Days And Decades

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How 15 hours became 20 years…

Today is the 20th anniversary of Mama’s death…but just barely.  December 8 was just a couple of hours old when she drew that last breath and moved from here to Heaven.  So while this is technically the anniversary, I always spend December 7 remembering…reliving…her last day of life, and spending it with her.

I arrived at Baptist Hospital around 11:30 that cold, grey Sunday morning, to relieve Dad, who had spent the night before with her.  He told me that, after being unresponsive for over 12 hours, she had awakened in the middle of the night, and they had a conversation.  She said she knew she would die soon, and that she was not afraid.  His recollection of that exchange shook me, hard and deep.  As we chatted briefly, he made a note to send to their financial advisor on Mama’s hospital menu for that day.  I remarked that I probably had a blank sheet of paper he could use, and he said no, the menu would be fine, especially since it documented the date and his note was an instruction for an account change that needed to be done before the end of the calendar year.  He was, and still is, careful and astute in financial matters.  We hugged goodbye and I told him to go home and get some sleep, that I’d see him later.

Just minutes after he left, Mama’s face changed, as did her breathing, echoing through the room with “the death rattle” I had often heard mentioned in older people’s conversations, but had only heard with my own ears a few times.  It didn’t register with me right away that she had begun actively dying, but over the course of the day it sank in.  In about a half hour a nurse came in to check Mama’s vital signs, and she asked how long her breathing had been like that.  When I answered, this sweet nurse just came and put her arm around my shoulder, telling me that she didn’t think Mama was in any pain or distress, that I could talk or sing to her, pet her and love her, because nothing was bothering her now.  I think now that this nurse may have been an angel; I don’t remember having seen her at any other time during our hospital stay; I can’t recall her name or face or hair color; I only remember her words and the feel of her arm around me.

For her last 15 hours, Mama and I shared that little space together, mostly alone except for nurses and CNAs coming in to check her vital signs and to ask if I was all right, if I needed anything.  We only had a few visitors, including a hospital social worker and her husband, who circled around and prayed with us, and my cousins Judy and Ann, who came that night just hours before Mama died.  There were some phone calls through the day, but mostly many hours of stillness.  Mama never awoke that last day, but I spoke to her, and I know she was aware of my presence…my love.

Flash forward to last week when I was messaging with a friend and telling him about Mama’s anniversary coming up.  He expressed understanding of my residual grief.  We talked on about the state of current affairs, the world, and concerns over what we, as individuals and as a culture, may leave behind.  I tried to reassure him that he is sending light into a world that sometimes seems very dark.

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And I realized something.  Those last priceless hours I shared with Mama shaped the way I view my years, and how I want to spend whatever time I have left.  When it is time for me to leave this world, I hope I am remembered for the moments I shared with others…one on one and bunches of us together, moments of music and silence, times we laughed until we cried, ate until we belched and then laughed some more, hugs and smiles and being genuine with one another (I don’t really know how to be any other way).  If my moments are meaningful, then my years will be worthwhile.

In her last 15 hours of life, Mama taught me just as much as she did in the 58 years that preceded them.  What a gift!  If my days and decades are a tiny fraction as full as hers were, I will leave something good behind me here when I leave.

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Decision Points

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That moment when…

Recently my friend and #firsteverworkhusband Martin and I were discussing our respective artistic disciplines, mine music and his acting/directing.  In the course of that conversation he began talking about how Hamlet has a couple of moments in the play when his course of action is set, or “decision points”.  I’ve been ruminating about this concept off and on since the initial conversation, and recently I messaged him again to elaborate on the idea from the actor/director perspective.

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I LOVE that!  “The get off your a$$” moment.  We went on to discuss how art imitates life and how sometimes the decision point is actually the result of a lengthy process of evolution.  As I am prone to do, I applied this to life in general, my life in particular.

In another conversation recently, I remarked that I feel like, in some ways, I’ve spent the last year or so in The Twilight Zone.  There has been, in my internal world, change, stress, upheaval, as well as love and great joy.  I have had decision points—moments of clarity that came after a process of evolution, in my feelings, thoughts and expectations.

Reaching that “get off your a$$ moment” can be painful.  But eventually, the decision has to be made.  Anything can prompt “that moment when…”

You get the answer to an important question…

or that question goes without a response.

After feeling ill for months, you finally get a diagnosis.

You realize a person, relationship, habit, job, whatEVER, is unhealthy for you and a change has to happen.

Or you discover love in the most unexpected of places.

The Decision Point is the result of a process.  However long the process takes, the moment of decision is just that—a MOMENT.  One that can alter the trajectory of the rest of your life.

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The Three “R’s”

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Not the ones we learned in grade school…

The world is filled with turmoil.  Sickness, discord, violence and tragedy fill the nightly news.  Just this week a gunman opened fire on a huge group of concertgoers in Las Vegas, killing dozens and wounding hundreds more.  I am still trying to wrap my head around the depravity, sickness, hatred and evil that could cause a human being to inflict such violence on a crowd of innocent strangers.

I am not a political person and this is not a political post.  This is just a collection of my thoughts about how very tired I am…tired of the anger and violence that bombard us all with increasing, and alarming, frequency these days.  I need some R&R…& more R.

“R&R” is an old expression for “Rest & Relaxation”.  We ALL need those things from time to time, especially nowadays, in this world where we are constantly overloaded with noise, lights, motion and nonstop stimulation.  It is easy to become burnt-out, frazzled and fried, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.  Rest and relaxation sound wonderful, but they can be difficult to achieve.

For me, this is where the third “R” comes in…RETREAT.  In order to achieve rest and relaxation, sometimes we need to RETREAT from our normal surroundings, even if it is only for a few days, or hours.  Even 15 or 20 minutes to change our scenery during a hectic, stressful day can be a lifesaver.

I’ve always been a big believer in the benefits of aromatherapy and how pleasant scents can make us feel better.  The right fragrance can calm or energize us, improving our moods and bringing us back to center.  Candles, potpourri, incense and the comforting aromas of favorite foods cooking can all provide a sense of retreat from the stress of the world outside, facilitating the ability to rest and relax.

Recently I have been lighting candles again, a small indulgence I have always enjoyed but in recent years have neglected.  The mesmerizing glow of a candle’s flame, and the peaceful scent that lingers even after the candle is extinguished, change my environment…and thus, change me.  I can focus my eyes, my breathing, and my heart and mind, on that flame and that fragrance.  I can retreat to a place that relaxes me.  And I can rest.  And after that, I can go back out into my world and do what needs doing.  I can be who and what I need to be, both for myself and for the people around me.

It’s a small thing, really…but it is also huge.  Especially in a world that depletes, attacks and bombards us with so much sadness, noise and frenetic activity, we need to find ways to rest, relax..and retreat.

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“Rest and self-care are so important.  When you take time to replenish your spirit, it allows you to serve others from the overflow.  You cannot serve from an empty vessel.”—Eleanor Brown

 

Time To Go Home

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Timing is all…

Wednesday, August 30, 2017, was an intense day.  My emotions ran the gamut from profound sadness to overwhelming love to incredible joy, over the course of both hours and moments.  I’m actually still trying to process it all, and in doing so, I’ve spent a bit more time lately just keeping to myself and being still.

It was the beginning of my work week as Wednesdays always are, but with a distinct change in the middle of the day when I took a 3-hour lunch to go and sing for a funeral at Messiah Lutheran Church, where I sang and served from 2013-2016.  The associate pastor’s mother had died, and I adore both pastor and mom.  Being asked to offer music for this occasion both honored and humbled me, as I would have attended the service even had I not been singing.

Even the most seasoned of musicians sometimes feel nervous, especially when called upon to provide music for funerals and memorials.  It is only natural.  And nerves visited me as well.  My friend and #firsteverworkhusband Martin, knew how much I love this family, and how important the service was to me.  We exchanged messages first thing in the morning and throughout the day.  I had gathered a little token of love for Pastor Pauline to take with me and give her prior to the service, along with a big hug.  A reminder that she has not lost her marbles.

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As I had predicted, my singing was not easy or perfect, but it was, as I told Mother Farrington’s grandchildren afterward, with my speaking voice breaking,  “…a way for me to love your family…”  Reuniting with my former “choir boss”,  Joan, to make music for this service comforted me, and being back among this church family warmed my heart and made me feel loved.  As I have come to understand, musicians and people of faith are all part of the same family;  we never really say goodbye and we always recognize and welcome one another back.

I left the fellowship hall and I walked to my car with tears of sadness, gratitude and love…and I thought the intense part of my day had passed.  Knowing that Martin had held space for me meant the world to me, especially with everything he has endured this year…a transitional period in his relationship, his health, undergoing medical procedures, and his living situation, including being without a home for months and staying with friends/family, and in shelters ranging from tolerable to hellish.  His, and my, fondest wish, had been for him to find a place to live, and that process seemed to be taking longer than forever to happen.  Until this intense day.  Almost the minute I returned to work, Martin ping’ed me with a message.

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Anyone who knows me or reads this blog knows that feathers are for me a symbol, a powerful reminder that God is there, looking out for me and my loved ones, sending comfort when I need it in a language I can understand.  When this teeny feather floated down after the funeral and landed on the program, I assumed it was just for my benefit…turned out to be a harbinger of Martin’s wonderful news as well.  That his housing came through at the same time I sang and we were commending Mother Farrington to her home in Heaven…seemed, and still seems, especially poignant, and fitting.  For her, and for Martin, it was time to go Home.

Home.

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Duets

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Longtime friendship, faith and music…

As an incoming college freshman in the fall of 1982, I was meeting tons of new people and enjoying the process of finding my place in what was essentially a new world.  I realized quickly that some of these new people would be acquaintances with whom I’d share the occasional class, some would become close friends throughout the 4 years of school…and some would remain in my life for the rest of my life.  Then there were the few who came into my life, vanished from it and reappeared years later.

Marc was one of that last category of people.  We met as freshmen at Carson-Newman College (now University) and, as we were both music majors, we had a number of classes together.  I liked this fellow right away. His boyish good looks, beautiful tenor voice, easy smile and sweet spirit drew me to him immediately and we became fast friends.  Spring semester found us both singing in A Cappella Choir and sharing long hours on the bus together as we toured during spring break.

He decided the following year to change schools, and we lost touch after that.  I often joke that he “abandoned” me, (which always gets an eye-roll and a quick retort!) but I realized he was following God’s path for him, just as I followed mine by remaining where I was.  I thought of him so often in the years that followed…but I never followed through on trying to find him.

Flash forward to 2011, the beginning of the season for Knoxville Choral Society.  I was talking with my friend Tina and heard the name “Marc” and asked what Marc and where?  She pointed in his direction, I turned, and he and I both looked in shock at one another, recognizing long-lost faces and voices and yelling, “YOU!”  And pointing at each other like we were school children.  Hugs and laughs and stories followed…and the reconnection was forged.

He started singing at Messiah Lutheran the year before I did, and after I joined him there, we were blessed to sing in the choirs together, and to join our voices on many duets.  Our voices blend in a way that I can only describe as magical…and together, we have been able to create and enjoy some truly memorable moments.  When we sing and things are working right, the joy I feel is almost overwhelming.  He left Messiah and went to Ebenezer United Methodist, where I ended up accepting a call a couple of years later (I fear he will tire of me “following” him from church to church!)  And there, too, we have shared duets and delights, and I hope those continue for a long time to come.

Musicians are people first, and as such, we bring our issues with us every time we sing.  Sometimes those things keep us from achieving our musical and spiritual best. And sometimes, for lack of a  better description, we are blessed to be able to “sing them out”, experiencing catharsis, cleansing and healing.  Those moments, I believe, are little glimpses of Heaven on Earth…and I am so grateful to be able to share them with Marc in a way that only the two of us can fully comprehend.

Today, on Marc’s birthday, I share this thumbnail sketch of him, our friendship,  and our partnership in music and in faith.  And I share some pictures from the last few years, a little sad that there are none of us together from our college days. But I am so grateful for the renewed connection with him, my partner in crime…and in duets.

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Funny Face

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Mama always said it might freeze like that…

Digital photography is a marvelous thing.  It allows us to see immediately a captured image, edit/correct it on the fly, and even delete it if editing cannot save it and make it presentable.  What we used to have to wait for, sometimes for weeks, we can now see and share with lightning speed.

It has started me thinking about my face, and the faces of other people in my life. I’ve seen some pictures of myself in the last few years that range from OK to hilarious to horrifying.  When I was little and I made silly facial expressions, I remember Mama telling me,  “You better be careful or your face might freeze like that!”  The advent of digital photography has allowed the face-freezing-like-that phenomenon to happen, and it allows us to see the aftermath instantaneously!  Below are some examples:

In the spirit of full disclosure, I will state that I posed for two of these, while the other two were captured without my knowledge.  I kept them all because they made me laugh even though they aren’t necessarily flattering.  Funny isn’t always “pretty”, and in my own case and face, I value the funny at least as much.

My friend (and first ever work husband) Martin once said that laughter is the most intimate of emotions.  I agreed with him.  Genuine, unself-conscious laughter, the kind where I throw my head back and clap my hands, or I laugh so hard I lose my breath, or laugh till I cry or pee my pants, or both…moments with laughter like that are about as intimate as it gets.  Unguarded, open and real.  And if I can evoke that kind of laughter in another human being, it feels like the most lovely of accomplishments.

So if my face freezes in a less-than-flattering moment, it’s just for a moment…and if that moment makes me or someone in my presence laugh, then it’s worth it.  Because if I am being honest, laughter IS beautiful.  Intimate, genuine and beautiful.

 

Hats

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The ones we wear, and the ones that wear us…

Every year shortly before Christmas, my chorus, The Knoxville Choral Society, collaborates with The Knoxville Symphony Orchestra for The Clayton Holiday Concerts, a Christmas tradition in our area for some 30 years and counting.  Concert week is hectic, with late night rehearsals and, for those of us with day jobs, work as usual and 4 shows over 3 days that weekend.  It’s a grueling, exhilarating and fun time of camaraderie for all of us.

Backstage at the venue a few years ago I took the time to pay closer attention to my surroundings than I had in the past.  Among the many quirky artifacts I noticed were numerous hats hung up on a wall.  I assume many of them are costume pieces from theatrical productions held there over the years, although some may be actual hats from firemen, soldiers, ball players and other professionals who wanted to leave their mark backstage.

Hats were invented to provide warmth, shelter and protection from the elements.  Over time they became fashion statements as well as parts of the unform for various professions.  Designs also vary from place to place and culture to culture, both for professional and decorative headwear.

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In the Stone Age when I was setting up my social media profile, I gave a thumbnail sketch of my life and the roles I play…the hats I wear.

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No one among us is just one thing, after all.  We all wear many different hats, filling roles as life circumstances call us to do.  Switching from one hat to the next sometimes feels frantic, as we shift among our various roles and responsibilities.  We juggle so many activities and demands from day to day, sometimes from hour to hour.  Some of the hats we wear weigh heavily on our heads, our hearts, as we face hard choices, regarding our health or the health of a loved one.  Sometimes a hat may feel too tight, if we are in a job or a relationship that doesn’t fit us.  Sometimes the hat just doesn’t flatter us or bring out the most attractive qualities in us.  Sometimes it even feels as though, rather than us wearing the hat, the hat wears us.  You get the idea.

We hope to craft for ourselves a life that works, with hats that fit, flatter and feel good.  I hope the hats you wear today sit lightly and comfortably upon you, bringing out your best and giving you warmth, protection and shelter from life’s storms.  (And it doesn’t hurt if they’re cute, too!)

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