How Can I Keep From Singing?

Submitted to the DAR Women’s Issues Essay Competition. It received state honors (Louisiana). OK, Charlotte, here it is. 

I suppose I’ve come to that “wise woman” part of my life, even though I don’t feel wise. I am a wife, mother, office manager for my family business, songwriter, and vocalist. I am occasionally asked for advice by young singers.

I tell them that a vocalist can never replace their instrument. If it gets damaged or broken, we can no longer sing – or we must find a way to deal with the damage.

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This is the story of my own damaged instrument. Not my voice, but my ear. My advice to young vocalists has expanded to include: If you ever experience sudden hearing loss, it is a medical emergency.  I tell them about the symptoms of Meniere’s Disease.

I juggled singing with job and family life. I sang with my blues band, at my church, at our local Jewish temple, and with my music partner in our Gospel duo. God makes each of us an instrument, and I did my best to learn to use and care for my musical instrument. Call me “Queen of the Earplugs;” I treasure my ears.

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Earplugs don’t help with allergies, though. For years, I’d have occasional bouts of clogged ears and dizziness during high allergy seasons. One December day a few years ago, my ears clogged.

I thought it was allergies, or possibly I’d caught my husband and daughter’s virus. I had things to do at the office and two sick ones to care for. I knew what this was, took ibuprofen and antihistamines, but it got worse.

I couldn’t hear anything clearly in my left ear. While it had been several years since my last “spell,” I’d had a severe dizzy day recently, so I saw my ENT, who was familiar with my history. I expected the usual cortisone pack, but this time he looked at me with concern when I told him this had lingered for three weeks.

I knew from his expression that something was different this time. This should have run its course by now, he said. He prescribed cortisone and an antifungal.

“When will my hearing return?” I asked.

“Let’s wait and see what the medication does,” he replied.

I took what felt like a never-ending course of cortisone and Valtrex.

After a month of medication, Dr. Robert ordered an MRI. Fortunately, there was no tumor, but no answers either. I went to the audiologist for a baseline audiogram. There was nothing but noise and pain in my left ear. Results? My right ear was good, but my left ear showed a profound hearing loss. I took a copy of the report home, filed it away, and cried. I cried me a river, as the song says. How ironic.

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I told only family and closest friends. I quit scheduling band gigs; even with earplugs jammed into my ears, I was afraid to take any chances. Meanwhile, a bizarre group of sounds had moved in where my hearing used to be: Tinnitus. In different keys. All at once.

Dr. Robert had told me that we needed to wait a year, as there was a chance that my hearing would return with time. Meanwhile, I had this invisible, sudden, crippling loss that I couldn’t even talk about or escape. After asking my husband to repeat something for the third time one evening, he voiced his frustration. “Are you DEAF?” he cried.

I fell apart.

“YES, I AM.” I replied. “In one ear. Half of everything I hear is GONE.” He felt terrible. So did I.

I began telling a few people about my loss. I was shocked at some of the responses.

“Well, I guess so, all that loud music you play!” A laugh. “I could have told you THAT was going to happen!”

Really? I’m the one wearing earplugs, remember? I have the small band that is known to be considerate of noise levels.

My response was anger. Then, there was the well-meaning advice about earwax, about this doctor, that diet, this treatment, etc. No, a cochlear implant would only destroy the way I hear music.

That year was one of adjustment, resignation, and hope. In many ways, I had to relearn to sing because I had to learn how to hear again. Our brains are wired for stereo, and that was lost to me. I quit going places where a large group of people gathered because I could no longer discern voices in a conversation. I quit going to movies and concerts and any live presentation because they were hard to follow. Everything was a wash of noise, coated with a blanket of anxiety and occasional panic.

I considered hearing aids, although I had no idea how to pay for them. We had two children in college. This was hope, though: One day, I can get hearing aids. 

I longed to hear in stereo. I wanted the safety of knowing where a sound originated. If someone called my name, I had no idea of where to turn. I don’t know where a siren or horn is coming from in traffic.

I wanted to hear music in stereo.

When the year was up, I went back to Dr. Robert and the audiologist. I was hopeful, as Erica, the audiologist, had successfully fit my father with hearing aids. I was determined to put up with whatever adjustment was needed. Surely no hearing aid noise could be more obnoxious than tinnitus!

The testing was similar to a routine audiogram. Erica explained that the noise and sounds and speech I would hear in the headphones would be adjusted just as it would be with a hearing aid, so we would find out whether or not a hearing aid would help me.

Whether or not? I hadn’t realized there was a chance that this wouldn’t work.

Today’s hearing aid technology is phenomenal. From what I knew about audio engineering, the ability to adjust amplification of specific frequencies in a device so tiny was nothing short of a miracle.

Unfortunately, this miracle was not to be mine. No amount of amplification or adjustment made a difference – only physical pain. I sat in Erica’s office and sobbed as she held my hands and offered tissue, understanding, and honesty. The cilia, the microscopic hairs of the inner ear that enable us to hear, were dead. No diet, supplement, medication, procedure or technical device would restore them. I faced a life in monaural, but at least I had one functioning ear.

She also offered a tentative diagnosis: Meniere’s Disease. My decades-long history of periodic dizziness was a clue. I’d had several particularly violent dizzy periods in months preceding the hearing loss. During the worst dizzy periods, I always spun to the left. I had become so used to a dizzy period during high-allergy months that they just became a part of life, diagnosed previously as “Benign Peripheral Vertigo.”

I learned about Meniere’s Disease, and saw my history written in what I found. Dr. Robert’s suggestions to address the vertigo were basically the same as for Meniere’s, but I felt defeated as I learned that no one knows the cause of the illness, and there is no cure. My years of periodic spells, interspersed by periods of feeling normal, had a name. Interestingly, it affects more women than men, and the possible causes include infection, allergies, head injury, stress, fatigue, migraines, respiratory infection, and an autoimmune response. I wasn’t too surprised that women experience Meniere’s more than men. It usually affects one ear, but sometimes attacks both over time. I cannot dwell on that. It is critical for me to maintain my balance, and I mean that metaphorically as well as literally.

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Balance.

It’s not always obvious that I have a hearing deficit, but an astute observer will notice. I’m getting better at lip-reading. In music, I seek the right position to hear what I need to hear in order to sing. In any group seating situations, I tell the person on my left “I’m deaf in this ear. If you say something and I don’t respond, it’s because I didn’t hear you.” I’ve learned to deflect the still-painful topic of hearing aids by saying “it’s a sensorineural hearing loss, which cannot be fixed by a hearing aid.” I’ve learned that such queries are usually out of concern.

I also tell others that sudden hearing loss is a medical emergency, even if you’ve had it before and you think “oh, allergies.” I also tell them about Meniere’s Disease.

On the positive side, the dizzy spells have mostly stopped; this, too, is typical of Meniere’s. As for singing, I’ve had to hyper-focus my sense of pitch, which has strengthened my vocals. I’ve heard of other vocalists who have experienced a similar hearing loss who have quit singing.

I can’t not sing. I have found a new way of listening, and a new way to focus on the experience of singing. It is a whole-body expression, as you must feel the vibrations and melody in your body. Your mind, throat, ear, mouth, lungs must know how the notes feel as well as how they sound. Perhaps it’s similar to the heightened sense of hearing that some vision impaired people have; I am partially deaf, so I have an enhanced sense of certain facets of singing that some take for granted.

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How can I keep from singing? At a Women at the Well concert. Photo by Rev. Kemper Anderson, at St. James Church in Cedartown, Ga.

About three years into this journey, my music partner and I were preparing to go on a short tour of several churches in the mid-Atlantic states, performing our original Gospel program about Jesus’ women disciples. We had recorded several of the songs from the program, and I longed to re-record some vocals and add harmonies.

Singing overdub harmonies is a challenge when you have only one functional ear. I managed by notating the harmonies, placing the headphone behind my one good ear, and forging ahead in spite of fear deep in my soul. What if I couldn’t do it?

But I could, and I did. A few days later, after the vocals were mixed, we shared the tracks with a friend. Danny is a gifted pianist who tours worldwide and has done a lot of recording and harmony vocals. He knows of my hearing loss, and was floored when he heard the harmonies.

“That’s a miracle,” he said, “that you could do that.”

It is a miracle, and one for which I am profoundly grateful. I still ache over the loss, but on the other hand, I now sing more sacred music and chant. Sometimes frustration still rises to the surface. That’s when the words and music of the hymn How Can I Keep From Singing sustain me:

Through all the tumult and the strife, I hear the music ringing

            It finds an echo in my soul. How can I keep from singing?                      

Too much.

Two highly visible suicides this week bring that subject into the forefront for the time being. For survivors (family and friends left behind), suicide will always be with them. For those who live with depression, thoughts of suicide are often there.

For the rest of the world, well, we’d just rather not think about it, right?

I’m not practicing professionally right now (I’m a Licensed Clinical Social Worker), but keep my license current and never stop learning. Suicide prevention is a subject that people will ask me about, and I know in at least some instances they ask me because I’m NOT currently “working in the system.” So I urge them: If someone has verbalized thoughts of suicide, take it seriously.

How often have you heard “I just can’t see how someone can do that?” When someone takes their own life, they’re not thinking right. It’s not a rational act, no matter how much the Suicide may rationalize it. “I have no way out.” There is always a way out, a way through that doesn’t entail leaving this world.

Remember, that person is in a dark, dark place. If you can’t see how someone can do that, you don’t understand the darkness. Be glad you’ve never been there. And if you ever find yourself there, I pray you’ll hang on to a glimmer of hope that things can get better, and seek help.

Hope – and help – is always on the horizon.

If you’re one who believes that suicides are eternally damned, I ask you to reconsider your view of (and relationship with) the Divine. I recognize that this is a long held belief in many branches of Christianity, that suicide is “the unforgivable sin.”

That’s just bull. The God I know isn’t like that. The God I know can – and will – forgive anyone! Is the soul’s journey over at the end of human life? Of course it isn’t. The body’s life is done, and so are the physical limitations of the body. I believe one can ask forgiveness even free from the earthly body. I don’t believe that God says “too late, had your chance, muffed it” and zaps the soul into eternal hellfire.

Besides, deep depression has a physiological component. I’ve heard news-chatter over the past few days that “more people are taking antidepressants than ever, but we have more suicides than ever, so…they’re not working?” That’s a pretty simplistic way of looking at things. There is a great sense of despair, confusion, and uncertainty in the world – and we’ve become a more secular society (to the point of forcing God out of everything as much as possible).  Hmmm, could the two be connected? The almost total elimination of the Divine from our public life is a far cry from “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.…” We don’t have a state religion, but God has been shoved aside in public life because heaven forbid we should bring, um, heaven into the discussion!!

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Take time.

The explosion of antidepressant use has many reasons, and I think that one reason is that it’s no longer as much of a stigma to seek help for depression. Another is that we live in a sea of stress. Fr. Matt recently gave a sermon on keeping the Sabbath. We don’t really do that anymore. Even for families who attend church on Sunday (or possibly on Saturday afternoon for my Roman friends and family), the rest of the day is often taken up with work. And if you enjoy Sunday dinner, someone had to cook it.

The point here isn’t that taking a day off will prevent suicides. But perhaps reshaping our societal values so that we value down time and use some of that down time to reconnect with the Divine would help to ease the stress.

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When was the last time you noticed the little things?

Take time to relax. Get outside or dive into an art museum. Read a book. Go for a walk. Go fishing and enjoy the world God made for you. Do something nice for someone else. Tell someone you love them. Listen for the still, small voice inside of you. That still, small voice may guide you to be an angel to someone else who really, really needs an angel. God can, and will, use us if we allow it, and if we listen.

Be kind. Smile at friends and strangers alike. Sure, we can show the love of God in big ways, but it’s the little opportunities that come up a lot more often, so smile because you’re a beloved child of God. Smile because we’re all in this together. You never know the inner battle someone else is fighting, and a simple smile just might make all the difference.

 

It’s National Bubba Day!!

I just learned that today, June 2, is… (drum roll)….

NATIONAL BUBBA DAY!

Seriously. I don’t know who comes up with these things, but on the National Day Calendar website, June 2 is listed as National Bubba Day.

Now, this is cause for celebration of All Things Bubba. You see, Bubba is the other “B” in B & B on the Rock, my Gospel duo that performs the Women at the Well program and other spiritual music. You may have encountered this particular Bubba in this blog in the past in this post and this post. However, since it’s #NationalBubbaDay, this post will celebrate Bubba-ness.

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First, a bit about Bubba-ness in general. Bubba is usually a Southern Thing (sort of like the word y’all), and is sometimes looked down upon by folks in other parts of the country who don’t understand. (Bless their hearts.) “Bubba” usually came about as baby-talk from a sibling who couldn’t quite say “brother.” Everyone usually has a few Bubbas in their life, and they are almost always the nicest guys you know. Sometimes the quirkiest, too, which is a good thing. In Louisiana, Bubbas make you think they’re just a good ol’ boy, and then Cajun-engineer a solution to a problem that you didn’t know you had…and you’ll thank them. Or laugh your head off. Or both. Seriously, Bubbas are usually very, very smart – and hide it from you. Never underestimate Bubba.

The particular Bubba in my life, my brother-from-another-mother, Joshua “Bubba” Murrell, is extremely intelligent and creative. He’s a loyal friend, great music partner, and certainly is…entertaining. He’s also a Grammy winner.

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This guy can make music with just about anything (even a straw) but builds guitars.

Bubba carbon fiber guitar

He also builds virtual rollercoasters and theme parks for fun, but watch out if he gets around a go-cart or other fun, driveable thing.

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What, you can rent one of these? ALL IN!!

He’s a computer geek and enjoys a good conspiracy theory. Be careful when you ask him a question, or you may get an answer that leaves your head spinning and you wind up in the “BubbaZone.”

I’ve known Bubba for a long time, and we’ve embarked on many a creative venture.

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At a Women at the Well concert at St. James Episcopal Church, Cedartown, Ga. (Photo by Fr. Kemper Anderson)

He’ll take inspiration and run with it. My husband once built a potato gun – one of those lovely PVC pipe creations that shoots potatoes. Bubba got inspired and built one as well, and painted (camo) and added a laser scope. Ah, the Bubba-ness!

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David (hubby), Bubba (with potato gun) and Greg (brother)

Then, there are the bonfires. Every few years, when the weather cooperates and we can acquire the wood, we have a family bonfire that seems to have grown bigger and bigger.

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Building a bonfire. I’d call it Bubba-engineering, but this is a team effort between Bubba, Greg (above) and David, so we’ll call it “Cajun Engineering.” They’re very similar, anyway.

Comedian T. Bubba Bechtol, also a highly successful public speaker, explains the essence of Bubba-ness and even has a “Bubba Code” at www.tbubba.com. He’s also (like the Bubba I know) a wholesome guy, not given to shock comedy or the like; it’s clean and funny.. He points out that “T. Bubba’s Church preference is “Brick”. Which pretty much sums up the essence of Bubba-ness: Live and let live, it’s all God, don’t be afraid to explore, and don’t be afraid to be crazily creative.

Today, celebrate #NationalBubbaDay with your favorite Bubba! And if you don’t have a Bubba in your life, well, bless your heart, you poor thing; you just don’t know what you’re missing.

And thou shalt love

Today’s scripture in my Bible Gateway app is Deuteronomy 6:6-7. I recognize the Sh’ma and V’havta :

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord.

 And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.  And these words which I command thee this day shall be in thine heart;  and thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down and when thou risest up.  And thou shalt bind them as a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes.  And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house and on thy gates.

(Deuteronomy 6:4 – 9, KJ21)

A perfect followup to yesterday, when I was accepted as an associate of the Community of St. Mary, Southern Province. The Community is a women’s Benedictine order within the Episcopal church, and I wrote about beginning this journey here and about my first visit to “The Mountain” here.

Love the Lord thy God… When I was accepted as an associate yesterday in the presence of my faith community at Epiphany Church, Sr. Elizabeth spoke about the Rule of Love/Rule of Life. Yesterday, the readings were about the commandments. Jesus, as we know, summed it all up when He pointed out the greatest commandment. Paul echoed it when he spoke of faith, hope and love: The greatest of these is love.

Sr. Elizabeth, one of the nuns from the Community, was in for a visit and to give a presentation at Epiphany’s “Programs and Potuck” on the Benedictine way and the Community of St. Mary. She stayed with friends Diane and Vickie, and I had fun showing her a few highlights of the area on Friday.  Our tour was filled with places born of love.

First, we spent time at Solomon House, which is Epiphany’s outreach ministry. This ministry grew out of the Brown Bag program, and serves clients with not just food for the body, but food for the spirit.  Minister Ellen Nora is the director, and we had a great visit. I love and support the mission of Solomon House, but life is often busy and I don’t always get to visit there as often as I’d like. We saw the brand new client-centered food distribution, and I also identified a way for our DAR chapter to help with the ministry beyond our individual volunteer efforts.

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Ellen Nora, Sr. Elizabeth and me at Solomon House. Deacon Diane and Solomon House were instrumental at bringing the Women at the Well program into the world.

Next, we went to the Rosary House in New Iberia. Here, handmade rosaries are offered for sale alongside statues of saints, holy medals, prayer cards and books. It is Roman Catholic in focus, but it’s all God.

Our next stop was Jungle Gardens on Avery Island, a favorite stop of mine when entertaining out of town guests. This wildlife sanctuary and botanical garden was born of Edward McIlhenny’s love of nature and concern for conservation. The Tabasco factory is also on Avery Island, and McIlhenny began making Tabasco sauce here after the civil war. Sr. Elizabeth was delighted to see snowy egrets as we wandered through the gardens. “Just wait,” I kept telling her. When we made it to “Bird City,” an aviary on the island, she saw what I meant. This sanctuary literally saved the snowy egret from extinction and today is home to thousands of nesting egrets.

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Egrets at “Bird City,” a wildlife sanctuary at Avery Island, Louisiana. 

Finally, we went by “Homeplace” – my own little corner of the world. Our time was short, so I borrowed Pop’s golf cart and Sr. Elizabeth, SweetGirl (my furry 4-legged child) and I took a quick tour. My husband was working in the yard, and my brother and Bubba were working in the garden – all labors of love.

Today is Monday, and if it is a typical workday I will face challenges. I will hold the medal I received yesterday as an associate of the Community of St. Mary, breathe deeply, and remind myself to love my neighbor (even if one is driving me nuts).

At least, I’m going to do my darndest. I usually fall short, but following a rule of life and love gives me some extra help.

Just for today….
I accept myself as I am, allowing Divine Love to work through me
I am my own compassionate witness
I allow myself to make beautiful mistakes.
I ask for and receive Divine Help and Grace.

It’s Possible!

Possibilities. Choose the wrong one, and you get stuck.

When I started college, there weren’t that many possibilities. Sure, at the time there were, but nothing like the possibilities for young women today. I didn’t have to confine my career choices to secretary or teacher, but there were still a lot of limitations.  I had no idea what WAS possible then.

I didn’t stick with my original career choice (broadcast journalism) but did spend many years in advertising. Those skills still serve me, so I suppose nothing is ever wasted. But I’ve always been reminded (often by friends and family) of things that “just aren’t possible.”

Oddly enough, though, there are more possibilities today for a middle aged woman than there were in the 1980s for a young woman or at least in my corner of the world. Hmmm. And interestingly, things that one would say are “impossible” for me hold no interest. Meh.

There are many things that fall into the “oh, that would be nice” category. I love it that I have possibilities. Many things are possible, and my challenge is to first remember that, and then decide what is worth my passion, time and effort.

It’s possible! C’est possible! Knowing something is possible gives you a choice as to whether or not to pursue it.

In considering my #OLW (One Little Word) for 2018, I had several choices. I kept coming back to the word possible. It chose me, so that’s the word for the year.

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I’m reminded of the song “It’s Impossible” from Rogers and Hammerstein’s musical Cinderella.

For the world is full of zanies and fools

Who don’t believe in sensible rules

And don’t believe what sensible people say

And because these daft and dewy-eyed dopes keep building up impossible hopes

Impossible things are happening every day!

It’s possible!

It’s possible!

It’s possible!

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Call me a zany fool. It’s possible.

A wonderful bird is the pelican…

I never know for sure what I’ll see as I walk around my home here in rural south Louisiana. We have a fair amount of typical wildlife – birds, squirrels, rabbits, armadillos, raccoons, foxes, snakes, an occasional bear – you know, everyday critters. Fortunately, I don’t have to deal with the bears as I walk to work (just the overturned garbage cans on occasion).

Today was a first, though. While I’m used to seeing egrets and herons in the pond behind our house, I hadn’t seen a pelican in the pond before. They prefer the vast openness of the Gulf, but this fellow looked quite content to paddle around for a while in my backyard.

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He had a couple of snacks, as I saw him snatch up something from the water. (I wish he’d de-populate the turtles, but I’m sure he prefers the small brim that are plentiful in the pond.)

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Pop has an affinity for pelicans.  Today is his birthday; I think the pelican was a special “Cosmic birthday card” for him!

What if she said no?

Have you thought about what would have happened if, when approached by Gabriel, Mary would have said “umm…thanks, but no.”

Unthinkable, right? After all, Mary had been specially chosen. Besides, God clearly knew her answer would be yes (or so I’ve always been told); otherwise, God would not have chosen her.

Right?

Hmmm. Maybe not.

In the image of God, male and female, was humanity created – and with free will, to boot. After all, free will had come into play in a big way before (think Abraham, Sarah and Hagar as a good example) and history kind of got rearranged. Eve and Sarah have long been blamed for leading men astray. (Funny how free will gets forgotten there!)

Mary could very well have said “no, thanks, and have a nice day” when Gabriel came to call.

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Henry Ossawa Tanner, The Annunciation

Had she said no, would God have given up on this creation of humanity as a sort of failed prototype, feeling that humankind was a little too feisty, a little too uncontrollable? Or had Gabriel been dispatched with a Plan B? Was it a case of “if Miriam says no, then go ask Salome, in the next village, she’s also a good Jewish girl, and hopefully more agreeable than this one” or would it be “well, your loss; we’ll wait a while to proceed with the Messiah business…another millennium or so.”

Mary – indeed, women in general – played a critical part in the Incarnation. Sure, God could have popped out Jesus fully grown in the middle of the Temple one day, but it wouldn’t have had the same effect. God could have said “tough, it’s gonna be what it’s gonna be,” but that wouldn’t jive with God’s gift of free will.

Now, I’ve always felt very strongly that women are called to full inclusiveness in Christian leadership because Jesus was inclusive in His ministry. Some denominations have women in leadership roles; others do not. Those who don’t ordain women count among their chief reasons that 1) Jesus, our Savior, was a man, and 2) Jesus didn’t call women to be apostles.

I’ve touched upon reason #2 before in this blog in writing about Mary Magdalene, Apostle. In my mind, though, the first reason loses all validity when you consider that Mary could have said no.

We do consider Mary to be an integral, necessary part of the Incarnation, don’t we?

If Mary had not agreed, Salvation would have taken a detour. (Unless, of course, the Holy Spirit said “that’s ok, we’ll find another woman.” Ouch.)

Mary’s participation was vital in the redemption of humanity. Jesus died for our sins; Mary gave birth for our sins.