11 September 2011


Not so very long ago, my family and I upped sticks and headed even deeper into the South than we already were.  I agreed to this move, though I lacked significant enthusiasm for it and my daughter even less so.  This feeling was compounded when, a mere three weeks after we moved, my daughter headed off to college several states away.  

Needless to say, this means that my last year has been a very transitional year.  I have felt extremely isolated and alone and on more than a few occasions have wished for a Time Turner or a Tardis so that I could go back and have a big "do-over."  But that's not really how life works, is it?  Instead, I unpacked, I started to learn my way around town, I met a few people at a nearby church, and I started to consider my options.   Sometimes I still felt like becoming a hermit because it's just easier than forcing myself to go out and meet people or do things I don't really want to do just for the sake of companionship.  It was so much easier to meet people when I was younger or when my daughter was small, because as a parent you get thrown into new groups all the time.  Ultimately I decided to give myself a year to adjust to all the changes and to get my house in order, after which it would be time to start branching out and figure out what I wanted to do with myself and my time.

In that spirit, with my daughter safely back in school for her sophomore year and my Calamity Mary broken bones all healed, I ventured out into the community last Tuesday pretty much for the first time since moving here and finding a church.  I chose to go to the first rehearsal of the Athens Choral Society, or ACS (which sounds disturbingly like the American Cancer Society).  While most people think I am a very outgoing person (and for the most part, I am), the reality is that I am often hesitant about rushing into new situations; I like to get the lay of the land before I jump in and fully commit.  But I still went.  I got there, signed in, and picked up some music, opting to "borrow" it for the night before paying for the music and dues, just in case I didn't like the group.  I was given the score for "Star of Bethlehem" by Rheinberger, a composer with whom I was unfamiliar, and told we were going to be performing it in German.  Okaaaaaaay.  I have sung in German before, but it's been a while.  We listened to each movement before sight-reading it and they all seemed relatively accessible.  Plus, everyone I met was very nice.  It was lovely to be singing orchestral music again after all these years, even if "singing" only meant going "lalalalalalala" a lot while we learned the notes.  I enjoyed the rehearsal enough that at the break I went ahead and forked over my $28 for dues and music.  (Okay, so I don't hesitate that long...)

While there, the director of the group (who also is the music director for the biggest Methodist church in town) told us that on the anniversary of 9/11 there would be a community sing of Fauré's Requiem at his church downtown.  Hmmm.  Well, I guess if I was gonna commit, I might as well commit.  In for a penny, in for a pound and all that.  So the director emailed me the score, which I spent the better part of Friday printing out because I did not know there would be great stacks of the music copied and collated at the service.  Par for the course.  Yesterday I found the Requiem on YouTube and proceeded to review the music, which I had actually sung once some 15-20 years before.  There were a couple of rough spots, and some time signatures that were gonna mess me up, but mostly it sounded vaguely familiar and not overly difficult, so I thought "what the heck?"

I headed downtown today at 5 pm for a quick run-thru of the piece with the orchestra and the other singers.  Before we started, I sat in the wrong section and was eventually redirected to the soprano section.  Then I left my water bottle in the alto pew I had just vacated and had to reclaim it.  Then I had to go find a program that I somehow lacked.  Then I sat in my back pew all alone, gazing in front of me at the 200-300 people I'd never met (beyond a scant few I'd vaguely met Tuesday night) and I started to think, "What the heck am I doing here, anyway?"  Then we began the run-thru.  Some parts were more familiar than others, especially after listening to them on YouTube, but let's face it--sight-reading music has never been my strength.  I was not singing very loudly (or accurately) through much of the rehearsal while I tried to re-familiarize myself with the music.  I was convinced people were laughing at me.   Some of the movements went okay and some less so.  I started thinking I needed to hightail it out of there and go hide in a pub downtown somewhere.   I began to feel overwhelmed by all the people I didn't know, by the music I clearly didn't know, by singing something more advanced than "Amazing Grace" for the first time in over a decade--so I did the only thing I could think of--I got out my phone and posted my concerns on Facebook a few minutes before the concert was to start.  (Don't judge me--you know you would have done the same thing.)

While most of you know that I love music and I love singing, what most of you don't know is what an uphill battle it has been for me to learn to sing reasonably well.  Heck, that's a whole 'nother blog post in itself.  As a result, I sometimes lack confidence in spite of my posturing to the contrary, and today was no different.  Yet, within seconds of my posting on Facebook, I had several friends willing to band together and donate a few seconds of their time to bolster my flagging ego and to assuage my fears.  My friends are awesome like that.  It was time to suck it up and do what I came there to do.  Besides, Eleanor Roosevelt said we should "do one thing every day that scares us," and who am I to argue with the woman who could keep FDR in line?

As the music began to swell, I felt myself start to relax.  All of the people and all of the nerves fell away, leaving nothing but a music which caused my heart to soar with the strings and my soul to swell.  I was lifted up just as surely as we were raising the music to honor those who had fallen 10 years ago.  Did I sing it perfectly?  Hardly.  But I sang it better than I was expecting.  I managed.  I survived.  I joined my voice with the voices of so many others in that room and no doubt around the world, joining together in love and unity as we raised a musical prayer to the fallen.  I overcame my fear.  I realized that whether or not I sang perfectly was never really the point.  Being there was the point.  Participating was the point.  Being a part of something greater than myself was the point.

In that moment, I realized that my experience was a microcosm of the larger meaning of 9/11.  Yes, there was tragedy, yes there was loss and yes, in my opinion, we dwell far too often on that.  I dwell far too much on some things I can't change already; I don't need to add one more.  The point of 9/11 is not that it happened, but how we as a nation and as a world, for just one moment, came together in love and unity to help each other move forward and to assuage each other's fears.  The point of 9/11 was to conquer fear.  To let go of the things which bind us.  To move on.  To move forward.  To LIVE.

My cowardice over some piece of music may seem silly in the face of the larger ramifications of this particular anniversary, but I cannot help being awed by the fact that, in my moment of weakness, people from all over the country rushed to support me just as we did for each other on that day.  I cannot help but be struck by the fact that in each and every day since that horrible moment we are refusing to let our fears master us and are instead choosing to move on, to move forward, to LIVE--even if it's only by sticking around and singing a couple of songs.  And isn't that really kind of the point too?  Isn't that what gives those losses and sacrifices meaning?  It's that drive to overcome, that unspoken connection to each other that gives us strength and hope in the darkest of times and allows us to rise like a phoenix from the ashes.

So thank you, Mr. Fauré, for helping me to remember that it was never about me.  And thank you for your glorious music, too. 

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