Music that Mends

Music is a powerful and potent mender of the soul and, in some ways, the body. It is transforming and uplifting and allows us to forget, in the moment we experience it, the stresses and aches of life that weigh us down. I attended a concert last night called “Music that Mends” and have found its title to be abundantly true lately. It was meant to be a benefit show for someone who is struggling and, although the crowd was small, the intimacy of those who did gather made the music that much more of a salve. I certainly do not have the struggles of the man for whom the concert was played, but my small stresses of money and home repairs, pregnancy and parenting, etc. paled as I sat and just listened. And watched the faces of those who were simultaneously touched by the same mood. It was, briefly, a soundtrack to life. Children giggling in the background, water flowing in the courtyard, people speaking softly, doors opening and closing. Even the birds joined in periodically. And it was lovely.

All of our weekend plans involved music and every night I had to convince myself, due to ever-increasing pregnancy nausea, to leave the house and follow through with them. Yet each night, in the presence of music and friendship, I was able to forget, temporarily, how sick I felt. Even the mediocre cover band at the burger joint where we met friends Friday night was enough to inspire Aiden and all of the other kids to dance and sing. Which, in turn, inspired us to smile and have the freedom to engage in good conversation and good food. As we left, Aiden said, “I like those guitar guys!” Likewise, the incredible food, fellowship, and fingerpickin’ of Saturday night’s cookout/jam session was just what the doctor ordered. So, my prescription for alleviating stress and its various side effects: get together with friends, add a little food, and TURN UP THE MUSIC. You’ll be grateful you did.

Dance with more than just your toes!

I admire the lack of inhibition in children.  Of course it has it down side, but for the most part, I think it is a trait to be nurtured and emulated.  Children have not yet learned to be afraid of what other people think of them.  They simply experience the world around them and engage it with undaunted enthusiasm and vigor.  A rather potent example of this is dance.  We are all hardwired to dance.  It is part of our nature as human beings to physically respond to music.  I have never met a young child who did not dance.  It begins almost as soon as they are able to make voluntary movements and continues till the time they learn to be afraid.  A baby who cannot even sit up by himself will bob his head to music and older children will jump and bounce and swing around the dance floor with an excitement that cannot be held back – as though they can’t help it.  And why should they?  It’s natural, joyous, active, FUN.

Children dancing at the "Delta Mountain Boys" concert at the Southern Cultural Heritage Center.

I recently attended a bluegrass concert where the music was as lively and dance-inducing as it ever gets.  And, as I looked around the room, I noticed that every single adult, without fail, sat straight and calm in their seat while their feet bounced in rhythm under their tables.   Try as they might (in order to maintain “dignity” and “self-respect”), they could not keep the dance inside.  Not completely.  It was wiggling out their toes, trying to escape.  But the children . . . they didn’t even try to keep it in.  They danced wildly around the floor as though no one was watching.  Or perhaps as though everyone was watching but they loved it.  When do we lose this sence of freedom?  What are we so afraid of?  Is it because we are so quick to judge others, that we assume everyone else is judging us?  Well, as my sister’s teacher told her in high school, “You’ll become much less concerned with what other people think of you when you realize how seldom they do.”   Children believe themselves to be the center of their own little world.  And with that understanding, they make the rules.  It doesn’t matter what other people think because it’s their world, after all.  As adults, we come to understand, rather brutally sometimes, that the world does not, in fact, revolve around us.  But some residual part of that belief holds on and we still believe that people are analyzing every little thing we do, because, I mean, why wouldn’t they?  But despite our immense worry, people are far less preoccupied with the things we do than we give them credit for.  And most people are much less judgemental than we often assume.  When you see someone dancing spiritedly at a concert, unconcerned about how professional they look or whether or not they’re messing up their hair . . . just dancing, do you think, “Look at that stupid person!  Why don’t they just sit down?”  Or do you smile and wish you had the nerve to live in the moment as they did?  If your answer is the former, than you deserve to be self conscious and fearful, because you will probably receive the same judgement you give out.  But if it is the latter, know that MANY people have that same thought.  And most likely they admire you for taking chances and living outside of a box.  Perhaps if we all lost a bit of our inhibitions, and let our kids teach us as much as we teach them, we might inspire one another to live a bit more vividly, with open eyes, open arms, open hearts, and more than just our toes dancing!

Nostalgia Covers a Multitude of Sins

There are moments we know, without a doubt, that we will remember fondly. But it doesn’t mean that those moments were completely idyllic or picturesque. Often times, as we dive back into our memories, they are blanketed with a think layer of nostalgia that covers a multitude of sins. Family gatherings, for instance, are often fraught with familial tensions. Unspoken but implied criticisms. Hurt feelings or frustrations. But these are not the things we remember. We remember with rose-colored glasses the good times. The unguarded enthusiasm of children experiencing things for the first time. The brash and also unguarded comments of the aged who no longer feel the need to bother with social niceties. Fingers in mixing bowls getting smacked by mammas. Christmas presents opened just a smidge at the corner when no one was looking. Or endless games of monopoly in which we seek to dominate our beloved.

But it struck me this weekend as I experienced just such a moment of pure nostalgia in the making, that it is often incredibly hard to get past the difficulties that exist in those moments so that we can see, all around us, the things we are sure to remember fondly. Why is it that we so often only appreciate things that have already passed? It is because we’re too busy dealing with the stresses of the present to notice. But shouldn’t our memories, time and time again, be a lesson to us to let go of the things that don’t matter in the present? If we can just find it in us to brush off a harsh word, let go of unwarranted criticism, or never return the slight of someone else in kind, we can remember, in the present, the love that holds us together and the joys that are the building blocks of our memories.

This weekend found me and my family in a very small town in northern Mississippi where my husband was participating in a reunion concert for a local band who’s first gig occurred 40 years previous. It was astonishingly beautiful. Already, I remember it warmly. But I do regret allowing myself to be taken up with some of the stresses that surrounded the weekend. Some of them were silly stresses. Some of them serious. But none of them will factor into the beauty of the memory. What did it matter, in the long run, if the hotel room was old and small? Or if my sick son was a bit whinny and slept in my arms for most of the concert? That, in and of itself, will bring a smile with its memory. Was it really justified of me to feel somewhat jealous of the time I didn’t get to spend with an old friend when he was surrounded by family, friends, and a girlfriend he doesn’t get to see often enough? Should I have allowed myself to embody the stresses of those around me who were prepping for the concert or dealing with their own family tensions? Or should I have been an oasis for those same people – a stress free zone to refresh their mind and spirit? Of course, none of these difficulties compared with the wonderful beauties that the weekend afforded. Such as the constant bombardment of strangers telling me how wonderful my husband was both as a person and as a musician and how much they appreciated his help over the last several months. Or seeing the pure excitement on my son’s face, despite being sick, as he watched his daddy play in a concert. Or witnessing old men relive the passions of their youth with unrivaled enthusiasm and the support of their home town for their endeavor. And seeing a mother dance with her grown son, my friend, as though no one was watching and imagining myself and my son, who was sleeping in my lap, dancing in their shoes in the not so distant future. This is the stuff of life. All the rest is not worth remembering, and so, it is not worth dwelling on.