Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Bittersweet Memories

There are moments in everyone's life that mark a turning point. Some are tremendous, others simply a whisper. Some, like the birth of a child or joining in matrimony, mark a change for the better, an opening of a new chapter. And some mark a loss, a change that affects you from that day forward, even if you don't know it at the time.

Often, these moments are marked by the senses. The smell of a flower, the sight of a newborn, the taste of a good meal. One of my own bittersweet moments is marked by a song.

In what seems another lifetime, I used to be very active in theater. Running technical crews, designing lighting and sets, acting, singing - whatever spare time I had was spent in a theater. As with most performers, you develop a repertoire of music that you use for auditions, depending on what you are auditioning for. One particular favorite was "Bring Him Home", from Les Miserables. It's a beautiful song, almost a prayer. It has power, and yet has a sensitive, almost vulnerable quality to it as well. I worked for quite some time to get to where I felt comfortable with the song. I was able to audition with this piece and did fairly well, landing a featured role in a production of Guys and Dolls.

Flash forward about 6 years. I had moved to Boston with my wife (we met during the production of Guys and Dolls). I hadn't done any theater for about 5 years, as getting married meant I couldn't eat rice four nights a week to support my theater habit. I missed it, but I had chosen a path that meant less time for theater and more time spent on earning a living and supporting my family.

On one particular weekend, my wife and I had taken my newly purchased '69 Volkswagen Bus and were headed down to Jones Beach in New York for a VW event. On the way down, we got into a discussion about her starting to get into theater, and the roles she was interested in. Somehow, something got her angry, and she informed me that when I had auditioned with "Bring Him Home", I had destroyed the song, ruining it for her. And that moment, without me knowing it, created a most profound change in me. In that moment, someone for whom I cared very deeply had taken something I was proud of, and turned it into a point of embarrassment. Had I really destroyed the song? Was I really that bad? I hadn't thought so, but if not, why would she say such a thing?

Of course, years later I can see that it was said specifically to hurt me. But in the moment, all I felt was shame, embarrassment and disappointment. And in that moment, my confidence was shattered.

I didn't notice it right away. In fact, I think it was three to four years before I first fully recognized it. Since I had not been doing theater, I had not been in a position to sing for others. Since the reason for singing in public wasn't there, I did not realize the extent of the loss. But when my daughter was born, I found it hard to even sing a lullaby, especially if my wife was in the room. I didn't want her to hear me. So I would hum, or whistle, but never actually sing if I thought she was in earshot. This hurt me deeply, because I wanted to sing to my daughter, and yet the fear of another rejection, another embarrassment had affected her as well.

My wife and I had a discussion about why I wouldn't sing, and she had no idea what had been the trigger. She apologized, saying she said it completely out of anger, and that it wasn't true. But the damage had been done. By this point, it had been nearly 10 years. My psyche had simply shut down the confidence that I once had, for fear that I would create another situation where I could be hurt again, embarrassed again.

The full realization of how deeply this hurt me came about 2 1/2 years ago, when my wife moved out, leaving me to care for my daughter. Doing the best I could, one day I took her to the local library. Outside the library is an amphitheater where they stage a variety of productions. My daughter asked if she could dance on the stage. I said "Sure" and lifted her up onto the stage. And then she asked if I would sing a song for her to dance to. I couldn't.

Here, my little girl, 4 years old at the time, just wanted to dance on the stage, and I couldn't muster the courage to simply sing a tune. I choked up, but told her I would whistle instead. And as I did, she twirled and flitted about, tilting her head back and looking at the clouds above as she spun in joy. It was right then that I realized how that one moment, that one statement blurted out in anger, that one fit of angry attack had so deeply bruised me.

Since then, I have made efforts to recover that confidence. My daughter has heard me sing, usually in the car. We have a few favorite songs where we alternate lyrics. But I still have that fear, that lack of confidence. My girlfriend, after over 2 years, has still only heard me sing on one occasion. The fear is still great. I want to, but can't bring myself to do it. I'll get there, but right now, that idea scares me.

A couple of nights ago, I was taking my nightly walk, enjoying a beautiful sunset, listening to streaming music over the Internet, when "Bring Him Home'' came on. And those bittersweet memories returned. The joy, of having sung it at the audition, feeling I had done so well. And the pain of having it thrown in my face as a failure. All these memories rushed in at the same time, wrapped in the hues of the dying day, the sunset in all its glory.
The summers die
One by one
How soon they fly
On and on
And I am old
And will be gone.
These lyrics from "Bring Him Home" are what I'm reminded of. How long will I continue to allow the callous comments of another to keep me from something that brings me joy? How long will it be before I set aside the fear of embarrassment and simply let what is inside of me out? Will I allow myself to continue, day after day, to rob myself of the pleasure I once knew? Doesn't the group of people I care most about deserve to see me at my best, and not the scared rabbit?

We all have these moments, some stronger than others. We all must work beyond those moments to be our best selves. I talk a good game, but I must put it into practice myself. I hope you will as well.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Alam Jackson at M Resort tonight. Meanwhile, roadies are eating @ja ckbox ...

-- Sent from my Palm Pre

A Visit From Pops

If you haven't found yet, try it. It's a blast. You pick an artist and it starts streaming music from that artist as well as similar artists. That's what I was doing tonight, as I played poker online. I had it streaming from my phone first, but when I got tired of headphones, I pulled up Pandora on my laptop.

That's when my dad paid a visit.

Understand, my dad passed away over five years ago. No, I didn't see a ghost, didn't hear a voice, nothing as "out there" as that. No, Pops visited me the way he usually does - with just a reminder.

For Pops' memorial service, I chose Billy Joel's "Lullaby (Goodnight, My Angel)" to be sung during the mass. It was sung by a family friend with a beautiful voice. Not real smart on my part, as it hit me hard right before I was supposed to deliver the eulogy.

Goodnight, my angel
Time to close your eyes
And save these questions for another day
I think I know what you've been asking me
I think you know what I've been trying to say
I promised I would never leave you
And you should always know
Wherever you may go
No matter where you are
I never will be far away

Goodnight, my angel
Now it's time to sleep
And still so many things I want to say
Remember all the songs you sang for me
When we went sailing on an emerald bay
And like a boat out on the ocean
I'm rocking you to sleep
The water's dark and deep
Inside this ancient heart
You'll always be a part of me

Goodnight, my angel
Now it's time to dream
And dream how wonderful your life will be
Someday your child may cry
And if you sing this lullabye
Then in your heart
There will always be a part of me

Someday we'll all be gone
But lullabyes go on and on...
They never die
That's how you
And I
Will be

I was always picture Carolyn when I hear this song, and Pops. The lyrics are a dad trying to explain to his little girl about what inevitably happens. Our loved ones move on, leaving behind the others. And what we have left is memories. The harder times fade, and the good memories float to the surface.

But in our human selfishness, we want them back. We want to have that one more day, one more hour, one more minute with them. Another laugh, another hug. We want more than the memories.

It seems when times are tough, or stressful, or just confusing, Pops shows up. Tonight, when I opened up Pandora, "Lullaby" was the first song to play. Hi Pops.

It starts the tears coming in rivers down my face every time. It gets hard to breathe, to catch myself from sobbing uncontrollably. I miss Pops. And while these moments don't come as often, they still show up every once in a while.

And then I remember Pops. And the lyrics:

Someday your child may cry
And if you sing this lullabye
Then in your heart
There will always be a part of me

Someday we'll all be gone
But lullabyes go on and on...
They never die
That's how you
And I
Will be

Out of nowhere, Carolyn will ask about Pops, and I'll tell her how much he loved her, how happy he was with her. How he bounced her on his knee, singing to her. And as long as I can tell her those stories, he's right here. 

And I hope that when my time is done, that Carolyn will sing a lullaby to her little one, and that she'll remember that I'll always be there with her as well.

Goodnight, Pops.