A song for my mother, a year later

Tomorrow will mark a year since I sang a song for my mother, an experience that still gives me goosebumps. Everything about that experience was infused with loving grace. I’m writing another post for tomorrow, but in the meantime I thought I’d share that post from last year.


There I was, palms sweating, all eyes on me. My heart was racing. Around me, new friends (very new)—most of them twenty, thirty, even forty years older than myself—urged me on.

“Will you consider it?” They asked.

Would I consider it?

I knew in my heart the answer was yes, even if my sweaty palms said no.

I was at choir practice, and these new friends were fellow members of the choir that I recently joined, which is part of the church that I recently joined. (You know, working on building my village and all that jazz.)

In the way that only deep, deep pain can motivate us, I recently came to the realization that I can’t do this life-gig solo. I need a village. Comrades. Partners on the path of self-actualization

I needed a faith community .

Seeing as I’m liberal-but-leery-of-organized religion, I naturally decided to check out our local Unitarian Universalist church.  Their mission statement is “Love. Grow. Serve.” Who can’t get behind that? They describe themselves as an “open-hearted multi-generational community” and that is what I found the instant I walked through their doors. love-grow-serve

The people I’ve met in this faith community include a baby-boomer hippy guitarist, a young physics professor, a Jewish grandma, a seventy-year old blue-bird enthusiast, a musical theater professional, and more. (And, they literally greet you with homemade muffins and coffee. In fact, they give new members the yellow mugs, so they can find you and say hello. It just so happens the yellow ones hold the most coffee, which also makes me love them.)

I immediately knew I wanted to join the church choir. Their Director is young and talented. The choir is small and half their members are snowbirds who return north for summer. In addition to needing more warm bodies, I had a hunch they would also benefit from having a few more members who could read music.

So there I was, at the second practice of my new choir at the new church I joined.

There are precisely four sopranos including myself. Judy, who carries a Monet Water Lilies tote and a tin of cough drops, sits to my right and watches out for me. She found an extra binder of music and shared her post-it tabs with me.

I was enjoying the practice. We were rehearsing the old Appalachian hymn “Bright Morning Stars” for Mother’s Day.

Our Director announced she would need a volunteer to do an a capella solo for the first verse, then we would add another part with each subsequent verse.

I absentmindedly scanned my music. I wondered who she had in mind to sing the solo. I was sort of relieved, in fact. Thank goodness I’m new, for surely she didn’t have me in mind, I thought to myself.

And then Judy tugged my arm and pointed to me. My palms started sweating. A lot. 

“Will you? Will you consider it?” she asked?

I looked up and all the others were smiling kindly. Wait, what? They were serious? Several altos nodded and smiled at me. I looked at the choir director who was smiling, waiting for me to reply.

It was then that I heard myself say yes. 

It is hard for me to describe how much this moment stirred me. I have always loved singing. From as long as I can remember I have sung in a choir. In middle and high school I took voice lessons and competed with other awkward pre-teens in various music festivals, singing with girls’ ensembles and honor choirs and on and on.

Recently, the most singing I’d done was in my shower or dancing with my pre-schooler to Yvis’s Yogurt Song.

And here I was, nonchalantly saying yes to SING A SOLO. In church. My voice, alone. What on earth was happening?

I was still wrapping my head around this fact as our Director paused to tell a story about this particular hymn. She explained how she had performed the song with a group of inner-city youth, most of them living on public assistance of some form in a very low-income area. She said how she talked to them about the meaning of the lyrics, how the song is about a parent’s sacrifice for their children.

It as at this point in the story that she said, that one of her high school students began whispering. Being the great choir director that she is, she cleared her throat and asked the young woman, “Excuse me, do you have a question?”

The student looked up and told her, “My parents are dead.”

At this point my eyes welled with tears. It turns out, of course, that the song is actually a metaphor, and it was about the eternal love of a parent toward a child even beyond death. The choir Director said she explained this to the student, how the song wasn’t literal but in fact about how the love of your parents goes beyond death, and perhaps this young woman’s parent’s were watching over her. Loving her still.

Well, at this point I didn’t know how I was going to sing this song about dead mothers. On mother’s day of all days. With my own dead mother up in heaven like that precious child’s. 

None of this mattered. I seemed to be carried by the energy of this group, and I suddenly found myself moments later singing the solo it out into the empty church. I finished and heard the choir members begin to clap.

Judy turned to me and said, “that was beautiful.”

The choir director wiped a tear away.”I don’t know why I’m so emotional today but that really moved me.”

Not only did I get through the song about dead mothers without crying, but I sang the whole thing fairly effortlessly.

And here is the crazy thing: I have always dreaded and hated solos. I have a traumatic memory of me singing at a competition when I was maybe fifteen years old, totally breaking under the pressure of performing in front of others. (I was perfectly fine in the comfort of the pianist’s living room when we had practices.)

Singing out loud, alone, used to be too vulnerable. I was fine blending my voice with others. Exposed and in the spot-light, I would wither and crack. My outsides didn’t match my insides. Or maybe they did, because I felt cracked inside too, I hadn’t yet embodied my voice, and was many many years from that being the case.

And so I circle back to today. This weekI sang effortlessly. I suppose you could say I found my voice. 

Today is Mother’s Day. I will put on my pretty blue dress, my heels and my mother’s jewelry. I will go with my daughter and husband to my new church, where I will sing a solo in front of my new, multi-generational faith family.

And I will sing out about how the love of our mother’s transcends death.

I will sing a song for my mother. 

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Don’t give up. Peter Gabriel is here to hug you.

This week has been intense. INTENSE. I keep using that word because nothing else quite describes it. It hasn’t been bad necessarily, but it seems like each day once I catch my breath another fire pops up that I need to put out. Phew.  I’m just riding the waves and hoping they calm soon.

And well, the external world has been pretty hard to manage too. Heart-wrenching in fact. Too much unnecessary loss of life. Injustices. Despair. And often the cries from entire communities that seem over and over again to fall on deaf ears.

I was feeling pretty down and hopeless. And that is when I heard it.

A quiet whisper. A song actually.

Out of nowhere on Wednesday a song lyric popped in my head. Don’t give up. And a female vocal. I couldn’t place it and it was driving me NUTS. I finally figured it out–I was hearing “Don’t Give up” by Peter Gabriel, and it was the vocal by Kate Bush that was sweetly singing in my ear…her voice is ethereal.

I listened to it on Youtube and I can hardly contain myself. I was like, I GOTTA BLOG ABOUT THIS SONG. First because it is a freaking awesome song and maybe I’m not the only one who needs to hear it this week. But mostly: THE VIDEO YOU GUYS. Oh my god. It is five and half minutes (!!) of Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush hugging.

Yes, you read that correctly. A looooooong hug.  While singing. Hugging–and singing–it out for five minutes straight. It is nothing short of amazing. (Ok and hilarious. Mostly hilarious.)

How can anyone feel bleak and hopeless after watching and listening to this? YOU ARE WELCOME. 

Hugs (long, Peter Gabriel hugs),

Sarah

xoxo

 

Calling All Angels

 

We never know when we might be channeling some light. Or reflecting light. I don’t know how it all works. All I know is that yesterday was one of those magical days where it felt like everyone was in the right place at the right time.

Yesterday I took my seat in church choir rehearsal like I always do. Only this time there were four kids in the front row. A ten-year-old boy in front of me put the purple stole up around his ears and made funny faces. A little one sitting to his left stopped in the middle of rehearsal to run to her uncle; her shoes were hurting!

To my immediate left was my friend Jenifer, wise-cracking jokes about the Browns (just like me she has lived in Cleveland and Baltimore–the chances!) and on my right was Judy, who reminds me so much of my mother that I am tempted to turn to her and ask are you a Virgo? 

As we finished rehearsal and took a quick break before service began, I mingled among the ushers, greeters, and perhaps even the croissant table. It was then that a dynamic woman in a smart exercise hoodie approached. I remembered her as being one of the handful of parents who hung out during rehearsal. She must have had a child participating in this special 9-11 memorial service.

She was grinning as she said, “This is going to sound crazy…”

I LOVE conversations that start like this! A kindred spirit.

She told me I looked exactly like her late friend Sabine. Sabine died when she fifty years old. She was an amazing friend and human being. An I looked just like her. The woman (her name was Trish–“rhymes with fish!”) sheepishly admitted that she had even snagged a picture of me the other day at rehearsal so she could show her late friend’s children.

She went on to say that she swore I was channeling Sabine. Especially during the song Calling All Angels. How I was glowing and seemed to have Sabine’s spirit. She knew it sounded crazy but I assured her it was not. Nothing surprises me anymore.

I told her about my mom passing and the weird and wonderful coincidences that have happened since then.

I rejoined the choir and service began. As our multi-generational ensemble sang backup vocals for the Calling All Angels duet, I sang for my mom and for Sabine. I caught Trish’s eye. We both smiled. I looked out the window and saw the yellow butterfly dancing, the one I see every week, and sent love to my mom. 

Oh, and every day you gaze upon the sunset with such love and intensity
Why?
It’s ah, it’s almost as if you could only crack the code then you’d finally understand
What this all means

Oh, but if you could, do you think you would trade in all
All the pain and suffering?
Oh, but then you’d miss the beauty of the light upon this earth
And the, and the sweetness of the leaving

Calling All AngelsCalling All Angels by Jane Siberry & KD Lang.