May 19, 2020
When I was in middle school I somehow stumbled into the band room and found myself enrolled in the school brass ensemble. I had no idea how to play an instrument. My father played guitar some, but never taught me. My grandmother played the piano at church, but I never found the keys in the right order. So I had no idea why I was in this room full of 6th and 7th graders who’d been practicing their respective instruments for years. But there I was, on the very last row, in the very last chair, pretending to know how to play the trumpet. It was not pretty.
During the first few weeks our teacher encouraged us newbies to try out a few different types of instruments. He encouraged us to find our sound. Mine apparently was the trumpet, and the sound was harsh and loud. After a while, I mastered Hot Cross Buns. After that, well, I was just glad to be included!!!
During that first few weeks of middle school band we were encouraged to practice at home as often as we could. We couldn’t afford a new trumpet and renting one was too expensive. So I thought I would have to drop out of the band. One day, as we were leaving the grocery story, we walked past the display window of the Goodwill next door. There in the window was a shinny brass trumpet in black box lined with crushed blue velvet! It was like the sun opened up and the music of angels began to play around me!
But mother said we couldn’t afford it. I was heartbroken. A few days later, my mom and I walked by the same storefront window. The trumpet was gone! I was heartbroken all over again. It was final now. No matter what hope or dream I had to one day be able to walk into the store and buy that shiny little brass trumpet it was all gone now. Someone else had my dream!
I sat quietly all the way home. When we got home my mom asked me to help carry in the shopping. Bags in hand, I walked in our front door and plopped the groceries on the table. My dad was home early and he asked me why I was so sad looking. I told him someone bought the trumpet I was looking at and now I am going to have to drop out of the band. He smiled and said go look in the living room. I walked in and there on the coffee table was a black box with blue crushed velvet lining and shiny brass trumpet. I was floored!!!!
My parents had worked out to surprise me with a very special gift. I had never been so surprised in my life! I cried and through tears I said thank you a thousand times…It was the kind of gift that forever changes the way you look at the world. It was the kind of gift that you knew cost more than you could imagine and you almost felt guilty by accepting it. It was a gift of love and love is usually costly.
I’d like to say that I became a trumpet virtuoso. Truth is, I was a mediocre fifth chair (we only had 5 trumpet players) band student. Of course I played all the Christmas and student assembly concerts that you do in middle school. For two years I tried but never really mastered the instrument. You’d think that with my grandmother’s piano skills and my father’s guitar skills, I’d be better than I was. Maybe music was too close to math for my brain to get around it. Where were the words? I loved words!
My band career ended before my 8th grade year. We moved and I went to a new school. For some reason or another I never had the confidence to try out for a place with the big kids. These were all kids planning of going on to band camp in the summer and joining marching band in high school. I just wasn’t brave enough! I knew I wouldn’t make the cut, so why even try!
I’ve never been an optimistic person. We’ve established that over and over again. I’m neither a glass half empty or a glass half full kind of guy. Whatever’s in the glass, it’s gonna end up broken any way. I just don’t get to have nice things! So through out my life I have always found a reason not to get my hopes up too high! Even when good things happen, I always look for the negative.
This is a quirk of my personality. It’s something I’ve learned to work and live through. I’ve worked hard at becoming more than my assumptions and what other’s have told me I am. I’ve worked hard to expand my horizons, to try new things, to practice new arts and do the things that scare me. It’s hard work. It’s life long work.
What I have learned, however, is that I’m the product of many experiences, good and bad, that have helped me interpret the world around me. I’d like to believe the good has outweighed the bad. Some days I can see that is the case. Other days it’s not so clear. I don’t always remember the good. I have to fight hard to drown out the voices that lie to me and tell me I’m worthy or unloved or incapable.
The thing I’ve learned is that sometimes the voices sound like those who’ve entered and exited my life over the last 42 years. I can still hear my grandmother’s stifled belly laugh that came mostly through her nose. I can hear my aunt’s quirky way of saying gas. Every time I pass a rose garden I think of my grandfather and his prized orange sherbet colored rose bush. I hear the laughter of friends and the stupid late night conversations we shared while watching movies and eating cold pizza.
These voices fight for space among the other voices that told me I didn’t fit in or was too much of this or not enough of that to be welcomed or wanted. I can still hear their voices just as loud and clearly as the day they were spoken. I can still feel their painful hurling insults.
But that is true of all the voices in our heads. What we hear depends mostly on how we listen. We hear the words we give space for. We hear the words we think we deserve. It’s part of the life work of retuning our frequencies and turning up the volume on the voices that remind us we are truly loved.
The hardest part of grief is learning to discern the different voices that bombard us every day. The disorientation of grief makes the negative voices feel a little louder. I imagine it like the feeling of tinnitus after a loud boom or explosion. Flash bombs are used this way. Light and sound disorient us from making sense of our surroundings and drive us to near madness trying to figure out which way is up. That’s what happens to us when we experience grief. To some varying degree, we are all shaken to the core. The voices in our head are ringing so loudly it’s hard to discern which ones to listen to.
That’s the hard work of grief. Learning to decipher fact from fiction, healthy from destructive, love from hate, is life long post-loss work. The voices of love are still there, loud and close as ever. Our ability to hear is temporarily stifled by the disorientation of grief. We have to work toward reorganizing ourselves and intentionally choose to give prominence to those voices of love. It is the great gift of all those who have touched your life.
There is a great chorus, a cloud of witnesses cheering you on, There are generations of voices loving and encouraging you across time and space to remind you that you are the product of thousands of costly gifts of hope, love, and goodness. You have within you every voice of every person given to you as a gift to negotiate and ensure your survival. The voices of love call out to you loud and clear!
Author Linda Hogan writes about it this way: ““Walking, I can almost hear the redwoods beating. And the oceans are above me here, rolling clouds, heavy and dark. It is winter and there is smoke from the fires. It is a world of elemental attention, of all things working together, listening to what speaks in the blood…Suddenly all my ancestors are behind me. Be still, they say. Watch and listen. You are the result of the love of thousands.”
So when the world around you is spinning and you can’t decide which way is up and all within you feels broken and battered by grief, be still. Be still and know that you are not alone. You are here, in the very moment, sheltered in the cacophony of a thousand voices saying “You are loved!” Be still and listen. Be still and know. Be still…
Love and Light!