Phoenix Music

Somewhere out in the darkness, a phoenix was singing in a way Harry had never heard before: a stricken lament of terrible beauty. And Harry felt, as he had felt about phoenix song before, that the music was inside him, not without: It was his own grief turned magically to song that echoed across the grounds and through the castle windows.
(J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince)
Last weekend was a time of heaviness pressing in, and a stubborn battle raging inside my chest. I'd been to the doctor on Friday. It was supposed to be routine. But our modern technology makes it possible for medical professionals to see and to find things that would, in another age, have been impossible to see - impossible that is, until those things had killed the patient. "Early detection" has become a modern byword and blood tests have become standard and routine.

But it's still also true that ignorance is bliss, and I did not have a blissful weekend. Between an appointment on Friday and a phone call on Monday, the weight on my chest and the echo in my head carried and repeated the ominous word, cancer.

With that chorus as the background in every thought, there isn't really any way to completely avoid visions of things like hair loss or weakness or physical wasting away. The doctor says it, and the word begins to play its sick game in the imagination. The scenes rise up, unbidden, unwelcome, and completely impervious to interruptions or distractions. And very, very quickly - immediately - the world becomes both clearer and further away.
On Saturday, I didn't do much. I tried to breathe properly, and remembered hearing that people who are in pain or in fear don't do that. They don't breathe deeply enough because they are trying to avoid feeling the pain or the fear. But shallow breathing will weaken a person. So I tried to remember to breathe deeply - and tried not to become completely unglued. I researched. I imagined scenarios. I looked over the things I've recently found about bio-identical hormones. I tried to breathe. "Thy will be done," and "into Thy hands," over and over and over. Experience has taught me to be quiet and to trust. It's not usually quite so nerve-wracking, but I'm not a beginner at it either. Saturday felt like a tightrope walk. By the end of that day, I was tired, but I was okay.

And when I woke the next morning, I had not dreamed of anything worried or frightened. I was okay. (A bit like the process of checking bruises to see if they still hurt or if they've changed color.)

But the thing about being a religious Christian is that Sunday mornings are for church. And where I go to church, there is music. And the music on Sunday includes hymns. Often, in the course of my ordinary life, the singing of the best hymns can necessitate the use of the Kleenex I make sure to carry with me - but this Sunday packed an extra wallop. This Sunday included three things that had been played at our wedding twenty-five years ago.

It is always music that undoes me. I hear it in my bones and in my chest, and it vibrates in my fingernails and across my back between my shoulder blades, and the tones and meanings and harmonies rise up into my head and I cannot stand against the power. This Sunday, all I could think about was how very much I am in love with the man I want to grow old with. He used to call it "leaking" - I've cried over this fact of my life for awhile now. Music, I now begin to think, must hold Love within it.I don't have cancer. I do have some very good friends who waited with me to find that out. They didn't need to say anything - they just waited with me. And I have a husband to whom everything happens that happens to me. And today I realized, I also have a vessel for that kind of love. We have a vessel - we humans do, I mean. Music is Love's vessel. Don't you think so?

Little children can be heard crooning to their pets or toys, or chanting the same little tune over and over, or singing at the tops of their lungs ... it comes naturally to us. People make music. Tribes across the globe ... all cultures, all nations ... there is music for grieving, and music for triumph, and music for putting babies to sleep. There is music for worship and there is music for the courage needed for battle. We dance to music. We bury our dead to music. Last Sunday, in the music of the ancient service of the Mass, Love held me and let me cry.

1 comment:

Carol Whipps said...

Wow Steph, that's some heavy duty stuff there! My stomach was in knots of butterflies as I read this! I even started deep breathing, and when you wrote "NO CANCER", what a sigh of relief I had! I am so glad -- and now that you've had this "opportunity", you will be prepared to be an encouragement to others you know who may go through the same thing! Take Care! You are loved!! What a blessing LOVE is!