Tag Archives: suffering

Present Tense

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Do it.  Do it NOW…

I hate to be late. HATE it!  So, I always wear a watch.  Sometimes I wear more than one watch at a time, as both a fashion statement and a reminder to be where I need to be, when I need to be there.

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If there is one lesson God keeps trying to teach me, it is that time is precious.  Life can change in an instant. Opportunities are presented—or lost—in the blink of an eye.

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Throughout my life as well as in recent months, my world has been altered by deaths of people I love.  Not “loved”.  LOVE.  Present tense.  I cannot bring myself to say that I “lovED” a person who is no longer living.  Just because someone died doesn’t mean that the love stops.  I don’t even believe that the relationship between us stops; it changes by necessity, but I don’t believe that it ends.

It’s as though the person I love has changed addresses, relocating to a place where I am temporarily unable to see or touch him or her.  I have, however, been known to speak to my departed loved ones (not in a way that will result in my being hauled off to the asylum!) and they often visit me in dreams.  The relationships and the love go on.  We are just temporarily separated.

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Still, I tend to take my relationships for granted.  I think most people do…until we get a stark reminder that nothing lasts forever.  For example, several years ago a friend and co-worker was killed in a wreck.  Gone in a split second.  Suicide, both attempted and and completed, has touched my life, more than once.  Fast passings from aggressive cancer, slow goodbyes from Alzheimer’s disease and COPD, sudden massive strokes and heart attacks have all taken loved ones from me and my family.

It doesn’t matter whether a person leads a charmed life of wealth and success, or a humble existence of  living paycheck-to-paycheck.  It is immaterial whether one is educated or not, privileged or not, a have-or-have-not.  Suffering and death are the greatest equalizers, and if we live long enough, we’re all going to get some of both.

Whatever needs doing in my life, I need to do it.  Do it now.  Speak the truth.  Write the letter.  Make the phone call or send the e-mail.  I need to hug and kiss, laugh and cry, and go about the living of my big, loud, messy life.

Do it.  Do it NOW.

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Pie Jesu…Blessed Jesus

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Faure’, John Rutter, Mama, Doc and me…

I can hardly believe that it’s been almost 30 years since British composer John Rutter was on campus at Carson-Newman for a choral workshop to introduce his English-language edition of Gabriel Faure’s Requiem.  I was a junior, my junior voice recital was that same week, and I had the distinct honor of singing the soprano solo for the performance of the Requiem, under Rutter’s baton.

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I was in such a twitch in the weeks prior to the workshop and my recital, I don’t think I fully grasped the magnitude of the event at the time.  One of my professors told me later that she couldn’t believe I got through that week still standing.  Looking back, I realize it was by the grace of God and lots of caffeine!

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(Me singing the soprano solo in the Requiem, John Rutter conducting, February, 1985.)

That week was not my first experience with the Faure’ Requiem.  I had performed it in high school with Knoxville’s All-City High School Chorus.  The soloists were adults Dr. Gerald Ballard, the director, had brought in for the concert.  Dr. Ballard had been my Mama’s high school chorus teacher at the old South High School some 25 years earlier, so I knew him at first only through Mama’s recollections of him.  I later borrowed his Requiem score so I could have the Pie Jesu for scholarship auditions.  I misplaced it and then forgot about it until it surfaced some years later. I value it as a prized possession now, and pray that my inadvertent theft can be forgiven.

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The workshop/performance at Carson-Newman was a highlight of my musical life.  Singing a solo with John Rutter conducting was a once-in-a-lifetime experience that I will always remember.  “Doc” Eric Thorson had just the year before taken the reins of A Cappella Choir at school, and it was his responsibility to prepare us for Rutter’s arrival.  He told us that Rutter, being an Englishman, might be a more reserved conductor than we were used to, and to pay close attention to what could be very subtle cues from him.  As it turned out, John Rutter was a whirling dervish of a conductor, with flailing arms and an outgoing manner.

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(Rehearsal with John Rutter–I am the shortest one on the front row.  Some things never change.)

Flash forward to February, 1998, when once again I had the privilege of singing the soprano solo in the Faure’ Requiem, this time under Doc’s direction with Knoxville Choral Society.  My sweet-and-spicy Mama had died just a couple of months before, and looking back, I don’t remember what I was thinking auditioning for the solo that time except that I might not be in any shape to sing it.  Little did I know the gift God was about to give me.

Almost 13 years exactly from the time I sang it at school, I sang it once more.  The music itself was the same…but my understanding and experience of it were completely different.  Still very much in grief throes from Mama’s death, the text of the whole mass spoke to me afresh, particularly the words of the soprano solo movement, Pie Jesu.

“Pie Jesu, Domine,

dona eis requiem,

dona Domine, dona eis requiem,

sempiternam requiem.”

Blessed Jesus, Lord God,

grant them rest.

Grant them, Lord God, rest,

eternal rest.

At the end of Mama’s illness, she had suffered so much and was so tired. I told her that if she was ready and needed to go on, it was OK.  In my family experience and work with hospice, I’ve learned that it is important to give the patient permission to go; it can give them peace at the end of life.  My spiritual life during the end of Mama’s sickness was a bleak period when prayers didn’t happen so much as just anguished groans of my heart.  Had I been able to actually pray, it would have been for her suffering to end, for peace…for rest.

She died, and her rest finally came.  Standing on that stage at The Tennessee Theatre singing Pie Jesu once again, Faure’s music spoke peace to me as I took another step in my grief journey.  This is the power of Music…the power to heal, comfort, and transform our pain into something of beauty.

Giving It Up For Lent

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When I give something up, I gain something else…

I spent the afternoon yesterday visiting with Aunt Helen and her kids, my cousins Lisa and Mike.  It was a much-needed visit with family I don’t get to see nearly often enough.  For years we have run into each other most frequently at the funeral home, and that is a situation I think we all would like to change.  After some recent events in each of our lives, we might be more likely to make time for visits like yesterday.

I remarked yesterday that I collected feathers but I had not found one in a while, and I was looking forward to springtime when the birds are more active and there might be more feathers to find.  In an interesting bit of timing and providence, today on the first day of Lent,  I found my first feather in months.  It’s not a pretty one.  It’s kind of dirty and pitiful, actually, enough to make me wonder what the little bird might have suffered in the process of dropping it.

But I didn’t think twice about picking it up and adding it to the others I have gathered over the last few years.  It’s pitiful, but I will give it a home.  As Lent commences, I think about how pitiful I am, but God has given me a home even in my pitiful state.  Many religious traditions encourage their adherents to give up various indulgences during Lent, or to take on some extra project to enhance one’s spiritual life.  A couple of times during Lent I have written letters to people telling them how much they mean to me.  It turned out to be a study in gratitude that blessed me more than it blessed the recipients.

Several years ago I decided to read the C.S. classic “Mere Christianity”.  It took time that I could have used tor other pursuits, but what I gained from reading it far outweighed the time I invested.  This year, in addition to eating more sensibly, I have decided it’s time for more C.S. Lewis during Lent, and the book I’ve chosen is “The Problem of Pain”.  I am certain that God led me to this particular book for a reason; after enduring Aunt Ruby’s death last summer and watching numerous friends lose their loved ones, especially parents, in the last several months, suffering has been very present in my world.

Jesus told us that in this world our lives would be filled with trouble.  He never promised is that we would not suffer.  What He did promise is that we would not suffer alone; He is with us in our pain.  As I give up pieces of my time to do extra reading during Lent, I am trusting that God has something for me to gain through that investment.  He always does.

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(the opening page before the preface to “The Problem of Pain” by C.S. Lewis, and the sad little feather I found today)