LeAnn Rimes’ soaring alto grabbed me at the sink as I cleaned a skillet of salmon leftovers. I was minding my own business and boom! the song shook me right up.
It’s important to know I’m not generally a country music aficionado though I admire its production value and talents. I’m not a very sentimental person, just occasionally nostalgic. I go for Debussy and Berlioz, Miles Davis and Diane Reeves and Bill Evans among many more. But sometimes I need country’s brand of liveliness, its overriding warmth. Even its simplistic and frank commentaries. So as I tackled kitchen clean up from last night’s late dinner, I thought LeAnn might do the trick. The song playing had a great chorus that insisted everyone has their highs and lows, love can stand strong despite life going right or wrong. What I heard was less regarding romantic love, more about life’s highs and lows.
And I thought: that about sums it up. And started crying.
I was elbow-deep in suds as tears slid down my cheeks and mingled with soapy sweet potato bits and salmon flakes. I wondered what on earth was going on but let them quietly fall. I’ve gotten good rest, plans are in order for my daughter’s upcoming wedding, and summer hasn’t yet been utterly vanquished.
Yet, something was up. I am not an easy weeper. Country doesn’t figure strongly in my musical repertoire because I have had enough of broken hearts, longings for more love, sizzling nights and crazy-fast cars, lalalala baby. It was once dizzying and fabulous and nuts but from this perspective, a bit overrated. Well, I mostly have had enough. I admit a lapse into old daydreams from time to time when I have nothing else to do or think about. Or a vivid memory catches me off guard.
But this morning something else happened. Music found me and whispered secrets, awakened dormant feelings. I began to recall cherished friends who have come and gone (or I had to leave due to circumstances), love held close then torn apart, life’s hopes and disillusionments. It seemed the spot where loneliness lives was unlatched, then let out to roam. It dogged me from pan to plate to gleaming countertop. The harder I scrubbed the more tears fell. I need to get a grip, I thought, right now. And I could use a bigger support system–how’s that epiphany for a retired counselor?
I looked around for more to do. I’m an action person, and like to think on the fly, multi-task. Feelings are appreciated, too–as long as I also get things done.
But the sadness intensified. My parents and long-gone friends hovered about like visitors. Faces from twenty-five years ago came forward, those I had counted on and cared for, reluctantly said good-bye to. My mother, having left earth thirteen years ago, may as well have entered the room. Of course she knew I needed her. I nearly felt her hand on my shoulder; her easy laughter came to me like a freshening of breeze. I imagined what she would say to me right then:
“Well, some things are out of our control. But the rest you can work with and have a good time doing it, too.”
I had to sit down.
I guessed it all made sense. A wedding for my youngest, A. is soon–but my mother is no longer here to ask for advice, to celebrate or commiserate with. She would have had a word to offer on everything, like it or not. Soft hugs and prayers that targeted bothersome specifics; mom was affectionate but never wimpy. Somehow she could corral unruly life, place it into a manageable perspective. And I know she shed plenty of her own tears.
I thought of the necklace, earrings and bracelet A. will wear with her vintage bridal gown. I sniffled a bit more. They once belonged to my mother, given to another daughter, who is sharing them with her sister.
The wedding preparations have required a concentration of multiple energies. I’ve gathered up scattered information and tried to execute ideas with a level of skill I’ve at times felt was lacking. There have been few to assist me due to others’ life obligations (a twenty-two year old granddaughter helped a couple of times, thankfully, and daughters have chimed in a bit). I’ve relied on my own problem-solving and hoped for the best: May it please not rain on the forest ceremony! Let the food be savory and hot! May the music be lively and the sound system good enough for what we can afford!
And all the time I have been thinking of A. and how her life has been in a fantastic upheaval, with a move to another state, a brand new career and her best friend/fiance who is looking for his own job. Wedding yet to happen, but soon, so soon.
There is this business of the family morphing… again. I have been through it a few times. This idea of losing a daughter, gaining a son… We have known D. many years and care for him, root for him, too. I know how to welcome folks into my home as well as adapt and this was no new person. No, it was all this shifting gears, making things happen, accepting all outcomes. Today varied impressions manifested as a tender sorrow, a pressure within that left no bruise yet radiated pain. And beneath that, a swift, deep river of feelings. To cross over to the other bank where a more productive day awaited meant fully acknowledging them.
So LeAnn was singing away and I was at the oak table weeping and praying: This is how messy it is to be human. I hate it sometimes. How inconvenient to feel so sad when I have things to do and much to celebrate. So help me, Lord, because this life’s drama and comedy will go right on until it does not. Help me, Jesus, to be strong in the compassion you have shown me. Give my soul safe harbor when things get out of hand out there. Show me how to be of use, how to exemplify your Love. Lord, let these tears cleanse any sore spots I have neglected to ask You to heal. And never let me forget the blessings I receive every single day…And please, I need a better sense of humor! (An Aussie puppy might help…but later when I can catch my breath…)
I thought of my two best friends, both struggling with illness, who may not be able to attend the wedding. I thought of my sisters, one close and one far away, both of whom are dear to me. They also have health issues and demanding lives. One brother is nearby but I rarely see him and one lives across the country but will come and also photograph the events. We’re getting older and time and place separate us more than I would like.
But sometimes what I think I need doesn’t seem to be what I get. Today it was the comfort of someone who knows me well and to whom I could say: “Change in my life is hard, I admit it. And it can make me feel discombobulated and lonely for what used to be. Even though that wasn’t a sure thing, either. Even though I’m curious about what awaits around a next corner.”
After a few minutes I’d had enough of crying. I washed my face and put on more lively music–a little Ry Cooder and his Cuban pals–and got ready for the gym. When blurry or low on spiritual and emotional power, getting active is a way I can circumvent a descent into lethargy or self-pity. I brushed my flyaway, greying hair and put on tennis shoes, already feeling some brighter.
And then A. texted me.
“I’m feeling overwhelming sadness and I don’t know why! Will you say a prayer for me so I act like a normal person at my new job for the rest of the day?”
Just like that, God stepped in closer to do some work.
I texted back. “Me, too…maybe that’s why I shed some tears today. Well, I have my own stuff. It’s all these changes, a roller coaster of ups and downs. When you move out of the temporary place and make your own new home you’ll feel better, I promise. It takes time to fit the pieces together after a big, sudden move like you’ve had. And the wedding on top of it all! I’m proud of you for just coping with it, carrying on.”
We chatted awhile. The topic changed a bit. But I texted prayers and held her close at heart. She went back to work with love sent my way. A. is such a good egg. And she will work work like mad to do a great job. Her new job is a marketing and community outreach position at a performing arts center. It is work she was meant to do and she feels fortunate. But her needs extend beyond work and this transition has been trying.
Sometimes–though I’ve worked in human services most of my adult life and have loved the work–I don’t know what I need. I believe I’m competent overall and have faith in my daily decisions. But what requires most attention can be a blind spot until something jars the truth out of me. It could be music that excavates a clue, writing a poem that sheds light or the natural world enlargening my vision. I start each day with a meditative reading and prayer, yet still I might need more sharpening of focus. But generally what matters to me is a steadfast faith in God, helping others including family, the courage of kindness, the phenomenal resilience of love, and the fulfillment and freedom of creative work.
And as I finish this, it finally hits me: LeAnn Rimes is to be a performer this season where A. works. I’m surprised, but it all comes together. Her song must have been waiting to reach and teach me today, along with my daughter. Such clever timing, when my soul needed a dollop of sweet on top of sour. Didn’t I, in fact, get what was most needed? A pause that allowed some tears, a sharing of love, a refreshed outlook. Now I can better set aside useless longings, make more room for the present and future. More living will certainly occur; stasis is useful but not permanent. There’s no holding back change once events are in action. Life has its own velocity, clears it own paths. We just have to decide how many directives we want to issue and how much work we’re willing to do. When we want to jump in and step back. Sometimes it means letting the aches of living rise up, burble and shimmer, transform our vision and help set us free. To be truly human and glad of it.
Thanks, LeAnn. Thanks, A.