Facing Another Goodbye

It’s magnolia time again. Walking through clouds of their heaven-sent aroma each morning tells me that the earth turned ’round the sun to another May.

Last May, I was at the coast on a rented pontoon boat, sifting Ruth Ann’s ashes through my fingers and into the ocean she loved. This May, I sit in a hospital room, watching another friend sleep after exhausting afternoons of leaking IV’s, painful turnings, disgusting lunches, and procedure after procedure as various doctors engaged in “the practice of medicine” attempt to find the cause of her downward spiral from vivacious, sparkling musician to bedridden invalid.

Calling her my “friend” isn’t exactly right. We are friends, but it’s more than that. But we’re not like sisters, and we’re not mother-daughter either, despite the difference in our ages. After days of sitting with her, I decide that she is as close as I’ll ever come to having a fairy-godmother. For she’s made my wish of being a musician come true.

I first met her at a concert that I attended solely because the advertisement said a harp trio would perform. I was looking for a harp teacher. After the concert I asked her if she taught harp. She quickly said, “Oh, heavens, no. But I have a wonderful teacher. Let me give you her name and phone number.” And so I found my teacher and started my harp journey.

I met her again a year later, when I started playing in the community college harp ensemble. Then, I could barely read and play two notes per measure with my two index fingers. She sat beside me, and counted out the measure numbers while she played so I would know where I was supposed to be in the music.

When rotator cuff surgery ended my African drumming days, I dusted off my 7th grade recorder and decided that I wanted to play in the community college recorder ensemble that she directs. I asked her if she could teach me enough basic recorder technique to be able to join the group. She took me on as a student that summer, and I joined the ensemble in the fall. She continued my lessons so that I could keep up with learning the ensemble repertoire. A couple of years later, she told me it was time for me to up my recorder skills and go to the Mountain Collegium, a week-long summer early music workshop. She then set to teaching me how to play the alto recorder, so that I would be ready for the intensive Collegium classes.

Sometime during those hours of sitting beside each other in lessons, playing our recorders together, we became more than just student and teacher – we became friends.

Three years ago, after one of my most disastrous performance experiences, she dragged my reluctant self to a Hospice volunteer recruitment lunch. While I was ready to never, ever play beyond the walls of my practice room again, she told me that I needed to play on the Hospice unit. As we walked through the doors of the Hospice offices, she told the Hospice staff that I played the harp. The volunteer coordinator grabbed an application and a clipboard and shoved them into my hands, and insisted that I complete my volunteer paperwork right then and there.

One of my favorite things since becoming a Hospice volunteer is playing with my friend at the hospital. We have a program of recorder duets, harp and recorder duets, and harp and viola de gamba duets, that we play both in the hospital lobby and on the Hospice unit.

She was my chief cheerleader and practice coach when I played in the Early Music Consort. Eating our lunch together after Consort rehearsals, she would always tell me the things I did well in my playing that day. She was my antidote to the overall negative experience of playing in that ensemble.

All of my adventures in music trace their paths back to her. In addition to connecting me to all these opportunities, she taught me about being a musician: how to listen, how to hear the music inside my head before playing, how to use my breath to create a flowing musical line, how to play well with others, how to keep moving forward in the music despite my inevitable train-wrecks, and most of all, how to share my love for the music and the instruments I play with whoever might be my audience.

Now she’s facing her biggest challenge, far worse and more difficult than anything she’s ever faced on her music stand. The result of all her tortuous medical procedures is a Stage IV cancer diagnosis. The chemotherapy she began this week has only a 50-50 chance of bringing about a remission. And that is only if she has the strength to endure the four different poisons that will kill the cancer cells.

The treatment pretty much destroys her immune system, so she is in a specialized hospital chemotherapy unit that is designed to reduce the risk of contracting what would be fatal infections. She’s not allowed visitors outside of her immediate family. Fairy-godchild does not meet the hospital definition of “immediate family,” so my time spent sitting at her bedside is over.

I don’t know how this story is going to end. Ten days ago, when she didn’t recognize me, when playing my harp in her hospital room failed to spark any response, I thought Music had left her heart and her time was over. This week, she wishes that there was a piano in her hospital room so she could “just play something.” Music remains her dearest friend and strongest ally. I don’t know if Music can keep her heart and spirit safe enough for her to survive this assault on her body. But today I believe in her spunk, and in Music’s potential to save her. Today, I do not have to say another goodbye.

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A Year Gone

No, time doesn’t heal all wounds; that’s not how it works. rather, wounds heal time – you suddenly find, after the hard work of grief, that this hard thing has made you take the hard step and you have grown. You may look more contorted, more wrinkled, more bent, more scarred. But inside the heart beats with a deeper tattoo. Grief does not depart – don’t let anyone ever convince you that it does. When you learned to walk, didn’t you fall? Didn’t it hurt? Didn’t you cry? Your legs didn’t go away, though. And grief, which gives the soul perambulation, doesn’t end. The grief gives you a new way to journey. It allows you to walk, to fly, to purchase new horizons, to see new worlds, to listen more attentively.

“After James Died” by Harry Kelley in KnitLit: Sweaters and Their Stories…And Other Writing About Knitting. Linda Roghaar and Molly Wolf. New York: Three Rivers Press, 2002.

It was this day, one year ago, that I returned from my trip to Hampton Court Palace to find the email telling me that Ruth Ann died the night before. At one moment the world was sane and made sense. In the next moment, a skewed and distorted reality took its place.

This year I lived in these parallel worlds, straddling the crack that ran to the depths of my foundation. In one world, all is normal. Clocks tick, water flows downhill, and the sun rises dutifully in the east every morning. In the other world, a river of chaos roars through careening canyon walls, time refuses to move forward, and I am caught in the ever repeating loop of reading the email telling me that Ruth Ann is gone forever. There is no more sunshine. I must find a way to live in the dark.

In one world, I go to harp lessons and to recorder ensemble and to play at the hospital. I walk the dog and practice harp and knit, and resemble a normal person. In the other world, time flows backwards, and is filled with jumbled dreams of travel and temporary dwellings. Strange dream characters have malevolent purposes, and make promises that are empty lies. I awake confused and exhausted into the world that contains the all too real nightmare of Ruth Ann’s death.

Somehow, in this long year, I found a way to balance between the worlds, and survived them both. New roots grew in that sudden darkness. Signs of life are murmuring just under the surface.

I still don’t know what will break through the soil’s crust and emerge into the light, but I know it will happen. And when it does, I will call it Hope.

Finding Solace: Knitting A Prayer Shawl

It’s just something about knitting. It has a small, yet commanding voice, and what it tends to say, in times like these, is that it will help take us through the big steps with little steps. And technically, in this case, those little steps are known as stitches. Knitting takes unease and supports it with shawls the way the performers at a big top support a trapeze artist with a net. It underpins transition with a deeper sort of harmony.

– Deborah Bergman, The Knitting Goddess (NY: Hyperion, 2000)

When I made it home from London, the impact of Ruth Ann’s death knocked the stuffing out of me. While I was away, I had all of London to distract me. Back home, there was nothing to keep the avalanche of grief and the immensity of loss from bowling me over, day after day. I couldn’t concentrate enough to read. Writing was beyond me. There are only so many hours in a day that my body can sit on the harp bench and practice. Long walks siphoned off some of my agitation, but there was no way to walk long enough and far enough to escape sadness. I didn’t know what to do for the far too many hours that I was stuck with just being with myself.

Then I found this yarn, dyed by Debbie Davis at The Fibre Studio at Yarns To Dye For.

Tidal Pool by Debbie Davis
Tidal Pool by Debbie Davis

The merino and bamboo blend is named “Tidal Pool.” The yarn held all the colors of the many mornings Ruth Ann and I spent on the porch of a rented beach house, drinking coffee and watching the day’s first light play upon the water. As soon as I saw it, I knew that I would use it to knit a prayer shawl for Ruth Ann’s partner.

 

Searching Ravelry, I found the pattern Simple Shawl for Fancy Yarns by Jen Hintz. It’s perfect for showing off the beauty of the yarn. I cast on the first five stitches on April 12th.

Some days this was the only project I wanted to work on. With every row I thought about Ruth Ann and all the life we shared. The yarn flowing through my fingers was a tangible thread that tied me to her across the emptiness.

Some days I didn’t want to touch the yarn or the shawl that it was becoming. Picking up the knitting needles was picking up and wrapping myself in grief.

Spring’s days and weeks ticked by. The shawl grew slowly, with four stitches added every other row. The weather shifted from spring breezes to summer heat as I added eyelet rows and garter ridges to the basic pattern. I finished the bind-off and took it off my needles on July 18th.

Completed Prayer Shawl
Completed Prayer Shawl
Prayer Shawl Detail
Prayer Shawl Detail

Knitting this shawl was a tangible sign of and outlet for my grief. Each stitch was like a prayer bead that I could, and in fact had to touch and hold as a part of my own coming to terms with Ruth Ann’s death. Now, all these beads are caressed, counted, and strung. The shawl is finished, and sent off to the welcoming arms of Ruth Ann’s partner, with the hope that wearing it will bring her the healing that knitting it brought to me.

The time spent working on the shawl seems to have somehow defined my period of mourning. I feel more ready to move forward into “next,” whatever that may be, and to step into the life where Ruth Ann no longer walks on this earth with me, but stays forever close in my heart.

Turning Towards Light

Ruth Ann died five months ago. Meanwhile, the earth completed another quarter of its journey around the sun. Spring’s pastels of iris and dogwood are replaced by bold watermelon pink and purple crape myrtles, scarlet gladiolas, and orange day lilies that defy soaring heat and lack of rain. The last of the magnolia blossoms still perfume heavy summer air. The hours of light grow imperceptibly shorter each day, while the hours of night lengthen towards the darkness of winter.

I live in a precarious balance between light and darkness. Daylight hours of walking, music, knitting, and being encircled in the kindness of friends brings laughter, peace, and grounding among the living. Quiet nights bring reflection and sadness. In daylight, when I remember to breathe slowly and appreciate the fragility of all that I love, grace and gratitude can guide my way. Darker nights assail me with futility, with knowing all will be lost in the end, and leave me relieved to see the sunrise.

Someone had just passed away when I arrived at the Hospice unit last Tuesday. Family had not made it to the bedside before the patient’s final breath. I had unpacked my harp and was playing in the hallway outside this hospital room when the family arrived in a rush of heartbreak and weeping.  Once inside the room a young girl began keening,”No, no, no….I don’t want her to be dead.”

I kept playing. I kept fingers moving on the harp strings while her sobs crescendoed into wailing that echoed down the hallways with desperate cries of “No, no, no….come back, come back.” I hoped that Music could in some way comfort her fear and ease her pain, could in some way say to this family, “The world has felt this grief, and created these tunes to stand beside you on this hard journey.”

I’ve thought about this young girl all week. Thought about how she was able to scream her pain and give voice to the same words I mouthed so quietly to myself when I found out Ruth Ann was dead: No, no, no. . . . Come back, come back. . . . I don’t want you to be dead. And I see how these are everybody’s words, everybody’s desperate desire. The price of love is that we will tumble down in seemingly endless eddies of grief and fear when the ones we love leave us behind on this suddenly empty and lonely earth.

When I was twenty-something, I thought the Buddhist concept of non-attachment meant that we were not supposed to love, not supposed to care. That we were supposed to walk blasély through the world, indifferent to who and what it offered to us. Life and love and loss teach a different translation: that we must care about, and love, all that the world offers with all our heart, but with open hands. Open hands that do not clutch and grab at what is passing from them. Open hands that allow the heartbreak of endings. And open hands that once empty, are willing receptacles for approaching, as-yet-unknown joys.

In the heat and glare of a July day, darkness grows, and winter approaches. But today I remember that it is in the darkness of December, and the cold depths of winter, that the earth again turns towards light.

 

By Way of Sorrow

I’ve avoided writing this post since four days into my trip to London, and for the last two months. I landed in London on Tuesday, February 18th. On Friday, just after visiting Hampton Court Palace, I read the e-mail my friend Jeanette said was the hardest she ever had to write, the one telling me that our friend and my soul-sister Ruth Ann died early Thursday morning.

Ruth Ann had lung surgery two weeks earlier. She told me not to come see her in the hospital – she didn’t want me picking up some nasty illness before my trip. She came through surgery like a champ, and was home recuperating and doing well. I thought the time for any potential problems was over, and that her only challenge was to slowly and steadily regain her strength and stamina. I thought that I would see her and tell her all about my trip once I was home. Some unseen, unknown, undiagnosed complication caused her to hemorrhage, and changed everything.

It was easy to do blog posts while I was in London. It was the last thing I wanted to do, but I made myself leave the house every day and go see at least one of the sites on my London list. Getting to and spending time in interesting places was a much-needed distraction. Picking out which photos to post and writing some breezy description of where I’d been that day helped fill up what had become long, grief-filled evenings and sleepless nights.

But once home, there was only one thing that I could possibly write about. And to write about Ruth Ann’s death would make it far too real, and more than I could bear. This grief has been so physical, so heavy to carry. Breathing takes such an expenditure of energy, energy that seems lost and gone forever, just like Ruth Ann. It’s taken every bit of this time to believe and accept that my soul-sister no longer lives on this Earth and that I will never again gaze into her eyes and heart. It’s taken every bit of this time to wrap my heart around this emptiness.

Since coming home I’ve tried to keep showing up for all the things that fill my life, if only because I know that Ruth Ann would not want me to lose one moment of life or connection or music in my grieving for her. And so, I walk. I knit. I practice. I show up for yoga class and the Hospice unit and harp lessons and ensemble rehearsals. I spend time with still-living friends who love me and care for my aching heart. But I’ve not written a word, in either my private journal or my blog.

In the two months since Ruth Ann died, the Earth turned towards the Sun. The hours of darkness shrink, and light beckons. The oaks and maples unfurl new green leaves against a china-blue sky. Shade returns to the world. White and pink clouds of dogwood blossoms arch over the neighborhood streets. The scent of confederate jasmine hangs in the air. White azalea blossoms mound like snowdrifts, and offer backdrop for the crimson, lavender and pink azaleas that compete for attention. A sudden burst of red on green bursts into song as the cardinal perches in the cedar tree beside my driveway.

It’s Easter Sunday, the day to celebrate resurrection and redemption. Easter does not erase the pain of Ruth Ann’s passing, but it reminds me that life emerges from darkness, and that we are all offered resurrection. I breathe out gratitude for beauty that still fills this world, and for the hope that is promised this day. And that’s a start.

Visitation

Angels often appear in human form, disguised as people that we know. Last Monday angels appeared in the guise of my harp teacher and of my friend Mary Lou.

This autumn I am a time traveler, unanchored and unmoored to the present. Time is fluid, with rapids and backwaters that float me from now to then and long ago. Caught in an eddy I return to now, only to drift towards some future that awaits my arrival there.

But beauty lives only in the present moment, in this now, not in some drama acted out long ago or yet to come.

At last week’s harp ensemble rehearsal, Mary Lou played her arrangement of Pretty Saro, and my harp teacher sang the song’s mournful words. The time river ceased to run. I was pinned to the present, anchored in glorious harmonies of harp and voice, with no past or future to pull me into time’s deep waters. I was awash in grace, my heart eased by angels in human form. The only prayer I know to say is “Thank you.”

Enduring Impermanence

Everything changes. All that is, someday will not be.

I do not like this state of affairs one bit.

My teacher’s husband was just diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. It has already metastasized to his liver. My dear friend just lost one cousin to stroke as she helped his brother with his chemotherapy appointment. A long-time friend, five years younger than me, is near the end of her fight with the stage four pancreatic cancer diagnosed six months ago.

Everything changes. All that is, someday will not be.

Everything in the outer world that fills my heart with joy hangs by the slimmest of threads, ready to end in nothingness. The people I love, and the people who create the places and things I love to do are so fragile compared to entropy’s onward march to oblivion. How does one tender heart hold both love and loss in equal measure?

Everything changes. All that is, someday will not be.

When it gets this ugly inside my head, I head to the ocean, head to the solace of the sea. Sitting on sand beside blue-green water, breathing to the rhythm of wave in, wave out, impermanence does not frighten me. Each wave breaks on shore in its own fashion, unique and separate for one brief moment, and then dissolves back to ocean’s depths. Light dances, each sparkle on the water existing for barely a second, yet the air shimmers like diamonds.

With only an eye-blink the scene changes. The water darkens from blue-green to turquoise. A cloud scuds across the sun and the ocean is cobalt. A line of pelicans glides overhead, wings motionless, and disappears into gray dots on the eastern horizon. The retreating tide exposes sand that moments ago was sea floor. Here, impermanence creates beauty that quiets my thoughts and soothes my soul.

Back home, it’s the impermanence of chlorophyl that creates the world of color in which I walk each morning.  Trees glow with garnet, topaz, and carnelian in morning light. With each night more green disappears; with each morning fewer jeweled leaves adorn the trees. I walk on carpets of color that crunch and crackle under my feet. Impermanence brings beauty once again.

My friend is not yet so close to death that time has lost its meaning. Her hours are long. Her days drag on even longer, the monotony broken by visits from friends and hospice nurses, and from the nodding off that the narcotics deliver in place of real sleep. She bears the pain better than the boredom. An active life that six months ago was filled with career, travel, and a vivacious social life is pared down to a narrow path between recliner, bathroom and hospital bed.

Everything changes. All that is, someday will not be.

I brought my harp to her house and played for her today.

I’ve not played for one specific person at their bedside before. My hospital harping is in the hallway – I don’t have direct patient contact. I play there with the intention and hope that Music will bring ease to whoever might be troubled, be it their body, heart, or soul, but without knowing if or how patients are affected.

My friend was tucked up in her recliner, staring at the muted television when I arrived. As I set up my harp and bench, I told her that she did not have to do anything – no applause or conversation – but drift with the music as much as she was able. I played my favorite Celtic tunes, the ones I know by heart – tunes that echo joy and heartbreak, tunes that remember journeys and leave-takings and lands and people lost or left far behind: Aran Boat Song, Skye Boat Song, Loch Broom, Glentain Glas, Inisheer, and more.

What my friend Kristin calls the “harp magic” did its work. Despite my own uncertainties and fumbled notes, her breathing deepened and she slept, deep restful sleep. When she awoke an hour later, she whispered one word: “soothing.” I told her I would come and play again if she liked. “Yes,” she said. “Please play again.”

Everything changes. All that is, someday will not be. Impermanence marks every wave, every turning leaf, every breath, every life. My friend is dying. But today Music, the mystery wave that exists without form or substance, lives and works her magic. Today Music allows us both to endure impermanence. My friend finds moments of comfort and ease, and I find joy in and gratitude for sharing these moments with her.

The Space Around Me

I started Alexander Technique lessons three months ago. A couple of nasty car wrecks left me with a long-term neck and back discomfort that now bothers me more and more when I am practicing. I’m hoping to become more aware of how I create tension when I am at the harp, and to learn how to not do that.

My second Alexander lesson ended with my teacher working with me at the harp. With my neck, shoulders and ribcage loose and expanded, my arms felt like they were floating, my fingers were strong and free, and the sound that burst forth when I plucked the strings was full, rich and glorious – and different from anything I’d heard come from my harp. That was all the convincing I needed that I was on the right track.

Tonight’s lesson was different. No harp, just gentle upward strokes on my neck and head, then me walking back and forth across the length of the room. As I walked, my teacher asked me to be aware of the empty space above my head. “Now feel the space in front of you and behind you as you walk, feel it move across the room with you,” she said. “All this space is here for you. Being aware of it gives you room in which to move, and gives you freedom to relax, to open, to expand.”

What a concept! Despite what I am sure adds up to be hundreds of thousands of dollars of therapy, the idea that there is all this space around me, and that it is mine to move my body in, mine to use, mine to be in, still feels new, and breath-taking. Bourbon took up all the space in my childhood house. I grew up knowing there was no room for me, knowing that I needed to stay safely hidden away, taking up as little space as possible, hoping I would not be seen or heard when the nightly chaos began. I longed to be invisible. Staying silent, small, and unnoticed was as close to invisible as I could get. Much of my work with performance anxiety is about peeling away these layers of fear and substitute invisibility, and finding that I can be safe when I am seen and heard.

Tonight, walking across the room feeling the two feet of space above my head, I feel my neck and spine lengthen and relax. There’s no need to hold myself in. My shoulder blades slide down my back and my arms swing freely – there’s plenty of room around me. As each foot touches the floor it rolls easily from heel to toes. I feel as though I am gliding on smoothly oiled joints, instead of plodding across the room on my creaky oft-broken ankles and my cranky knees. My legs and hips are happy to hold me up and ask no help from my neck, which now only has to balance my head on its topmost vertebrae. Moving feels light, and spacious, and good.

Doing table work, my teacher gently reminds my hands of all the space that exists between the tendons and bones, and of all the movement that my fingers are capable of. After my lesson, again at my harp, my hands find the C-major chord and roll it perfectly without help from finger and thumb splints. My ring fingers stay rounded, instead of collapsing. How or why I don’t know, or don’t yet have words for. Perhaps fingers, too, find support and ease being enfolded in this new, expanded space around me? Each lesson leaves me “curiouser and curiouser.”

Tomorrow I shift to an entirely different space: the annual Southeastern Harp Weekend in Asheville, NC. The space around me will be filled with all things harp, and with people as silly-ga-ga about harps as I am, but will be quite deficient with wi-fi access. I’ll be back in Blogland with harp weekend stories next week.

Out of Phase with the Time Stream

There’s an oft used plot device in Star Trek: The Next Generation, where the transporter malfunctions, and the crew member appears to have disappeared, with his component molecules lost forever. The person is actually safely back on board The Enterprise, but cannot be seen or heard due to being out of phase with the ship’s time stream.

That’s pretty much how I experienced September. I am out of phase. I’ve lost my groove. I can’t latch on to the beat. The world is spinning along, and I’m half a revolution behind.

This semester is almost half-way over, and I still haven’t found its rhythm.  Finding time to practice challenges me as never before. The repertoire I’m learning doesn’t seem that much harder, but I get so much less of it worked on in each practice session. I’m doing the same activities as last semester, harp lessons and harp ensemble, recorder ensemble and early music consort, but they all seem to take so much more time. Perhaps it’s that I am moving so much slower in this alternate time stream that I can’t manage to squeeze it all in. Or perhaps it’s that in my little corner of the time-space continuum, the days are significantly shorter than 24 hours, and there really isn’t enough time for it all.

Blogging took a big hit in this alternate reality. I can’t remember the last time I responded to a comment, read a blog, or wrote a post. I think it was in that long ago month of August, sometime before the time stream shifted. I’ve not been writing outside of the blog, either. Whatever scrambled my component molecules turned the writing switch to ‘off.” In this reality, it’s hard to make words make sense, hard to find mental space for new input, hard to find clear thoughts to share with others.

So writing this post, on the first day of this new month, is me beginning again. Beginning writing. Beginning blogging. Beginning reading all the posts I’ve missed. Beginning saying, “Hey, I’m back. I’ve missed you. I still care.”  Look for my comment on your blog, soon.

Fearless On The Harp Bench

20130609-122719.jpgThe Hospice music ministry volunteer coordinator called at the end of March and asked if I would play my harp for their annual Service of Remembrance in early May. Play solo harp, that is. For the entire ceremony. By myself. I could distinctly hear the ghost of Nancy Reagan whispering in my ear, saying “Just say no.” But thanks to my Three Non-negotiable Decisions, what I heard myself say was “Of course. I’d love to. It would be a pleasure. Thank you for asking me.”

She asked me to play 20 minutes before the service started, approximately 20 minutes while people walked from their chairs to place a white rose in a wreath in memory of their loved ones, and another 15 to 20 minutes while people left the hospital’s labyrinth courtyard where the service would be held.

Thanks to the past months of playing at the hospital hospice unit, I had more than enough repertoire to play for an hour. I selected a medley of Celtic tunes for gathering music. I’d been working on a long piece with a soothing melody in the middle section. My teacher helped me figure out how to introduce and then loop that section so I could play it multiple times during the wreath ceremony. I wrote a bridge to another soothing tune that I could play until the last flower was placed. I selected four of the contemporary tunes I play on the unit for the closing music.

Driving to the hospital on the morning of the service, I prayed for calm, and quiet and steady hands. I arrived early enough to sit in my car and meditate for 20 minutes. Following my breath, I found a place of alert and steady awareness, of easy breathing and quiet mind. I had plenty of time to load my harp and bench on my cart and walk slowly through the hospital corridors to the courtyard. I had plenty of time to set up and tune my harp, and to try the beginnings of several tunes, which warmed up my fingers and let me preview how the harp would sound in the brick-walled space. Hospice staff rehearsed the order of the ceremony, so I was clear on my cues to start and stop playing. The low gray clouds spitting rain finally lifted, and pale sunshine tried to warm my fingers. I peeled off my fingerless gloves and began to play.

On this morning I was blessed with an absence of fear. I was blessed with the focus of being of service to those who wished to remember their loved ones and ease their aching hearts. I was blessed with gratitude to be able to offer Music as a balm for healing. I was blessed with grace to play more smoothly and comfortably than I ever have before.

I had a few fumble-fingered moments, but on this morning I played through them without panic. A couple of weeks before the remembrance service I participated in Madeline Bruser’s second teaching call. That night’s exercise was to play a phrase extremely slowly, and let the sound enter my body without rushing to the next note – instead, to just let the next note emerge from the sound I was already feeling. The carryover from that exercise on this morning was trusting that the next note was on its way, was streaming towards me, was already present. I didn’t have to panic about finding it. I just had to pluck the string.

It really was a pleasure, and an honor, to play for the remembrance service. People stopped on their way out of the courtyard to thank me for playing, to say that the music was perfect for the ceremony. The hospice administrative staff offered enthusiastic thank you’s. But it was my friend and fellow hospice harp volunteer Dani who recognized what I had accomplished, saying “Today is a real milestone for you. You looked and sounded confident, and the music was beautiful. You would not have done this a year ago.”

Dani and I play together in the harp ensemble. She’s witnessed the fear freezing me, or making my hands shake so violently that I could not keep my fingers on my harp strings. She’s been recruited to be an “audience” at my lessons as I practiced breathing and moving forward playing a piece while my adrenal glands hijacked my hands and my memory.

During the worst of the performance anxiety, when I could not even play at my lessons without shaking from massive adrenaline overdoses, I told my teacher that I would not be doing this work, would not be persisting in staring down the terror, were it not for my completely unreasonable assurance that someday I would say, “Oh yes, I used to be bothered by performance anxiety, but not anymore.”

On this morning I took a leap into the reality where that is so, into the reality where I am fearless on the harp bench. Playing my harp without fear – it’s a blessing long sought, and an accomplishment dearly earned.