Stories Beneath the Surface

Monday Morning Musings:

“I could be

In someone else’s story

In someone else’s life

And he could be in mine. . .”

–Benny Andersson, Björn Ulvaeus, Tim Rice, “Someone Else’s Story,” from the musical Chess

“People’s personalities, like buildings, have various facades, some pleasant to view, some not.”

-François, Duc De La Rochefoucauld (1613-1680) Moral Maxims and Reflections, no. 292


On a sunny day–

spring in February thinking of May–

we stroll through sun and shadows

façades that hint of love inside

I wonder if it is—

and who they are–

wonder about their stories

(someone else’s story)


All of the stories that have been lived

as the centuries turn

eighteenth to nineteenth and on

through changing façades–

those that remain–

past and present merge

modernized, expanded, reformed–

like this church–

where beneath the surface

lie the remains of those

who once lived and breathed here

Old Pine Church looking toward St. Peter’s Philadelphia


their breaths becoming part of the ecosystem

their steps leaving footprints,

sometimes larger in death than they were in life.

Other people’s lives,

Someone else’s story


When they lived,

did they wear their hearts openly—

like the cutouts on the door,

or did they keep their feelings buried

deep inside

behind a façade of smiling respectability?

I wonder how many had secret lives

yearnings that they could never admit?

Complex creatures

we divide ourselves

closing doors—saying this is not allowed

we must not live that story,

but times change

and churches, too,

and love is love is love


In the quiet here, there is not silence.

Do their ghosts walk by my side here?

that sound

the wind,

or their sighs

telling me their stories?

In the unquietness of this place,

filled with hundreds of stories

of birth, love, sorrow, and death

a living child with his mother screams in delight

and runs over the graves. . .

what happens at night behind the gates?


We wander back to the movie theater to see

someone else’s story—

there up on the screen

A Fantastic Woman

and she is

what does it matter that she was born a man

(we all have our façades)

but she was loved

and still is by her sister and friends

and a dog–

who doesn’t care about societal labels–

some do not treat this woman well

they threaten and humiliate her

but life and her story go on

because she is a fantastic woman


And after –

we talk and walk

to where fire recently destroyed part of a block

nineteenth-century buildings

one will have to be demolished

all but it’s first floor cast iron façade–


Third and Chestnut, Philadelphia February 2018


the stories of these places–

the people who lived there now displaced–

and while we stand there

gazing at the devastation,

I get a text from a friend,

find out about her son’s illness—

the dangers of the invisible world

within our bodies

beneath the surface,

we don’t always see or know what is there–

(thankfully, it seems he will be okay)

and though this is someone else’s story

they are my friends,

so it becomes part of my story, too.


The next day, it turns cold again–

February’s story–

we turn the heat back on

eat homemade pizza, drink some wine,

huddle under blankets,

watch Netflix–and our cats—

we text our daughters,

sending virtual hugs–

behind the walls of our house

this is our story,

and I don’t want someone else’s life.


A Fantastic Woman stars the fantastic Daniela Vega,  a trans woman (who also sings in the movie). The movie was made in Chile, and it is nominated for best foreign film. I keep thinking about it. See the trailer here.

The architecture of the fire-damaged buildings is described here.











22 thoughts on “Stories Beneath the Surface

  1. The thing about silence is strange. We think we’re listening to it, but the less familiar sounds there are, the more unfamiliar sounds we notice. I wonder if we listened hard enough we could hear even deeper sounds like those voices.

  2. Stories can cover and reveal. Like silence. There is always something more if we look or listen hard enough. Or maybe loosely enough…
    As usual you are making me think.
    Yes, we are all intermingled in each others’ stories. (K)

  3. I keep wondering (hoping) that someday we can all be who we are, openly and lovingly. I also wonder, as I see your images of the city, if you visit the Reading Terminal Market or South Street and the Italian Market.
    Lovely and interesting musings, as always, Merril. And that pizza looks wonderful! 🙂

    • Thank you, Robin.
      I used to go to Reading Terminal Market all the time, but I haven’t been there in a while, or the Italian Market. I’m usually taking photos before or after we see a movie or a play.

  4. This film you mentioned sounds great! I will try to see if the library has it. . . I rented a few movies and caught some of their messages in my brain. . .
    I saw over the weekend, “Maudie,” and was trying to remember if you had recommended it? The story of a woman who is disabled but has a sweet, big heart and painted in real life many brightly colored paintings was motivating in many ways. She seemed to always look at the bright side of life. The black and white interview of the real artist was nicely shown at the end, with her Grandma Moses style of art displayed through at least ten minutes of credits.
    I did like how you mentioned stories about those who walked the areas we walk, we pass by in cars and the landmark locations where many ghosts lie, hoping their stories made a difference. . . Where you live has (had) so many stories abounding, Merril.

    • Thank you, Robin!
      A Fantastic Woman is one of the movies nominated for Best Foreign Film this year, and it is currently playing in Philadelphia, so I don’t know if it is out on DVD yet. We did see “Maudie,” so I may have recommended it to you. I really like Sally Hawkins, who played Maudie, and she is the star of the current movie The Shape of Water, which is also up for several awards. We live in S. Jersey across the Delaware River from Philadelphia.

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