Monday, December 24, 2007

Musical Meanderings

When I was younger- teenage, twenties and even as a tween- I let almost no one see me cry. I'm not sure if that is because, as the youngest of 11 kids, I heard from about 9 different people on an almost daily basis that I was a "cry baby", or because I never saw others in my family cry. (Once, I saw mom cry when she thought no one was around. She was a single mom by then and I'm sure the world felt overwhelming. I never told her that I saw that.)
Now, I find myself tearing up on a regular basis. I don't know if it's menopause, or if it is because in the deepest part of my heart, I now know that showing emotions is no weakness. It takes strength to cry.
And, alone in my car, I can feel deeply without an audience.
Since mom died in 1999, this time of year is usually for me, a time to celebrate and to add extra saline into the world. (After all, sea-salt has to come from somewhere, why not grieving daughters everywhere?) Whenever I hear "Ave Maria" or "Hark the Herald Angels Sing", I can feel mom sitting next to me during a December mass, holding my small hand in hers. I can hear her singing out loud and proud, vibrato, like an opera singer. (In my mind, whenever I hear the musical phrase, "in exchelsis deo", no matter who is singing on the radio or standing next to me, it is Mom's voice that drowns out all others.) "Amazing Grace", "She's Always a Woman to Me", "Stairway to Heaven" and countless unnamed Christmas carols choke me up with the memory of her. Not necessarily choked up only out of sadness or grief any longer. Often I am choked up with the gratitude of knowing that some small measure of her strength and generosity has rubbed off on me and on all of the rest of her children and step-children, grand-children, grand-step children, and so on. Sometimes, I am choked up with joy because of feeling that she is still here with me somehow and that when not here in those moments, she is up in heaven with Ashee Mouchy and Mitzy and Brute and Mother and Aggie and the countless other pets I've lost throughout my life. I picture her watching out for them, as they watch out for her. I picture she and Ashee sharing apples together.
This season, I haven't been listening compulsively to Christmas carols like I usually do to get my holiday fix of Mom. Despite that, this has been a very musical season for me.
Yesterday, at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Flint, I found myself getting teary-eyed as I watched my goddaughters and several other kids (and adult children) singing to the congregation as they told a story about prejudice giving way to acceptance of diversity. I had never heard any of the songs before, and I had no idea that the kids in our church had such strong, beautiful voices. Like with Mom's Christmas singing, I felt like I was home and safe. I hope the kids sing for us regularly soon.
This morning, on my way home from work, I was listening to NPR. The first story that I got to hear after getting into my car was about a bunch of Michigan musicians who had recorded about 200 different Christmas songs for people to download for free from the internet. "Suburban Sprawl" have been adding songs to this collection for the past 5 years to celebrate the season of giving and to remove some of the money-based commercialism that seems to surround the holidays these days. How cool. And, the songs that they highlighted on the radio show were all really good and original in style and content. (Hey-Louberts- maybe we should have a Louberts' original winter holiday concert CD. Pop can be the leader and we can be like the von Trapp Family Singers.)
It has been nice now and then to hear Deb practicing her guitar quietly. We bought guitars for Maddie and Ana. Now Deb gets to teach them how to play.
Once again, alone in my car on my way home from work the other morning, I wrote a simple song to celebrate Winter Solstice. I haven't written a song in a long time, other than random humming and nonsense words that I'll never sing again, let alone remember. This one though, I really like and I can hear it in my head with voices other than just mine.
Like mom, I often find myself humming. Usually, other people notice it before I do. I have what I call "Musical Turretts". I can't help it. Sound just pops out. Twenty years or so ago, my freshman year college roommate, Michelle, once laughingly accused me of humming in my sleep. I asked her what I was humming. She said, "nothing in particular, you were just humming." At the time I didn't believe her. I denied that any such thing was possible. I don't sing, or even hum. About 2 weeks later, we were sitting quietly (hard to believe from the two of us who always have a word to add), when out of the blue, Michelle yelled, "That's It!" and laughed. I asked what she was talking about. She said, "That's what you were humming." I was very puzzled. "What?" She quickly pointed out that I had just been humming. I, once again, staunchly denied it. A few minutes later, I heard myself start to hum again. It took a few more years until I would admit to what Michelle had already experienced and firmly believed was the truth, that I hum. When I worked at Schuler Books in Okemos, one day I was putting away books in the science fiction section. I was minding my own business, doing my job. I loved to handle each book, look at who wrote it, smell the newness of the paper and read a couple of pages here and there to decide if I wanted to read more, or beyond that, to recommend it to customers who always counted on me for this research. To me, shelving books was a meditation in being present in the moment. Enjoying being alone, just me and the stacks, never mind that customers and co-workers might be an aisle or a bookcase away. Back to the story-- one day I was putting away books in the science fiction section. I was minding my own business, doing my job when a customer asked me what song I was humming. I looked up from my stool and asked, "was I humming?" She replied yes. Then I asked her, "what was I humming?" We laughed at that together after I revealed that I hadn't been aware that sound was coming out of me.
As I sit here on the loveseat, listening to Harry Connick Jr. sing Christmas songs in his smooth Rat Pack like style, I am also hearing a song sung just for me. Fat Cat, Biddy, is sitting on my left and Cindy Lou Who is pressed up against my right leg, taking her rightful spot as the queen of everything. They are purring in harmony to one another. Each has a unique sound and rhythm, yet they fit together, like a kitty cat barbershop duet.
Once, when I had brought a friend home from college for the weekend (it may have even been Michelle), mom joked with us, saying "LIFE IS A MUSICAL". I think I believe that now, like I didn't then. I think, maybe, Maddie and Ana have helped me believe that. I know that life is a musical when we laugh and make up songs for one another on the spot (like "I've Got Boogers in My Nose", which I made up and they can only sing in front of a limited audience, or "the Poop Song" that Maddie made up while she and Ana helped me pick up land mines in the back yard that were left by my well-fed dogs.) Every moment is worthy of music. Music can move us to tears or to laughter, calm or agitation.

What music brings your heart and soul to laughter, tears or profundity? (is that really a word, or did I make it up? Profound- ity, profound-ness, thoughtfullness, thoughtful truths)