In 1859 Charles Dickens began a novel with the following words:
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief it was the epoch of incredulity it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way- in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.
The period was so much like the present period…
One day last summer, I came to work here at the book club. Occasionally even here in the Land of Wonder (where the Stuart Brent Books resides), it’s hard to get to work. Luckily the phone rang. I answered it. On the other end was a deep, cultured voice; a man inquiring about the details of the book club. He was interested for his granddaughters, he said. I told him about it, how the book club works, and how in my opinion, and I own the place, that I think the books should be in some way a bit of a reflection of the interests and values of the sponsor. After all, they’re paying the bill. So in that vein, I asked this polite gentleman to tell me a little about himself; his interests, his career, his passions. Music, he answered. Instantly. No hesitation. Well, music is a big topic. What kind of music? Was he a musician? We chatted for rather a long time. He was such an interesting person. He’d had a long career as a music teacher here in Chicago, and he played the piano. I’d never heard of this gentleman, but it didn’t matter to me- here was a fellow lover of the arts- a kindred spirit, if you will. I liked him right away. So I asked him if I could hear some of his music. Of course, he said, and he told me to follow a link.
Well, I didn’t have time. I sent the books to his granddaughters, and the summer passed. But I didn’t forget our conversation. He had impressed me, and I meant to follow up as soon as I had a minute.
Here at Stuart Brent we’ve been working around the clock putting together our new website. One of it’s best features (for me, anyway), is I now have a blog. Perfect! I have a forum to use to write about this lovely person I’d met on the phone. So I began a blog entry. Then Holly, who works with me, figured out how to follow the link to hear more about our musician. Now you can watch the video below yourself.
At this point you may have given up trying to figure out what Dickens’ best of times speech has to do with a retired musician in Chicago. I will tell you.
Dickens’ passage is about a crossroads. A moment where everything is hanging in the balance. When the smallest action, the unlooked for accident, may become the spark that changes the world as we know it. The choices made by both the leaders among us, and the least among us, will determine the fate of all. Dickens is talking about the supercharged political climate of France and England before the French Revolution.
But I will venture to say that on a smaller scale, each of us reaches a similar crossroad at some point in our lives. Where the choice is to be angry or to forgive, to choose love or to choose hate. To choose to move forward or to remain static. To decide to be alive, or to be among the walking dead.
When I saw the piece on Mr. Norman Malone, I was profoundly moved. I had had no idea who he really is. I had no idea of his life story. I just liked the guy.
If you can watch this television piece, and not be moved, if you can watch Mr. Malone’s triumph over the worst kind of betrayal and hurt, watch how he handled the crossroads he came to through no fault of his own, well, I just can’t finish the sentence.
In these difficult times, there is much to learn from Mr. Malone’s example. Much to admire about him. Much to carry with us into our own lives.
And he’s a really nice guy.