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Music of transformation

Somewhere along the way, every one of us has wrestled with discouragement, disillusionment or defeat (only exacerbated by a disappointment in ourselves).
And yes, our pandemic year illuminated all of this.
And this weight of our world is real. The George Floyd trial. More mass shootings. For some, too hard. For others there is unexpected resilience and courage. For some boiling rage. For others, stillness.
As I watched it unfold this week, it triggered helplessness. And I wonder, “What can I do about this?”
And then (ironically), “I should be able to handle this.” As if I have to bring something to this moment other than myself. As if the vulnerability at my core is not enough to spill light.

In this morning’s NYT, a Special Section: Transformation: How the pandemic birthed an awakening for many Americans.
“I care much more about being with people who make me feel whole now. The pandemic scraped away all facades we’ve built around our lives.” Elena Cruz
Yes. And amen. And invitation to awakenings. And transformation.
“When we were children, we used to think that when we were grown-up we would no longer be vulnerable,” Madeleine L’Engle wrote. “But to grow up is to accept vulnerability. To be alive is to be vulnerable.” 

So. Here’s the deal: These moments, gratefully, have the power to shift our core sense of being. Moments of before, and after.
This matters, because no one is on this journey alone.
And it is in our vulnerability and humility that we find the strength and the power to take care of one another. 

Bob works as a pediatric nurse with terminally ill children.  One of his “patients,” is a little girl named Emily.  Emily loved playing with Bob when he visited her room.  She felt safe and they become fast friends.  Occasionally, Emily would talk about the time when “Chucky Lee” was “going to come.”  Bob assumed she was speaking of a friend, or family member.  So, one day he asked her.
Emily told Bob, “Chucky Lee comes to see me sometimes.”  And then paused and added, “Chucky Lee is death.  Someday Chucky Lee will come and take me away.”
Bob knew that Emily needed to personify death into a character she could understand.  It made perfect sense.
“Are you frightened?” he asked.
“Yes, very much.  Mostly he comes at night.”
Bob was moved by her clarity and innocence.  And he wanted to protect her, to shield her from such sorrow.  “At night, when you feel Chucky Lee coming, is there anything you can do to feel better?”
“Oh, yes,” Emily replied brightly, “You have to sing Jingle Bells and other love songs!”
After that Bob asked specifically about her nights.
“Well,” she told him, using a conspiratorial whisper, “Last night, I had to sing Jingle  Bells three times, very, very loud.”
Indeed Emily.  Very, very loud…

We can all learn from Emily. Let’s call it the music of transformation.
Although, to be honest, I’d rather a life exempt from the visits of Chucky Lee. Whether it is heartache, fragility, vulnerability, breakability, weakness or disillusionment. Each of them, in their own way, a small death.
I recently talked to a friend.  As paramedics worked over the body of a young man dying from an overdose, my friend held the young man’s 21-year-old friend tightly, as he sobbed in her arms, hyperventilating.  She didn’t know quite what to say, but whispered over and over, “breathe with me, breathe in the spirit, and breathe out the junk.”  She told me, “I cleaned up the blood-stained carpet left by the paramedics. It was my prayer of servitude, I guess.  It is an unusual feeling, cleaning up the blood of someone who is dying, but there is a profound sense of devotion to what is sacred here.  It’s not just about the bloody and messy, but about the fragility of life, and how life doesn’t unfold neatly and how I have so much to learn in trusting that truth.”
Yes. It is in our vulnerability and humility that we find the strength and the power to take care of one another.

Here’s the deal: Sometimes we need to hold someone tight, even if we don’t know what to say.
Sometimes we need to let ourselves be held tightly, even if we don’t believe what is whispered in our ear.
Sometimes we need to walk the dog, fill the bird-feeders, talk with a friend, or reaching out to someone who’s been undone by the pandemic..
Sometimes we must be very still, for an afternoon, and use our stillness as a prayer, a silent song to the heavens.
And sometimes, we need to sing Jingle Bells and other love songs very, very loud.

Not that music always has its intended result.  Many years ago Zach and I are tooling down a Vashon country road, Matisyahu’s One Day blasting (what is heartfelt music, if not loud?), and me singing along with unabashed gusto.
“Dad,” Zach says, “Shhhh.  You know these feel good songs, the ones where you can almost taste the sadness?  Well, the way I listen to them is to become like an Indian  doing meditation.  And Dad, when you sing along, you mess up my mantra.”
Ohhhh.  Okay.  Thank you son.  I know I can’t carry a tune.  I just never knew I could mess up someone’s manta.
I do know what he means though.  About the almost taste the sadness part.  Music has a power that enables it to find its way into the crevices of our soul.
Music of transformation.
So, where do we find and spill the music of healing and redemption and transformation?
Music that gives hope to people around us.
Small headlines, even about big quandaries, more often than not, escape our notice. I wish it were not so. But we live in a world where bombardment wins our attention.
But it is in our vulnerability and humility that we find the strength and the power to take care of one another.
From this morning’s article. “I made a vow to not skip another Christmas with my parents.” “I don’t skip walks with my husband just because I am tired.” “I have hands, I have work I can do.” Yes, I am smiling. Yes, it does my heart good. Yes, these are stories that keep my hope alive.
And just because our music of kindness is under the radar (or not even sung in tune) doesn’t mean it doesn’t change our world.

I get too easily cynical.  And I will admit that some part of me doesn’t want to believe stories that have peaceful endings.
But in my heart, I know that only light can push the darkness away.
Light.  And very, very loud renditions of love songs.
We can do that. We make a difference. In our humility, we can make choices to be transformed. So, this week, let us pay it forward, singing jingle bells with fellow travelers, who need a hand to hold.

Tomorrow I make my way to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. A memorial this week for my father, and scattering his ashes. My first flight in 14 months.
Thank you for your emails, prayers and well-wishes.
After that, headed south to Manasota Key, FL, my first vacation in some time. I’ll enjoy my friend Ed’s boat, on the lookout for manatees.

Quotes for your week…
Music can change the world
because it can change people.
Bono, U2

Note: Chucky Lee story adapted from Wayne Muller’s book, How then shall we live? 


Today’s Photo Credit: “I’m with my sister in Illinois. She had breast cancer surgery on Tuesday. She is doing well. Engaging in unrepentant napping at the moment. Pictures are from her home. Farmland USA. A place where in the stillness I can here the voice of God,” Andrea Liston… Thank you Andrea… Keep sending your photos… send to
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In the mailbag…
–Good Morning Terry.  I am filled with joy today thinking about yesterday.  Let me explain. I was listening to the radio and the pastor was talking about making deposits in people’s lives. Say a kind word to someone at the grocery store, tell the postmen thank you for bringing me my mail every day. Look for ways to be good to people. Instead of making withdrawal, make deposits. So, it got me thinking, how can I make some deposits? So here it is Thursday; Thankful Thursday.  I like to give people cards. So, I started to think of all the people in my life that I am thankful for (and there’s a lot). I will let them know I am thankful for them. I had five people in mind. Two were good friends and three were co-workers. One of my coworkers was my senior. He is always helping me out in a big way. I went and got him a cupcake. The look on his face was worth it. It brings me so much joy to see the look on people’s faces when you show them kindness. So, I have decided to do “Thankful Thursdays” every week.  People need those deposits. Small acts of kindness go a long way. On that subject thank you for all you do to bring us your words of wisdom to be better people. You are most appreciated. Laurie

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“Today (August 12) is my birthday. It makes me think of the new life I’m incubating and the Birth-day still to come. Today I’ll talk to myself. I’ll say, ‘Accept life—the places it bleeds and the places it smiles. That’s your most holy and human task. Gather up the pain and the questions and hold them like a child on your lap. Have faith in God, in the movement of your soul. Accept what is. Accept the dark. It’s okay. Just be true.’”   —Sue Monk Kidd, “A Journal Entry” in When the Heart Waits: Spiritual Direction for Life’s Sacred Questions

A Guiding Vision
All you who are thirsty, come
Come–where the Spirit stirs the waters
     to reveal the place where you stand as holy ground.
Bring here your God-story, the stories of those you touch
     to place them within the universal divine story.
Come–to receive and be nourished,
     to speak and to listen,
     to share and to reflect.
Come–to hear today’s prophets speak a vision for a better world.
Come–to renew your faith, your hope, your efforts
     for a world of peace, not war
     of harmony, not division
     of meaning, not power
A world held within the arms of divine compassion
Rita M. Martin, OP
(Siena Retreat Center, Racine, WI)

To Say Nothing But Thank You
All day I try to say nothing but thank you,
breathe the syllables in and out with every step I
take through the rooms of my house and outside into
a profusion of shaggy-headed dandelions in the garden
where the tulips’ black stamens shake in their crimson cups.
I am saying thank you, yes, to this burgeoning spring
and to the cold wind of its changes. Gratitude comes easy
after a hot shower, when loosened muscles work,
when eyes and mind begin to clear and even unruly
hair combs into place.
Dialogue with the invisible can go on every minute,
and with surprising gaiety I am saying thank you as I
remember who I am, a woman learning to praise
something as small as dandelion petals floating on the
steaming surface of this bowl of vegetable soup,
my happy, savoring tongue.
Jeanne Lohmann 

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