She Who Sings Prays Twice

Music and I have always been trapped in an abusive relationship. The thing is, I never know which of us is the abuser and which is the victim.

I used to say my singing prowess, or lack thereof, was God’s joke. I love to sing, but am not very good at it. In fact, it is fair to say that I am bad at it. The last time I can remember singing in public (before going Christmas caroling in the community last year) was when I was about seven. The choir director at church was putting together a children’s choir to entertain at the annual St. Joseph’s Day Table festivities. The presentation included making hand motions to accompany our rousing rendition of “Do, Re, Mi.” I wasn’t particularly good at the actual singing part, but I could wiggle my fingers on the sides of my head to make “doe, a deer” ears with great gusto.

A few years later, upon entering the fourth grade, I wanted to join the elementary school glee club. They wouldn’t take me. Let that sink in for a moment. I failed the audition for the public elementary school glee club. I mean, it wasn’t like I was trying out for American Idol or anything. All I wanted was to sing with the other, adequately voiced, 9-11-olds in the Jonas E. Salk Elementary School choir. How bad must I have been? And don’t you think that it was kind of cruel to reject such an enthusiastic child? The experience scarred me for life. I am always secretly wanting to sing, but I’m fearful that the sound of my voice will cause permanent trauma, or at least permanent hearing damage, to anyone who can hear me.

I’ve been tempted to join church choirs a few times in the past. St. Augustine is attributed with saying that “he who sings prays twice” and I think that is true. Singing adds another dimension to prayer for me. I don’t know whether it is because more of my body is engaged when I am singing rather than when I am simply speaking. I do know that my mind and heart and soul are usually more engaged. I seem to focus more on the experience of praying when I sing.

I enjoy singing at church. After years of repetition, I was familiar enough with most of the regular hymns I heard in the Catholic church to follow the melody without drawing pained looks from my neighbors. Sometimes, I’ll visit my current church on a weekday. There is a sign on the door that says, “Come in, rest, and pray.” That’s exactly what I do. I pray and, alone where I cannot endanger anyone’s ears, I sing. God never seems to mind.

In keeping with my resolve to try things I always wanted to do, I finally decided to try singing with the choir at my new church. During the choir’s “off season” in the summer, an informal group of folks would meet with the choir director right before the service to learn a song to sing during the liturgy. I enjoyed that. The problem, if there was one, was that everyone was too nice. I may not be able to sing very well, but I can hear and I know I was bad. I was fine as long as the melody was familiar and I could follow along with the tune. When it came to harmonizing, I reverted to that fourth grader who couldn’t make the glee club. I could not follow either the soprano or alto part consistently. I tended to wander all over the staff, hitting whichever notes my voice tripped over. I didn’t sing melody. I didn’t sing harmony. I sung cacophony. Still, the choir members were all way too nice to allow my lack of singing talent get in the way of my joining the choir. They were so warm and welcoming and encouraging, I decided to give it a try.

I loved the people in the choir and I loved the culture of the choir. It did feel very prayerful. I am sure we were “praying twice.” On the other hand, I was still not good. After a few practices, I was slightly better, but still bad. Basically, I advanced from very bad to just bad. Every time I mentioned it, the choir director and other members told me I was getting better and I was doing fine and I was loved and wanted. It made it kind of hard to disentangle myself from the choir. There is a lot of incentive in acceptance.

On the other hand, I realized that I would not be able to attend Sunday school if I continued with the choir. Our rector leads a Sunday school session between the two services every week and I’ve been attending fairly regularly. I get a lot out of that class and I think I contribute something to it, as well. I feel like God is calling me more to participate in the Sunday school class rather than the choir, so I am going to part ways with the choir for now.

In reality, the gifts God gave me are truly more suited to participating in Sunday school discussions. I’ve always loved discussing spiritual ideas. I think I can use the perspectives we explore in the class to help me with my blog posts and with church programs I might present. I read once that the best ministry is that activity where the thing that brings a person joy intersects with the needs of the people of God. I enjoy the singing, but I don’t think it brings me the kind of joy that drives the passion of ministry. As for intersecting with the needs of the people of God…. well, nobody needs to hear me sing!

One of the roles of a church choir is to lead the musical worship of the congregation. Leaders need followers. I can be a follower. Followers also pray twice!

One of the best things about retirement is having the time and energy to explore new activities.  What new pursuits did you embrace (or want to embrace) in retirement?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Have a pleasantly busy day!

Terri/Dorry 🙂

REMEMBER: You can order your copy of Changing My Mind: Reinventing Myself In Retirement by visiting: https://secure.mybookorders.com/orderpage/2076

Bopworthy

As I agonize over whether or not I should do the “character couture” experience at Disney World, my friends have been egging me on. As I mentioned in my prior post, “Bippity Bop or Not”, they are downright giddy over having a designated dufus to play dress-up at our happy place. They are looking forward to seeing a real-life pixie duster magically transform me into Tinker Bell before their very eyes. If I do it, I will provide them with all the entertainment of the experience without the strange looks from the passersby on Main Street, USA.

In an effort to push me over the top and persuade me to commit to the activity, a friend sent me a video published by an internationally-known sophisticated magazine that is named after a cocktail (I’m looking at you, Helen Gurley Brown.) The video described the “Bippity Boppity Boutique for adults” available at some Disney World resort salons. The video showed several “everyday” (if you live in The Valley Of The Dolls) twenty-somethings morphing into princesses at a highly improbable rate of speed.

I responded to my friend that it did look life fun, but asked if she noticed that none of the adult princesses-in-the-making appeared to need their gray roots touched up as part of the makeover. I knew I was getting perilously close to cresting the summit of my indecision and was about to succumb to the magic of the pixie dust. I told my friend that, to push myself over the top of the mountain of my angst, I needed reassurance that I haven’t completely lost touch with reality. Clearly, I don’t mind living in Fantasyland, but I like to at least keep one foot in the real world.

My friend responded by pointing out that one almost never sees a 3X-sized model. I agreed and also pointed out that the magazine in question is especially keen to showcase the beautiful people of the world. I pointed out that the Cocktail Magazine target audience probably thinks every woman self-destructs on her thirty-fifth birthday, if she has the bad manners to live that long. There are some exceptions, of course. Jennifer Aniston and Hallie Berry probably get a pass. Then there is Meryl Streep. She might be granted a 35-and-older dispensation. After all, everyone wants to be her…. granddaughter.

My friend is right that far too few businesses use people remotely resembling an average person to display their wares. Most models need the XS size altered to prevent the garment from slipping off their hipbones. I am always excited and impressed when I see a company, like television shopping channel QVC, use models of all shapes, sizes, and ages. It is an interesting turn of events to be able to visualize what an article of clothing might look like on MY body, not the body of a woman in dire need of a cheeseburger. It is also incredibly heartening to see these multi-dimensional models portrayed as beautiful, desirable, and successful. The shorter…older… plumper… whatever… models seem to be comfortable and happy. They don’t apologize for breathing air or occupying space. They don’t try to hide themselves, hoping nobody notices them. They engage boldly with the world. Their lives seem more than, not less than. They are excellent models.

My friend asserted that everyone is in Fantasyland in their heads and everyone wants to look like a model. She is probably right, but I hope we are beginning to create a culture where the word “model” has a broader (pun intended) connotation than it has traditionally held. The truth is, we are all beautiful. We become even more beautiful when we live in the world believing that we are all beautiful and worthy of creating something wonderful in our lives.

So, despite my age and despite my pudge and despite my short stature, I think I am Bopworthy. It doesn’t even have to be Fantasyland.

I just scheduled my date to be pixie dusted. I’ll let you know how I make out!

What attributes do you think a good “model” should have?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Have a model day!

Terri/Dorry 🙂

Good Grief

It has now been a year since my mother died. I’ve tried to be healthy in my mourning.  I’ve seen a bereavement counselor a few times.  I’ve tried to focus on the wonderful gift that my mother was. In general, I’ve done very well.  I’ve been sad, but functional.  I’ve been mournful, but also hopeful.  I feel that I honor and celebrate my mother every day by the way I live my life.  Still, there is a facet of my grief has been stubborn and uncooperative.  It holds on relentlessly.  On the other hand, the grief isn’t nearly as sharp or as devastating as I thought it would be.

During the months of my mother’s illness, part of my daily terror had to do with how I could possibly withstand the shattering blow that I would doubtlessly experience when she died.  I was so sad and in so much pain while she was still alive, I couldn’t see how I would be able to handle her death.  I read the hospice information about anticipatory grief.  I think I might have been the poster child for the condition.  The research said that many people traveling with a loved one during a long illness do experience the grief of loss long before the final ending.  They may experience the exact same grief cycle as most people do when a loved one actually dies.  I absolutely understood that and I knew I was experiencing it.  The bitch of the matter, though, is that experiencing anticipatory grief in no way guarantees that the mourner will be any less shattered when the death does occur. I dreaded and resented having to experience the rawness of grief in duplicate.

When it finally happened, I found that my grief, though profound and prominent, did not feel as raw and septic as I feared it would. I think there are many reasons for that.

At first, I thought the reason that my mom’s death did not devastate me more was because of the long road we traveled together during her illness.  I started grieving long before she left me alone in this world.  After her stroke, her decline was so treacherous and unforgiving, I lost her step by step and piece by piece. As her brain gradually crumbled in the last year of her life, my heart crumbled along with it.  By the time she died, my heart wasn’t shattered because there was nothing left of it to shatter.

It was also hard not to feel some relief that my mother was finally whole and healthy and happy again in God’s dwelling place.  The foundation of my life is a belief system that encourages me to rejoice that my mother is living more abundantly in Heaven and is waiting there for me to join her.  I do find some joy in that notion.  That belief does take some of the pain out of the grief now, but it still does not prevent me from missing my mom every day in this life.

I think I also came to understand, in my mother’s last days, that I wasn’t losing everything I thought I was losing.  A blog reader once left a comment that said, during the end of life, everything burns away except love.  This was absolutely my experience.  In my mother’s illness, there were many times when she would look past me or away from me as if I wasn’t there. There were also occasions, though, when she would look into my eyes with such intensity and meaning that I could feel her loving me to my very soul.  That love, maybe the biggest and best part of her, will never die.  She loved me with a love that I can never lose.

I am sure that all of these reasons played a part in my milder mourning experience.  There is something else, though.  I had a model for grieving.  My mother gave me that.

When my father died, everyone worried about my mother.  She was always an emotional person who loved extravagantly.  She felt with the people she loved.  She rejoiced easily and cried easily.  People sometimes took that heart on her sleeve as a mark of fragility.  Not so.  When my father died, she did everything she could to mourn in a healthy way.  She cherished her memories of my father. She continued doing activities they enjoyed together.  She helped herself and her children heal by loving us and letting us love her.   She joined an online support group for widows and widowers.  She kept working at a job she enjoyed with people who uplifted her.  She mourned him deeply and permanently. I don’t think there was a Thanksgiving after his death when my mother didn’t cry when we gave thanks for the people we loved who were no longer with us. Still, in the midst of that mourning, there was a renaissance.  My mother moved towards a life of her own crafting. She set her own priorities.  She pursued her own interests. She indulged her gift for happiness. She set out on a path of continual learning and grew in every way.  She reveled in her independence.   She turned her grief into something good.

In my mourning for my mother, I think I have been experiencing my own renaissance- almost without even realizing it.  Without thinking too much about it, I find that my experience with my mother’s end of life journey has prompted me to nurture my own life.  I’ve identified several attributes in my own personality that may be holding me back from experiencing as much joy as possible in life.  Almost unconsciously, I’ve been examining those personal barriers and experimenting with strategies for knocking them out of my way.

Good grief may be the last gift my mom gave me.

What have you learned through the process of grieving a loved one?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com. 

Have a blessed day!

Terri/Dorry 🙂