The kitchen table defined our life together as a family but it was music that initially drew Bill and I to each other and held us together for more than forty-three years.
We met at a regional high school music contest. (It was an inauspicious beginning, but that’s another story for another blog). Our John Philip Sousa awards sit side by side on the piano. Most of our dates that first summer were dances where the rock band he was in was playing – (the original Nirvana, right, Lanny?). My love of football was cemented that fall during those Saturday afternoons at Memorial Stadium in Champaign where I watched him in the Marching Illini, soaking up the pageantry that was college football at that time: the iconic Block I formation with Chief Illinwek dancing through the band; the entire stadium singing Hail to the Orange a cappella. Our first steps toward becoming pastors were taken traveling to various churches in the area where he would sing, with me accompanying him on the piano.
Our musical tastes were eclectic, wide-ranging and far-flung, from classical to rock and (almost) everything in between. From Holst and Handel to How Great Thou Art; from The Beatles to Bocelli; from Weird Al Yankovic to West Side Story; from Superstar to Streisand; from Man of La Mancha to Martina McBride; from Drum Corps International to Don’t Cry for Me Argentina. We judged how “good” a movie was as much by the soundtrack as we did the plot or the acting.
Don McLean’s classic American Pie tells his version of “the day the music died”. I know whereof he speaks. On that June day Bill slipped the bonds of earth my relationship to and with music was altered in the extreme, something that was totally unexpected and I was in no way prepared for. Perhaps the best way to describe it is “emotional whiplash”; that searing “head-snap” sensation when one’s experience of something shifts on a dime from comfort, pleasure, and joy to sadness, confusion and excruciating pain. Because it was such a part of who he was, I knew there had to be music for his funeral – not just “church” music, but a representation of all of the different kinds of music he loved. But because music was so much a part of not just who he was but who we were together, it felt like part of me had died and was laying in that casket with him.
Where previously there was always music playing in the car or my home office, it was now too difficult to listen to; there were too many triggers. The snippets of hymns and songs that continuously ran through my head fell silent as well. The piano was shut and locked, and it stayed that way. I brought it with me when I moved, but never bothered to have it tuned and can count on one hand the number of times I’ve played it.
For my birthday the next year my kids took me to the Candlelight Processional at Epcot, where the Christmas story is narrated (straight from scripture), accompanied with seasonal music played by a fifty-piece orchestra complete with Herald trumpets and a mass choir. I expected the day to be emotional; I was marking the holidays and a milestone birthday without Bill there to celebrate with me, at a concert at his favorite place on the planet. It was emotional; it was also deeply healing – something that was totally unexpected. As I listened, I could sense Bill’s presence and feel the unbounded joy he would have exuded had he been with us in the flesh that night.
I hadn’t gone looking for healing; I’d just hoped to be able to enjoy the show. But the Holy One, who is always in the business of doing “…immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine…” (Ephesians 3:20) used that concert to open my heart and let music into my life again.
The piano tuner will be here next Wednesday.
When, in the recent past, have you experienced an unexpected blessing? What was it?
What about it was unexpected? The timing? The source? The supporting cast?
Did you immediately recognize it as a blessing, or did it take some time for you to realize that was what it was?
“…By day the Lord directs his love, at night his song is with me…” Psalm 42:8, NIV