Whatever may pass and whatever lies before me, let me be singing when the evening comes (Matt Redman)
Return to the scene of the crime – the day I let the music die – and rewrite the final line, and this time…. (Sara Bareilles)
There’s a picture in my head of a lady I once knew.
She loved to sing.
In the photo I remember, she rests in a hospital bed.
Left arm raised, eyes closed.
There’s another picture in my head of a girl I once was.
She too loved to sing.
And for the better part of a decade, it seemed that wherever she went, people wanted her to sing. Not so much because she was good at it, but because she put her whole self in it.
There’s something powerful about a song that demands all of you.
It’s the kind of song that transcends both lyrics and music to something else altogether.
It’s the kind of song I used to sing.
Two months ago, a group of leaders I know were asked to share the people who’d had the biggest impact on who they’ve become.
I volunteered to go first, but by the time I’d heard from the rest of the room, I wished I could take my answer back, or at the very least, edit it.
The maturity of the ladies in that room humbled me.
See, in my early years I’d learned that the sweet spot of growth is when we’ve got the input of those wiser and further along the journey than us, and when we turn what we’ve received from those wise people to invest in those just a few steps behind us.
Except I’m learning now that the sweet spot is less traveled than many of us would wish.
In a season where I’ve been navigating loss on a few different levels, I was now faced with the newfound realization of just how much abundance I’d been given
in those I deeply respect
who’d bothered to take the time
not only know me and all of my weaknesses,
but also to
of those weaknesses,
while not going anywhere.
You know those moments where people describe their lives flashing before their eyes?
I had one this week.
Only it wasn’t a near-death experience.
Pulling ourselves together in some of the coldest stretch of weather us weak-willed, easily-chilled, west-coasters have ever seen,
our family pressed through the remaining achy-ness of the flu
and trekked our way to the Queen Elizabeth Theatre
only to find out that most of Abbotsford
had come along with us.
It was a night like no other,
filled with reunions
of all those who knew us when
and songs we all used to sing
led by those who’d inspired many of us to sing in the first place.
And that night I went back to this moment I’d had a few months ago.
It turns out that many of those who’d had the greatest impact on my growing up years
also taught me to sing.
When I woke up this morning I read a story about two men who were singing in the middle of the night –
Jailed, shackled to each other, and shivering, they led those around them in songs of
even through an earthquake.
I mean, what kind of insanity is that?
What reason did they have to sing?
Fourteen years ago this February,
I stood in an old barn-turned-gymnasium
on a Sunday night
with hundreds of others
who’d dedicated their time
to capturing a glimpse of what our songs were like back then.
It’s not a recording I listen to often.
Not only is it strange to hear your own voice,
the memories are so fresh I don’t need to consciously remember them.
And it’s not a coincidence that the lyrics assigned to me were ones of certainty amid trouble.
As I opened my mouth to sing the last song, I looked up at the crowd around us.
Thirty feet in front of me stood my dad.
He would die in the next six months.
And while I didn’t know that then, I still had this sense of a moment happening.
I remember saying something right before we sang that last, oh-so-well-known-song,
something to the effect of
Some of us here need to sing this even though we don’t feel it.
It’s when things are least well that we need to remind ourselves that we are well.
And if there’s anything I’ve learned in the decade and a half since,
it’s the things we don’t feel like singing
that we need to sing the most.
Which is why is surprises me to think that within half a decade of that Sunday night
I wasn’t singing much of anything.
I could point to a thousand different circumstances
or the sins of a hundred different people
to explain that.
But that’s not the truth.
The truth is,
I just. stopped. singing.
Then came January of 2009.
Drives to the chemo clinic replaced treks to the grocery store. Plans for vacation became plans for getting through each day.
Feeding my babies.
Wrestling with the worst pain of my life.
Until one day, coming off the Patullo Bridge, a tiny sign in a corner of a strip mall caught my eye:
Pull over, I told my husband.
I needed to see my old instrument.
And in this warehouse of more pianos than I could count, it was a shiny black one off to the side that tugged me towards it.
Perhaps it was the lack of audience, perhaps it was the fresh knowledge that there are no guarantees,
but for the first time in six years
I let myself sit down
After about twenty minutes, I startled to find an older man a few feet behind me.
He introduced himself as the owner of the store.
Sorry for taking over your instrument, I quickly apologized.
Don’t, he said. You can come and play anytime you like.
It’s like he knew we didn’t have a piano at home, or that something far more serious was going on.
I thanked him and got up to leave.
Halfway out the door, I heard him call,
You have great taste, by the way.
I turned back.
Sarah McLachlan bought that piano last week.
And a little smile grew in my heart.
I turned to David:
I think its time we get a piano.
He nodded. I know.
It’s been too long since I sang.
He nodded again.
Months later, as my cancer levels dropped and my hair thinned out, we found a fallen-off-the-truck baby grand that fit our price range.
It barely made the stairs to our house. Two inches longer and it wouldn’t have made the turn into our piano room, a half-level above our main floor.
But as I sat down to play, something else was different.
The song was different.
It fell … flat.
I don’t like talking about this with people who know me.
These years, the era of singing, feels silly and foolish and
The written and spoken word has somehow become an easier, less vulnerable way to work through the unfinished pieces of my heart.
And so I moved on from that Lana.
I told myself I’d matured.
One season was over and another had begun.
It never occurred to me that in doing so I was being inconsistent with myself.
See, my favorite books to read are books of history.
My favorite stories are stories of history.
Not just stories of who-did-what-and-when, but why and how and because of this.
These are the layers that most of us never see or fully understand in those around us.
And its these untold histories that I find the most fascinating.
You know when you witness a reaction from another person that seems disproportionate to the situation and an observer says, there’s some history there,
That’s where you know the interesting stuff is.
It’s also when you know to stop asking questions. These aren’t details everyone needs to – or should – know. Because the places where there’s history there are
often the most personal,
and less-shiny places.
Not everyone needs to know them,
nor should we constantly let our minds speculate about them
if we’ve not been invited in to them.
But it is curious to me that while these moments that a handful of others sometimes graciously allow me to see are the same moments I’m so reluctant to show.
Perhaps we’re all just a little bit ashamed of our own histories.
And if we’re honest with ourselves, we all have reason to be.
Two years ago this week I wrote about the need to allow those we’ve known the longest become a new version of themselves. True friends – and healthy families – don’t just try to stuff each other back into the same old boxes they’ve always filled out, but genuinely allow each other to grow.
Except now I wonder if that’s only part of it.
Because while we’ve all done things to be ashamed about, knowing our own histories – the ins and outs and where we went wrong and where we turned a right corner – might be essential to our survival.
It all depends on the lens we choose.
We can choose the rose-colored lens, editing out the bad, remembering only the good.
Most people call this nostalgia.
But wistful sentimentality rarely helps us move forward.
If left unchecked, it can inspire a melancholic lust of the good ol’ days that will never be found again.
On the other hand, there is the ashen lens, editing out the good and remembering only the terrible.
Only the terrible swallows us up.
We have no choice but to build a wall between ourselves and the selves we used to be.
We might not call it as it is, but those around us will hear it for what its produced:
And while nostalgia will leave us naively vulnerable to unhealthy repeats of ours – and others – worst mistakes, bitterness will cut us off from any real community, making us allergic to healthy, long-term relationships.
Which is actually what most of us want.
So if looking back both too often and too little will leave us bereft, what’s left in this season of remembrance, reflection, and endless gatherings of those you don’t always know so well and those who know you all too well?
This fall hit our family with a bang on so many levels. School, work, and relationships collided for one of the most intense periods of loss I’ve ever known.
There were moments – many of them – where I didn’t know what was good anymore.
And while they were just a series of really horrible days, they seemed that they would last forever,
that this was our new normal.
And it felt. just. awful.
Somewhere along the way I stumbled on a book called Choosing Gratitude.
It promised I’d find joy no matter what my circumstances were.
Yes, please, and yeah, right warred back and forth in my mind.
Yes, please, must have won out, because I read the book.
I think because I just didn’t know what else to do.
And slowly, over those next sixty days, my stiff, chilly heart started to thaw.
It wasn’t rose-colored or grey lenses I needed at all.
It was the crystal-clear ones
the kind like my oldest daughter puts on each morning,
those that allow her farsightedness to come into perfect alignment,
the kind that permits all colors and lines and shades into her vision for a
more complete picture.
So at the end of a month of challenging myself to a gratitude challenge, I had a blog all ready to go.
I read it now and realize it for the sanctimonious awfulness it would have been.
But it seemed like everything was building to this moment where I, on the heels of my thirty-day gratitude challenge, could march into my oncologist’s office and finally hear those magical words of
Back in March, we were so close.
It seemed it was only a matter of time.
We’d even started to make plans as if it were true.
Think positive, our world always tells us, right?
But all the positive thinking in the world can’t change things that are beyond our control.
No superfood or naturopath or magic bullet theory of health and wellness
guarantees any of us an abundance of next breaths and endless days
living exactly as we wish for.
(That requires Someone outside of us.)
So when I learned that instead of my levels of the cancer gene being not findable or in complete molecular response or even closer to that magical level of remission,
but instead a little bit worse – not a lot worse, still good, still okay, just not what I wanted –
I came home and cried.
I was so, so ready for this to be over. For the era of cancer to be complete.
What use was gratitude in this?
It took a week or so, plus the firm words of those who know better than me –
to climb the seven steps to the half-level above our living room
where our slightly-dented, too-often-under-used, shiny black baby grand sits.
And I sat.
And I opened the books of the songs I used to sing.
When peace like a river attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll, whatever my lot, You have taught me to say
It is well with my soul.
the complete picture of our lives
is not the tiny little fragment we can see right now.
Its the snapshots from all the moments that make us who we are today
and all the moments left to come
even though we have no idea what they will be.
If I’ve learned one thing this fall, its that on the mornings I wake and see nothing to be thankful for,
I can dip into my history.
And it turns out there’s plenty of reasons to sing.
Not the least of which is,
I’m still here.
Eight years later.
The thing is,
There’s so much responsibility that goes with it.
How many get an unusual extension on their lives and use it on themselves, cultivating selfishness and greed in the name of carpe diem, or worse, take it as a sign that God-loves-them-better-than-others or that they-had-more-faith or took-better-care-of-themselves and then develop a five-step plan for how the rest of the world can be awesome like them?
It’s nauseating, really.
What my children would remember of me if I’d died when the disease said I should have, back in the wee moments of 2009, would have been, well,
There’s the great responsibility: I’ve lived long enough for them to remember me.
I asked Noelle the other day if it was better that she remember her mom or that she didn’t? What would be easier?
Ever so thoughtfully, she spoke with her usual conviction.
Definitely that I would remember you.
It was the end of a truly horrible parenting day, one in which at least two apologies were required of me if my children were going to have any sort of compassion for the nastiness they saw in their mother. So I’m not sure if its bravery or an insane need to know the whole truth about myself that prompted me to ask them at the end of this kind of day
what they would remember about me.
that you stayed in your pyjamas every day until you had to go somewhere.
that you taught us… everything. You teach us everything, Mom.
That’s the thing – I do.
Good, bad, ugly. Everything I do and say teaches them something.
And if I’ve not taught them how to sing in the fiercest storm, I haven’t done my job.
It’s time. Old songs, new songs, and everything in between.
It’s time to sing.
I warn you,
It’s the kind of song that will demand all of us.
But I think we’ll find
that at the end of it
the words will be a little more true,
things will be a little more right
and our eyes will see a little more clearly
just how well it is.