To Understand (and he blessed you best of all)

looking up February 7, 2014  Photo by Hallie Swift

looking up February 7, 2014 Photo by Hallie Swift

Your eyes seem from a different face

They’ve seen that much that soon

Your cheek too cold, too pale to shine

Like an old and waning moon

And there is no peace

No true release

No secret place to crawl

And there is no rest

For the ones God blessed

And He blessed you best of all

                                                          (from King of Bohemia by Richard Thompson)

On this day, thirty eight years ago,

my father died.

He was 63 years old.

In my mind,

he was not done.

My dad had anticipated his retirement years;

articles he would write;

classes he would teach;

trips he would enjoy;


When he died, his record company issued a news release:

‘…one of the very few true experts in the field of classical music…”

my very true expert;

my daddy;

gone at 63.

In his last months, he wrote to us; ideas and observations, philosophies and beliefs;

his letters, I thought, signaled the promise of things to come…

…Beethoven is not the only artist who suffered from excessive solemnity- which is a lead in to my second heretical statement.

If find the famous Sistine Chapel fresco of Michelangelo to be a bit ludicrous- I suspect the reason I regard it as a failure is that Michelangelo attempted to do too much- and found it impossible to sustain a high level of thought on the vast scale that he outlined.

Like the Ninth Symphony, the kindest words…are that it is a noble failure- but a failure nonetheless.

Several times I have been tempted to write a series of essays under a general heading like “Putting the Classics in their Place.” I have myself sometimes been annoyed by my own timidity at not speaking out against the oppressiveness of mass acceptance.

He never got a chance to write those articles; teach those classes; take those trips. My father’s retirement was brief; cancer stealing his hard-earned years of leisure; of reflection; of speaking out.

In my mind, he was cheated.

And I felt cheated too.

I read those final letters countless times; desperately searching for him amid the carefully chosen words and well-reasoned opinions. I wanted to know what he would think; what he would say; what he would do.

I wanted what could never be.

And I could not let go.

Just a few years ago, my pain began to ease. I wrote an article; not about Beethoven; not about Michelangelo;

I wrote about my dad.

He had been a record producer—in the early days—back when there were long-playing albums. In his era, the producer’s name didn’t appear on the jacket. I wanted to correct that oversight; give him credit; capture his role for posterity.

Researching every accomplishment; documenting every claim;

I wrote a Wikipedia page;

the internet equivalent of scratching

I was here

into the sand.

I showed it to my best friend. I watched nervously as she read. She paused and looked at me

This is a big life.

Three simple words:

a big life;

and for the first time in all those years,

I felt relief.

I began to understand;

he had done so much in so short a time;

he could do no more;

he was done.

I no longer needed to talk to him

every time I heard a piece of music;

no longer felt tumultuous anger;

no longer wished for what would never be.

My daddy

gave me all he could;

the rest was up to me.

I Was Here  Central Park discovery as I wrote this post  Photo by Hallie Swift

I Was Here ( a Central Park discovery as I wrote this post) Photo by Hallie Swift

And then, just a few weeks ago, I was completely confounded by the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman.

I felt a sense of loss out of all proportion. I kept telling myself

…you don’t know him…he belongs to his family…to his friends…

but the news blared and I listened

…the greatest actor of his generation…

I thought films were better because he was in them; his characters illuminating,

even the smallest part searing.

I read story after story about his prodigious career, his nuanced, soul-diving performances;

done at 46.

Amid the tragedy of his death, articles repeatedly bemoaned

performances we lost;

roles he should have played;

disappointment we will never see his Lear!

I bristled;

What could have been

only undermines

the undeniable feats;

the huge accomplishments;

the impenetrable mystery


his big life.

We want to believe

the best is yet to come;

we keep telling ourselves



for any of us;

for all of us;

our best

might be have been

a long time ago;

our promise now a memory.

(But we will never know).


I understand;

the measure of a life –

any life—

my father’s life–

is not captured by

annotated references

and attributable sources.

His best

might be hidden in the margins–

a fleeting moment;

an off-hand comment;

a letter written to his daughter when

he knew he was going to die.

He tried to tell her

what matters.

Put the classics in their place.

It took me

a long time

to understand;

every life

a big life;

no small parts.

63 years; 46 years;

he gave all he could.




If tears unshed could heal your heart

If words unsaid could sway

Then watch you melt into the night

With Adieu and rue the day

Did your dreams die young

Were they too hard won

Did you reach too high and fall

And there is no rest

For the ones God blessed

And He blessed you best of all

To Understand

to understand— Corita, serigraph, 1965 Used with permission of the Corita Art Center, Immaculate Heart Community, Los Angeles “to understand is to stand under which is to look up to which is a good way to understand”…art and words by Sister Mary Corita

For more information on Corita Kent (Sister Mary Corita)

All Lyrics from King of Bohemia by Richard Thompson copyright 1994 Beeswing Music All Rights Reserved


13 thoughts on “To Understand (and he blessed you best of all)

    • Thank you! The writing has turned me into a hermit of sorts. So has the cold weather…when I am not writing, I am thinking about writing…! Or talking about…writing. But thank you! H

  1. Thank you for sharing the beautiful thoughts, poetry and photos. — And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose. Romans 8:28

    • For a long time, I didn’t get that purpose. And I was angry. It took a lot of years to get here. I hope people reading this, who are struggling like I have, will find comfort in knowing the grief can transform. It doesn’t go away…but it can become a powerful force, even a good force, for hope and understanding…but people should not be hard on themselves if they are not there yet…but read and think and ponder…thank you, H

  2. He was such a lovely man…such grace. He took us to see Baryshnikov, still one of the most special moments in my life. You and I were blessed with kind, wonderful, supportive fathers. Miss them so much.

    • It always buoys me that there are people out there who remember my dad. As I know it will help you as you navigate life without your father…I recently found this quote from Tennessee Williams: “Has it ever struck you that life is all memory, except for the one present moment that goes by so quick you hardly catch it going?” I think that quote really applies to both of us as we come to terms with the sorrow and the joy. With love, H

  3. This is amazing. So perfectly true.. A life cut short is never easy for those of us left behind but we must look at what WAS rather than what wasn’t, in order to celebrate a life.. It speaks to being in the moment. Living in the moment and appreciating what we’re doing NOW. Not what we hope to do later.. I like this perspective a lot…

    • Thank you Sarah. You got it. It was a revelation to focus on what was rather than what could not be. But I don’t think it is easy to get there, nor should it be. Loss is loss, and there is no way to take a shortcut. That is one of the reasons I am doing this…to acknowledge and even embrace the long way home…

      And thank you for sharing on Facebook!

      Thank you…H

  4. Amazing read! The perspective concise and clear! Live and appreciate this life, with meaning and purpose! Had to share!

    • THANK you for your comment, for signing up as a “follower” AND for sharing it on Facebook. I so appreciate the encouragement as well as help in getting the writing “out there.” I am grateful, Hallie

  5. This is such a large message – for everyone. I love it. Your fathers letters are another whole territory, arent they? I wanted more and more. Thank you.

    • I wanted more and more too…!

      I just read an article about the 90 year old Eva Marie Saint, interviewed about her career by Robert Osborn for a future TV special. I was delighted to see that during the interview, when asked about one of her smaller parts, Saint’s husband called out from the audience “There are no small roles…!”

      I think he stole my line!

      Thank you again, Hallie

  6. Hallie, I am sorry it took me so long to read this most personal and precious article about your Father. You know, my Mother and I came to your home one evening right before your graduation and I remember your Father. We were there so briefly but I remember what a strong man he appeared to be and how it was so easy to see your respect for him. I agree. He was not here long enough. He left much too soon, but you have those memories. My Father left us at 87 but he left much too soon. I have a feeling that my relationship with my Father mirrored yours. If that is the case, then he is with you every single day of your life. Thank you for putting all those feelings into words. You are my teacher, consistently. 🙂

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