Sunday, February 8, 2015

Still getting gifts from grandma

A year ago, as my grandmother was wrapping up her life, she began to sing a song I'd never heard before. This was unusual, for two reasons: (1) as a former music major, I know a larger-than-average number of songs, particularly songs of the style and era that my grandmother was prone to know, and more importantly, (2) as long as I'd known her, my grandmother had a repertoire of a couple dozen favorite songs, so to hear a new one was somewhat unusual.

At this point in her dying process, she already seemed half-gone. She recited pieces of the alphabet like a mantra. She told me happily her family was waiting for her in the trees. But then she recited this song, "M-O-T-H-E-R," from memory, over and over again.

Since I'd never heard the song before, and since my grandmother's rendition was more spoken word than song, I tried to find a copy of the sheet music so that she could hear me sing it to her before she died. But my search was fruitless -- the sheet music was out of print and there was no way to purchase, borrow or otherwise find a copy.

Although I wasn't able to find the music written down, she repeated it to me nearly each time I visited. It left such an impression on me that I wrote about it after she passed away. Since then, the words wormed their way into my ear from time to time, but like all memories, began to fade.

Cut to a few weekends ago. I was on vacation with my husband and my in-laws, exploring central California. Our trip was mainly wine-focused, but on one of our idle mornings we decided to wander around town and see what was open.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Do you find your mantras, or do they find you?

I don't sing as much as I used to -- I studied opera and voice in college, and was singing professionally for a while; now I hardly even warm up regularly. But I nearly always sing in the shower.

Fellow shower singers know well why I do it. The acoustics are great -- you sound fantastic in there and the steam feels nice on your throat -- but really, the best part is, it's fun. A concert for one.

My shower concert repertoire has shifted through the years (there used to be more German lieder and now there's more Disney tunes) but some songs keep coming back like old friends or mantras. One song that has stuck with me for many, many years is Amazing Grace.

Although Amazing Grace has obvious religious connotations, it's not the reason -- at least consciously -- that I was first drawn to it. In fact, I don't really know why I was first drawn to it. But Amazing Grace has been with me for a very long time. I sang Amazing Grace for an audition that -- impossibly, as a lowly 8th grader -- landed me a solo performance in a school talent show of sorts. Singing Amazing Grace in that show convinced my dad I should take voice lessons, and convinced me it was something I was good enough to pursue. In a high school experience that was wrought with self-doubt, my singing was something I could be confident in.

I've sung Amazing Grace a number of times since, including professionally as a cantor at memorial services, and three times in 2014 at the memorial services of beloved family members.

The extent to which this song shows up in my life is bewildering, powerful, and a little bit scary to me because it feels like it chose me, rather than the other way around. Although I never gave much credence to the lyrics as a middle schooler, the message of the song -- or at least the message I'm meant to hear -- has begun to seep its way into my heart. I suppose it's one of those things that takes a lifetime to fully understand.

Are there any songs / books / movies etc. in your life that are somehow tied to you? What's your story?

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Opening your heart to pain is part of being fully alive. But it still sucks.

There is loss all around me, and I am stumbling to find a way to bear witness and be present without being being torn to pieces by the pain of it. Perhaps being torn to pieces is the only way.

I recorded this in a moment of inspiration (maybe desperation describes it better) yesterday morning. As shy as I am to share it (it's a little too raw; I'm a little too just-out-of-the-shower), it feels like the only thing I have to offer right now.

I witness my aunt and my family, who are navigating the consequences of my aunt's terminal cancer diagnosis even as we continue to mourn my grandmother's passing.

I witness my peer group, who are struggling to come to terms with the passing of many of our role models this year, including the suicide of one of our most beloved role models. I witness the fear in myself, that the darkness can take any of us, no matter how old we are, no matter how accomplished or beloved.

And I witness my fellow humans nationwide, most recently in Ferguson, who are hurting and mourning and raging as a result of repeated injustice. I witness them here, and I will witness them on Thursday afternoon as part of a National Moment of Silence vigil. There is a vigil in your area, too. Find it and consider attending. It's not the most we can do, but it's a start.

No matter who you are, your greatest gift is your attention, your intention, your energy. Don't shy away; don't hide it under a bushel. Be a part of what's going on, even if doing so threatens to tear you to pieces.