside of my life, only the parts that looked like some version of paradise. The truth is, I did have a good life. I lived in a nice house, earned good grades, wore nice clothes, had dependable parents. Our family gathered around our dinner table almost every night, just after the six o’clock whistle blew from the top of the town’s water tower.

My life wasn’t perfect, but to my friend, it must have looked rather Beaver Cleaver-ish. My friend lived in a single-parent, low-income home. School was difficult for her, and her big brother was often getting into trouble.

When my friend held her life up next to mine, she saw a trash heap next to a gold mine. And I can’t say for sure, but I walked away from the curb that day believing that, somewhere deep inside her, she felt a little bit better because I was hurting so badly.

Curbs are everywhere

Turns out, our little-girl penchant for comparison grows up with us.

Turns out, women can be 25 or 55 or 75 and still trying to figure out how they measure up to one another.

Turns out, there are curbs everywhere.

The curbs are on Facebook and at the city park. There are curbs on Twitter and the blogosphere and in churches and school gymnasiums and the carpool lane.

It gets hot out there on the curb, where people’s envy bubbles up like tar. We’re comparing waist sizes, square footage, IQs, kids’ report cards, approval ratings.

Comparison is a quiet vulture, swooping in to peck its sharp beak at our joy, our camaraderie, and our witness to the world.

We compare our trash-heaps days to someone’s paradisiacal online updates. We might be tempted to roll our eyes at the precocious comments that some preschool mama quotes. Somewhere inside of us, we might be turning green with envy at another writer’s bestselling book, a former colleague’s success in a new business venture, another couple’s second trip to the beach in a year. We might even quietly harbor a sense of satisfaction when the object of our envy stumbles.

Comparison is folly, and no one wins—or ever has.

We’ve been measuring ourselves against one another for approximately forever—sometimes with deadly consequences.

Cain compared himself to Abel, with a jealous anger that ended in his brother’s murder. Joseph’s brothers, moved by envy, sold him into slavery. Jesus’ disciples bickered and compared themselves to one another on several occasions.

Paul pointed out the foolishness of it all:

But in all this comparing and grading and competing, they quite miss the point. (2 Corinthians 10:12, The Message)

We might not be killing our sisters or selling them off to the Egyptians. But are we killing each other’s spirits? And are we killing our own souls?

Are we, as the verse says, missing the point?

Someone always gets hurt when we compare, even if we think it’s a secret battle we’re fighting on the inside. It hurts us, and it hurts the person sitting on the other side of our envy. Comparison creates an us-versus-them mentality that can rob the body of Christ of its unity and fellowship. And it can open up doorways to petty criticism of the people we believe are “living in paradise.”

Psychologists tell us that when we feel inadequate, we might try to protect our own self-worth by diminishing the work of those we envy. Cheap shots are delivered. Snickering ensues. We might get annoyed at the Facebook posts of the person who ran another ten miles, lost another ten pounds, or gained another ten followers. And when they’re not looking, we might try to knock them down about ten notches.

My friend Carey told me the other day how a group of moms had made fun of her for being a “Pinterest mom.”

“They talked about how bad Pinterest moms make them feel for not making cute valentines or throwing ‘extreme’ birthday parties,” Carey said. “It was hurtful. I have never in my life gone overboard on my kids’ birthday parties in order to make someone else feel bad. I do it because creating special things brings me joy.”

When we compare our insides to someone else’s outsides, we hurt them. And we hurt ourselves. I’m convinced that comparison is one of the biggest joy-robbers and dream-shredders in a Christian’s life.

The Comparison Monster wedges its ugly self smack-dab between us and whatever God is calling us to do: start a blog, write a song, lead a Bible study, apply for a promotion. Nothing will kill a dream faster than looking at the life of someone who’s already living your dream, then believing it’s too good for you.

If you can’t do it like her, why try?

Can’t blog like her? Forget it.

Can’t make a difference like your friend does? Throw in the towel.

When we compare, we forget the value of our own lives. We forget that we’re the only “us” that the world will ever get.

We forget that God made us incomparable. We forget that we are so exceptionally crafted as to make any comparison invalid.

For the sake of ourselves and our sisters, we have to stop this. Life is not a competition. We’re actually all on the same team, and it’s called the body of Christ.

The greatest antidote to comparison

One of the greatest antidotes to comparison is praise. We can praise God for what he has given us and—this one might be harder—praise God for the unique gifts he has given to our sisters. Instead of envying them, we can rejoice with them. Consider what would happen if we started celebrating other’s victories instead of trampling on their parades. What if we started living out God’s call on our lives, without worrying whether we’ll measure up to some invisible standard? What if we picked up some pom-poms and cheered on our friends instead of picking up sticks or stones?

What if we ditched the lists?

Any of us can look back on our childhood lives and remember the lists that shaped us: honor rolls published in the local paper, school-play casting calls, homecoming courts, birthday-party invitations, and more. When we grow up, the lists grow up with us: the Fortune 500, the 50 Most Beautiful People in the World, the Top 100 Bloggers, the richest, the sexiest, the most relevant. Even Christian leaders have come up with online lists to tell us which authors are the most influential.

In a world of list makers, we can begin to live only for the Maker’s list:

Rejoice, because your names are written in heaven. (Luke 10:20, KJV)

We can link hands and elbows as we sit on the curb of life. We can brush away each other’s tears, squeeze each other’s hands, and cheer wildly when it goes well for our sisters. I have plenty of friends who have attained a great amount of earthly success, while remaining humble and true to their callings. I have pledged to them that I won’t compare their beautiful lives to mine, and I’ll never cut them down when they’re not looking.

We can sit at the curb together and say this pledge to each other: “I promise that I’ll be for you.” And we can curb our comparing, at the feet of our incomparable Savior.

———-

Photo credit: amber dawn pullin via flickr creative commons

Fishing Tip

(For Tweetspeak Poetry’s August theme: “Gone Fishing.” Submit your own poem, or submit your photo for the photography prompt!)

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Don’t look
for the trout itself
camouflaged from above.
Look instead for the shadow it casts,
a silhouette imprinted
on the sand,
luring fishermen with
the evidence
of its presence.

———-

Do you know anyone who has had a powerful influence on others, yet is low-visibility himself or herself? I play on the worship team at church. Musicians are high-visibility and often (even weekly) receive thanks from others in the congregation. In contrast, children’s Sunday school teachers minister powerfully to the children, yet no one sees them. For example, many people, even church leaders, are not even aware that my husband was a Sunday school teacher. In our church, children’s teachers serve in basement classrooms, low-visibility yet strong in influence. Find a low-profile servant of Christ, and thank him or her.

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Plaid

Jennifer Dukes Lee has invited us to write a color poem! But I couldn’t decide on one color, so I’m doing plaid:

———-

Plaid is the vertical, heaven reaching down,
intertwining with sideways lines—
you reaching out to me
reaching out to you.
Tartan lines, some bold and wide, some
narrow, all coming together
at right angles, motley little L’s
loving one another.

Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, so it is with Christ’s body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other.

(Romans 12:4-5)

9 Ideas to Grow Seasonal Giving into Year-Round Lifestyle

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The past few Christmases I’ve noticed the beginnings of a shift away from shopping-shopping-shopping and toward giving-giving-giving. Have you noticed it, too? Christmastime is increasingly becoming a time for generosity and care for the poor, especially the poor in other countries. How awesome.

I love the way Christmas seems to bring out awareness of the poor. But soon it will be January again.

What if the stuff that happens at Christmastime…happens all the time?

***

(Please join me at BibleDude.net where you’ll find the rest of my article:
growing the “Christmas spirit” into all-the-time lifestyle.)

i'm a bibledude.net writer

The 99 Syndrome

I was feeling 99ish.

I refer not to aging but to the story Jesus told about the shepherd that left ninety-nine sheep to look for the one that was lost. I can’t help but notice that in order to do this, the shepherd has to leave behind the ninety-nine.

To go after the one, the shepherd must neglect the ninety-nine. So, I was feeling “99ish.”

I understand this was not what Jesus intended to communicate in telling this parable, but it’s the image I often returned to when I thought of myself in church life.

My spiritual condition is generally healthy; I am one of the ninety-nine. I certainly do not mean I am struggle-free or perfect. I simply mean that, in a general and overall sense, I’m usually “doing okay.” That is, I am not in a crisis situation or in severe need of help.

Pastors are some of the busiest people I know. They are always on the go, spending what seems to be all their time ministering to a man trapped in addiction, a woman in pain and dying of cancer, a young mother whose husband is in an extramarital affair. The shepherds, being overseers of the flock, tenderly and sacrificially cared for these people. When they did, I tended to feel neglected and even jealous of the attention others received.

I call it “The 99 Syndrome.” This is not the way to be a good sheep.

Hebrews 13:17 helped me understand how to be a better member of the flock:

Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.
(Hebrews 13:17, emphasis mine)

A healthy sheep-shepherd relationship should be mutually beneficial. If the blessing does not go both ways, something needs to change.

Before the Holy Spirit shone light on this verse, my attitude was that the shepherds of the flock were always supposed to take care of me, me, me. They were always supposed to be the givers, I was always supposed to be the receiver. Not so.

This is the shepherd’s benefit:
“Let them do this with joy and not with grief.”

This is the sheep’s benefit:
“…for this would be unprofitable for you.”

Being under shepherds was “unprofitable” for me because, as a sheep, I was not letting the shepherds care for my soul “with joy.” To demand attention and consider it as my due is to make the shepherd do his task “with grief.”

I guessed at some conclusions to help me get over The 99 Syndrome:

1. Give myself a reality check. People who need urgent care are the ones who should receive it. (Of course!) A shepherd who gave equal care to a sheep safe in the pasture and a lost sheep in danger is a bad shepherd.

2. Confess my selfishness. No one owes me anything.

3. Remember the times that I did receive care when I was in crisis. When I move from the 99 and become the 1, the shepherds do turn to me.

4. Have a “give” attitude instead of a “take” attitude. Perhaps I can be a shepherd to someone in need around me.

5. Ask God how I can be a blessing to the shepherds who watch over my soul.

What thoughts do you have, from either the sheep’s or the shepherd’s perspective? Any stories or insights to share? Any experiences or relationships you’ve learned from?

***

Linking with Ann Voskamp who hosts a community of those who share about “The Practice of Relationship”:

Linking with the “Unwrapping His Promises” community hosted by Duane Scott (for Hebrews 13:17 does contain a promise—or perhaps more of a natural consequence):

Like the Sequoias (What Fire Can Do)

Eleven days before the wildfire crested
the ridge I see from my front door,
we were tourists at Sequoia
National Park and learned
that when fires were suppressed,
the Sequoias stopped reproducing.
But when fire spread,
so did the seeds. Those giants
of the forest would die
without the heat
of fire that dried their cones
to open and drop thousands
of seeds that can only take root
on fire-cleared ground made fertile
by the ashes. For the
generations of giants
to multiply and thrive, fire
is required.

Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
(James 1:2-4)

Prayer suggestions for evacuees of the Waldo Canyon Fire:
Safety of firefighters and emergency workers.
Peace, protection, provision for evacuees (currently about 32,500).
Followers of Jesus in the area to shine His light and seek His guidance.
Many to draw near to God.
Unity and service in the Body of Christ.
Love one another and our neighbors as ourselves.
God’s glory in all things.
Rain.
Less wind.
Not my will but Yours, O Lord.

Family update:
We are safe and housed. Status of our home is unknown but suspected to be unburned at this point.
*THURSDAY UPDATE*
The city released a list of streets where houses have been burned, and our street is not on that list. Thank you again for your love and prayers.

If you have seen in the media photos/videos how high the flames and smoke plumes have been, know that God’s unfailing love and faithfulness are ever higher (see Psalm 108:4). Thank you for your love and prayers. We believe God will bring great good, much good, out of this tragedy. God loves you. Turn to Him.

Good Thing I Can’t Do Everything

(For the T.S. Poetry Book Club hosted by the “thoughtful and amusing” Lyla Lindquist on Rumors of Water: Thoughts on Creativity & Writing, by L.L. Barkat. Read Lyla’s thoughts and find links to other book club participants here.)

*****

At a friend’s recommendation I read Ex Libris and wanted to write like Anne Fadiman. I heard Mr. Longo at the drums and wanted to play like Mr. Longo. I wanted to turn out cakes like Marcel Desaulniers, sing like Christy Nockels, break-dance like my nephew James, and write songs like Steve and Vikki Cook.

But I didn’t have the goods. Not like they did.

I have the mental understanding that this may not be the healthiest attitude, but the knowing often doesn’t translate to the really knowing—the living, the being, the feeling. For this, I need all the help I can get.

So I’m glad I read Rumors of Water.

Turns out, it’s okay—maybe even beneficial—that I can’t do everything.

As a writer, I have learned when a job needs to get done, there is little use fussing about the lack of necessary ingredients.… This is the secret of the prolific writer. To agree to use small beans and the ingredients at hand.
(L.L. Barkat, Rumors of Water, p. 34)

I first picked up this book because I have read Stone Crossings, and I will certainly read a book on writing if it’s written by the author of Stone Crossings! I wanted to read Rumors of Water because I wanted to grow as a writer.

Yet from the beginning, I recognized that from this book I could learn not only about writing, but about life. This is true of every section, cover to cover.

I didn’t foresee that a book on writing would help me in my faultiest thoughts and perspectives.

Barkat’s “secret of the prolific writer”—using the “ingredients at hand”—is also the secret of an effective, gifted member of the Body of Christ. God did not intend that I have the ability to do everything as well as everyone else. On the contrary, by God’s design and intent, it is good for me to have a lack. Many lacks. “Deficiency” is beneficial.

My refrigerator and kitchen cupboards do not contain everything from acai to zevengetijdeklaver, just as my vocal cords don’t vibrate like those of Christy Nockels. But I will do what I can, with what God has given me.

With that I will not only be content, I will be … prolific!

. . . resolves.

(For T.S. Poetry’s January theme: Resolutions (and Relationships). Visit the T.S. Poetry Facebook page for more on Resolutions!)

The notes are most in harmony
when frequencies are multiples
of one another, having common
factors, never having to
abut, and when reduced

to their simplest, their bare
primes coincide and strike complacent
chords in resolution—thirds or fifths,
harmonic intervals sufficient to
elude tension, being safe

at distances where no ache
inspires desire for motion, no
suspended chord requires release,
no syncopation rocks
any boat. That music sits

content without movements.

But when a song makes hands play

adjacent keys, and fingers have
to touch, there comes an expectation

in the conflict; the suspended

chord wants forward
movement, and a beauty

rises from the song that
never quite

D2 suspended chord