The tall dresser stands on the wall of my bedroom like a long ago hope chest. The drawers are empty, filled only with fantasy. What am I waiting for? Not sure. Like some little girl reading fairy tales, waiting for prince charming to come and fill the drawers? Not likely I think.
So honestly, I am not sure what it is those empty drawers represent. The empty space in my life? The empty space in my heart? There is an empty space in both, but my heart is full of love as is my life, both filled with wonderful family and friends. I am a very lucky woman and I know it. But oh those empty drawers.
At this time in my life I think more than anything, they represent the opposite. The empty drawers represent courage and right decisions. They represent strength and gratitude.
So I will fill my empty drawers with writing. With songs. With prayers. With recipes. With pictures of people I love. Mostly virtually. But every time I look at that dresser standing tall in the corner of my bedroom I will imagine all of those things filling the drawers and I will smile.
Music is what sustains me, what has always sustained me. Music is about memory and wishes and hopes and dreams. What was the soundtrack of most of my days is now elevator and television commercial music. It makes me feel annoyed, and somehow disrespected, some days; the music was so very good and carrying so much intention.
I know there is excellent music out there now, but it seems harder to find. My baby brother helps to send me to some of it. Some of it I find by accident. Some of it my bandmates find and share.
I am closest to the God of my understanding when I am making music. I am closest to my truest self when I am making music. I have always had a voice but in these last few years I have found my best and truest voice. And now…there is nobody to make music with during this weird time of social isolation. I miss it deeply. As a singer my most precious moments are blending my voice with the voices of others, in the amazing sound it creates when people sing in harmonious joy. Having found my bandmates is a gift beyond telling. So as a singer it is not my best to sing in isolation but I do it anyway. Belting away at the piano with just the chords as my accompaniment; I never learned to play anything other than classical music correctly.
As a musician, and someone deeply affected by music, the last years have also brought many sorrows. So many of those greats who created that soundtrack have fallen. Dr. John, Paul Barrere, Hugh Masekela, Cecil Taylor, Yvonne Staples, Charles Neville, Aretha Franklin, Marty Balin, Leon Redbone, Ginger Baker, Butch Trucks, Al Jarreau, James Cotton, Chuck Berry, J Geils, Greg Allman, Rosalie Sorrels, Glen Campbell, Tom Petty, Fats Domino, Della Reese, Kenny Rogers, Bill Withers and now John Prine. This is just in the last three years and it is very, very incomplete.
People refer to the Day the Music Died as the day the plane carrying Richie Valens and others went down. I feel as if my music is dying out slowly and inexorably. And each death brings me closer to my own. But I have music to make yet, and I am still standing…and still singing.
Each time I leave my mother’s home, I feel keenly that it could easily be the last time I ever see her. She is turning 92 and in relatively good health but she is turning 92 and is frail as one is at that age. It is a subdued kind of sadness as the inevitable approaches.
My father has been gone quite a few years and I miss him still although he wasn’t much of a dad; he was interesting though, and taught me to appreciate tools and their use. But as usual I digress.
When they are both gone it will seem odd, and we are a very small family. So I have been reflecting on this special kind of aloneness. If the world turns the right way, it will happen to us all; children are meant to bury their parents. While we will always miss them, it is the natural order of things and doesn’t feel wrong; life fills the spaces. And we, the children, are meant to become those that we have buried. Parents fervently pray never to have to bury a child, it is unnatural and a kind of aloneness that cannot ever be remediated.
And as I was leaving my mother’s home most recently, for the maybe last time, I learned that my son and his fiancee, who have lived with me for quite some time, will be gone in a matter of days. I was married for roughly twenty seven years, I have been single for roughly three and one half years, during all of that time my son has lived with me. My son’s dog has lived with us. And of late, my son’s fiancee. I have not lived in an empty house for approximately 30 years and it is odd; not necessarily bad – just odd.
Having retired about eight months ago, and just now settled into not travelling, I am at home during the day for the first time in fifty years. My life seems slightly alien, as if it is really someone else’s life and I am just playing at living it. The house is silent now if I don’t play music or turn on the TV. I have become extremely aware of small sounds like the icemaker, the dishwasher and the cat wheezing softly in his sleep.
This all sounds rather pathetic and sad but really, my life is full of people and things to do. I teach, I sing, I write, I deal with my mother’s business, I listen to people talk on the phone, I go to lunch, I take care of my home. Etcetera. I have a full and beautiful life, I am just not used to what it feels like now. But I am moving into my own life, a day at a time. This is aloneness that has remedies. And my son calls.
As we walked the rough cobblestones of the death camps some of the elderly among us struggled with the uneven terrain even as they struggled with memories of lost family and broken connections and betrayed heritage. I watched her walk beyond the limits of her ability because this is was why she came .
At Auschwitz I, the docent took us through buildings that were still standing, explaining the function of each. The eugenics, where terrible experiments took place. The original rooms that served as “barracks”, people packed on the floor with no space to walk. The “punishment” cells where the SS experimented with ways to kill. And many more.
Although the buildings were relatively close together, it was hard going. Those that had been utilizing wheelchairs were unable to do so on these unforgiving paths. And the docent, sensitive to the limitations of some in our group, suggested places that folks could rest and wait for us to meet up with them. Many did just that – they rested, they waited, unable to go on.
One of the most moving things I witnessed on this trip was one elderly woman. Overweight, swollen legs, short of breath. She was offered many opportunities to rest, to stop, to end the tour at each camp. I watched her struggle on, slowly, well behind the pace of the rest of the group. But she would not give up. Being on this sacred ground, where her family died, was the most important thing. Walking these paths, looking for their names on the recording pages, this was everything. She would not give up, she would keep going the whole way, no matter how painful or how difficult, because this was why she came.
I lie in this old bed, with it’s lacy sheets and long history, in this rambling old box of a house. I think of all the loves, and not so, that have shared this place with me; some better unremembered. Just one whose absence is painful; not a husband in case you wondered.
This old box holds my memories, fifty years gone though it never was really home. In a life where I never really settled anywhere for long, it became a kind of symbolic home, a place to come back to. It has a familiarity that only long time places have. The dangerous winding road that brings me here is not dangerous to me, even in the ice and dark, as I know it so well. The seasons of flowers and fruit trees, some now gone and some just feeding the bears, are like my own seasons; as familiar as breathing.
The seasons of my life are, in some ways measured here although I will always think of myself as a New Yorker. This is the lodestar place, the peaceful place and the occasional refuge despite the vagaries of familial relationships. Every part of this place is a marker of memory; puppies now gone and buried in the lawn, my son racing naked in the grass, the smell of our first horse, the view from a bedroom window. This is where I came from college, from the wreck of my time in D.C., this where I found recovery, this is where I came on holidays from law school, this is where I began my career, this is where my son was born.
I realized recently that where I live, both town and house, has been my home for the longest in my entire lifetime. What an odd thing, from birth to this moment I have never stopped anywhere for this long. And I never imagined it would be where I would finally light for good. Perhaps there is one more place, who can tell?
Now, as I watch my mother decline along with this old box, I know that all of our time here is drawing to a close. And while I know that I cannot and would not go back, there are those moments I wish I could revisit. The roads not taken, the seasons not fully appreciated. Regret is useless but human, not a place to linger. Gratitude is where I have to live, that this old box has sheltered me until I could stand alone. It is a new season in my life, I am not done.