Category Archives: music and inspiration

Pilgrimage

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Soulful sounds, hallowed grounds and Guardian Angels…

My last couple of posts here have documented some of the high points of my post-work-road-trip-adventure, which I named #OperationTakeAMinute.  Having never embarked upon a trip like this before, and likely never having the chance to do it again, I set out to keep thorough records of the people and places I visited, the music I chose to listen to on the road (as well as the times when I chose to listen to the sounds of the road itself), the memorable meals I enjoyed and all the other little—and not so little—details of my time on the road.  I was very intentional in the planning, knowing that I needed restoration of heart, mind and spirit.

I am firmly entrenched in middle age, and as a middle-aged woman, some of the music I chose on the road was in my phone…and some was on CDs, in the actual old-school CD binder that I STILL carry with me in the car.  Old habits die hard, what can I say?  Don’t judge me.

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In addition to listening to soulful sounds to empower me, I knew that I needed time with my Guardian Angels, namely my Aunt Helen and my cousin Debbie.  These women have, for as long as I can remember, been in my corner with unconditional love, support and encouragement, believing in my when I have not believed in myself.  These are both ladies from Mama’s side of my family, and the Williams is strong in them both.  They are both eternally young, beautiful, with sparkling personalities and enormous hearts.  In my entire life I can honestly say that I have never felt judged in their presence.  This is beyond priceless.

After visits with Aunt Helen and Debbie, I took the opportunity to see something new to me, in a town I had never visited.  The side trip to visit Ave Maria Grotto in Cullman, Alabama, was a revelation.  I hope to return in different seasons and times of day, to see and photograph the marvels there in varying degrees of light, shadow and color.  The stillness there, punctuated only by birdsong and breeze, quieted my soul and set the tone for the next step of my pilgrimage.

I knew that I also wanted to visit the church that Jeff and I attended when we lived in DeFuniak Springs, Florida, when we lived down there between 1987 and 1990.  First United Methodist, DeFuniak Springs, provided us with a safe, loving and accepting church family, welcoming us into their choir and asking (and TRUSTING!) us to teach senior high youth in Sunday School.  As many times as we both sang in that beautiful sanctuary, I never thought to photograph the space.  I intended to rectify that on this trip, and I did.  My friend Vicki’s mom Marsha, still lives there and faithfully attends the church, so Vicki told her I was going to be there and to look for me.  She rolled out the welcome wagon, re-introducing me to a number of the folks I remembered from there who are still among the faithful members of the church, including Nancy, who now directs the choir.  And it was a delight to learn that our friends, “Miz Mary” and “Mr. Buddy” Pinckard, are still there.  Miz Mary is to this day one of the best piano accompanists I ever had the pleasure to work with, a consummate musician and a genteel Southern lady in the finest tradition.  We exchanged letters for years after Jeff and I moved back to Tennessee, but a few years ago I lost touch.  I hugged her close and sat next to her in worship, tears trickling down my cheeks in gratitude and joy.  During the service, she jotted down a note on her bulletin and handed it to me—her email address!  This lady must be near 90 years of age, and now, we pen-pal online.  Everyone asked about Jeff, and made me promise that, next time we are in the area, we will BOTH attend services.  It will be a happy promise to keep.

Next stop (after a brief detour to The Donut Hole Bakery and Cafe, home of The Best Key Lime Pie On The Planet and another piece of hallowed ground!) was a nice long visit with #FirstEverWorkHusband, Martin, and his little dog, Boris.  Martin is, like me, an artist (he’s an actor/director to my musician/writer) and he possesses a unique understanding of the crazy places in my soul that I tend not to share with most people.  We cooked and ate, laughed and cried, and rested.  Despite Martin’s health issues, dialysis and diabetes and all that comes with those conditions, it still feels like he’s the one who props me up more often than not.

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From Martin’s in Orlando, I traveled north to St. Simons Island, Georgia, to visit some other hallowed spots.  I arrived on Friday afternoon in heavy rain, ordered supper, did laundry and relaxed for the night.  Saturday morning began with a visit to GJ Ford Bookshop, an independent local bookseller (and bookworm destination) when we are there on vacation.  From there I trekked the short distance to Christ Church, an historic landmark that I’ve always wanted to see inside but never made it during open hours, until this trip!  A wedding was scheduled there for later in the day so I was able to catch a couple of sneak photos of the happy couple as well.  The sanctuary is small but glorious, with exquisite stained-glass windows and a gorgeous organ.  The docent gave a brief but detailed presentation about the church’s history, adding to my awe of standing in that holy space.  I hope to attend services there at some point when we make our way back to the island.  Before heading to the pier/village/shops/beach, I grabbed a snack at Palm Coast Coffee, a place we discovered on our first trip to the island. It is now a “must-stop” part of any trip there as well.  My day on St. Simons Island was packed with “doing the things”, and left me feeling grateful and grounded.

From two nights by myself on St. Simons Island, my next leg of travel was to Candler, NC, and a little cabin there that backs up to a creek, for a couple more nights of pure solitude.  I planned this time purposefully, the quiet serving as a buffer between the trip and my arrival back in Knoxville, to my sweet husband and dog, the job hunt and the realities of everyday living.  While in the cabin,  I listened to the rushing water, enjoyed soaking in the hot tub, rested, wrote in my trip journal and prepared to go Home…perhaps the most hallowed spot of all.

 

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Preparation, Packing Up Patsy, And A Pause

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Fixin’ to get started…

In my last post here I began to describe my post-work road trip adventure which I named #OperationTakeAMinute.  Getting to the nuts and bolts of actually leaving took a little more time and preparation than I had originally planned, but trips often start with a hitch or two.  So mostly I was able to roll with the unforeseen events as they unfolded.

My first task was to empty Patsy, my car, completely.  I had carried so much stuff back and forth to work for so long that it was imperative that I remove everything and start with a clean slate for packing.  So I took an afternoon and a couple of storage bins, and set about loading the bins and hauling them into the house.  After this I washed and vacuumed Patsy and got her looking and feeling pretty spiffy.  No longer could she be described as The HoarderMobile…at least, for now!

Usually when we take trips, we drive my husband Jeff’s car, which is always less cluttered than my own.  As a result, packing up the car is usually an easy and well-organized task.  My trip, by myself, in my car, was a bit different.  First of all, I needed to get Patsy serviced, including addressing a safety recall on her front passenger airbag.  No big deal, I reasoned, and it was important for her to be safe and road ready.  The dealership that had to replace the airbag, however, neglected to inform me that this would be at least a twenty-four hour turnaround, which meant not only a delay in packing, but that I would also have to drive a LOANER.  For the record, it makes me twitchy and anxious to drive any car other than my own, including my sweet husband’s.  I am sure it’s a control issue on my part.  Deep breaths…still plenty of time to pack.

A pause in the process happened the night before I was to hit the road, and a somber reminder of how short life is, and how important the people are who make up our circles.  The Sunday before road trip time, I received a call from a college friend and classmate named Kim, asking if I could sing for her husband’s memorial service on Thursday evening.  Her husband, Dave, was also a friend and classmate from school, and to learn of his passing was a shock for all of us.  Kim asked another of our schoolmates, Keith, to preach the service, which turned into a mini-reunion, bringing smiles, hugs, tears, memories and gratitude for Dave’s life, talent and legacy.  At the conclusion of the service I drove home knowing that packing up the car was not a priority for the rest of the night.  I would load up in the morning.  And I did, and that was fine.

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Friday morning came and I was literally throwing stuff into my suitcase (and overnight bag and plastic bags from Walgreens) and into the car.  This is NOT how I typically prepare for a trip!  But I felt reasonably sure I had everything I needed, even if I was not precisely sure where it all was.  I had time to reorganize while I was on the road and if I truly needed something I didn’t pack, I could buy it.  So after a quick visit with my cousins Alan and Susan, their daughter Katelyn, and HER brand new daughter Breann, I was ready to hit the road for real.  #OperationTakeAMinute was off and running on Friday, February 8, 2019…and so was I.

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A Place For Me

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Faith formation, hospitality and being included

Last weekend I was blessed to participate in a once-in-a-lifetime event.  Through a series of music and church connections, I “wrangled” an invitation to sing in the Diocesan choir for the Dedication Mass of the Cathedral of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus in Knoxville, Tennessee.  Ground was broken for this space 3 years ago, the Cathedral for the Diocese of Knoxville, a diocese which was established in May, 1988 by Pope John Paul II.

I am not Roman Catholic, but I think I understand the momentous nature of an occasion like this, which makes me doubly grateful for the privilege of participating.  Glenn, the director of the music, not only allowed me to sing, but welcomed me.  His welcome took me back to my childhood when I was so often welcomed by other people of the Catholic faith.

About halfway down Ford Street lived Beth Sedgwick and her daughter, Mary Lim.  These sweet ladies were devout Catholics, wonderful neighbors who welcomed me in to visit whenever I popped by after school, or earlier in the day if it was summertime, always unannounced.  Usually with a dog in tow, I’d knock on their massive front door, and Mary Lim, long ago paralyzed in a car crash, would usually roll to the door in her wheelchair and let us in, laughing as the dog jumped up to give her kisses.  I began visiting them with my brother Reed at first, then later on after he got busy and I got a little bigger, I would go and visit them on my own…except when a dog accompanied me, of course.

They would usually be sitting at their dining room table, with the newspaper, needlework, decks of cards and crossword puzzles, and there was always a place open for me.  These women taught me about praying the rosary when I asked what “those pretty beads” were, although I have long since forgotten how to do it.  There was lovely religious artwork throughout their home, and anytime I asked about a picture or a crucifix, they patiently explained its meaning to me, knowing that I and my parents were Christian, but not Roman Catholic, and there were elements in their artwork that I didn’t understand.  Mostly, though, they taught me about their faith—-and about my own—- simply by welcoming me in.

Flash forward nearly 4 decades, after our little neighborhood was replaced by the South Knoxville bridge, the Sedgwicks had long since passed away and much life had happened for the rest of us.  I found myself surrounded by the glorious space of this new Cathedral, many unfamiliar faces, and a small group of friends from both Knoxville Choral Society and Ebenezer United Methodist Church who helped make it possible for me to witness this dedication and participate in it.  Enveloped by music, warmth and the fragrance of incense, I felt Mrs. Sedgwick and Mary Lim with me, swelling with the solemn joy they would have felt to see this new space dedicated and the Diocese united in both humility and celebration.

I am not Roman Catholic…but because I sing, there was, once again, a place for me.

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Do Not Assume

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Things are not always what they seem…

Do not assume that you know the whole story; the truth has many sides.

Do not assume that a smiling person is a happy one; smiles often hide deep pain.

Do not assume that a wealthy person is truly rich;  abundant money does not equal abundant peace, nor does a thin bank account equal poverty of spirit.

Do not assume that a person who is “disabled” is broken; many disabled people are more whole than those of us whose bodies are intact, while many physically healthy people are sick inside.

Do not assume that the life of a gifted person is easy; often the most gifted people are also the most tortured.

Do not assume that because a person believes in God, he has everything figured out, or she knows all the answers; most believers also question.

Do not assume that my tender heart makes me a weak woman, and that, because I am a soft touch, I am also an easy mark;  my power lies in my ability to feel everything deeply.

And do not assume that smiling eyes don’t cry.

 

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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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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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