I love it when Nature nudges me along! My first free day in over two weeks, and out came the sun dancing with the curious clouds in the blue sky, laundry was checked off the “to-do” list and a walk along the River Thames was most DEFINITELY in order! And it was good.
The timing couldn’t have been better, for today was Father’s Day, and I felt the pull of the tears of sorrow and the nagging melancholy of loss tugging at every corner of my heart – and it was a place I didn’t want to stay. One of the numerous gifts my Father gave to me was his infectious, rebellious desire to stay young at heart. That desire, along with the help of the beautiful sunshine, won me over today, as I just couldn’t imagine losing the moment of my free day, the inviting sunshine, and this astonishing town that is London. So I took my tears and my melancholy and set out to enjoy the freedom.
Of course a million thoughts were my companion, and the pervasive one today was of my Dad’s final days in the hospital. (I believe my premonition was 100% accurate when I declared soon after his death that it would take me a lifetime to digest all that happened in his last few weeks in the hospital.) But today it was one particular moment that crashed back into my mind, and it happened as I found myself at the foot of Sir Big Ben.
The end was near – we all knew it – and the hardest task of the day for me was to actually leave the hospital room at the end of the night, knowing that with the drive home, the sleepless hours lying in bed, and the return drive in the morning, precious hours were being lost. I knew there wasn’t anything “to be done” at his bedside, but still, the sense that time was urgently running away from me like a high speed train made me feel desperate. I didn’t want to lose one single moment.
How many moments with my Father had I had up to that point in my life? (How many minutes are there in 37 years?) It was actually an absurd amount of time, I suppose. I know that. And yet, at the end, the commodity of those moments took on precious, indescribable value – and no matter what I did, I couldn’t find enough of them. And yet, I vividly recall one evening, that as I sat at his bedside in the late hours of night, I turned to face the huge, sanitary, relentless clock that hung over the wash basin in my Dad’s room and stared. As I looked back at my Father suffering there in his bed that would violently shake every 30 minutes to break up the fluid in his lungs, my heart pounded as I realized the time couldn’t pass quickly enough. All of a sudden I needed it to race ahead to immediately alleviate his pain. And yet, at the very same time, I begged it to stop dead in it’s tracks so that I wouldn’t have to face the future in his absence.
And though, as we all know, it couldn’t do either. It kept its own stubborn pace, ticking away without mercy, without sympathy, and without favor. It didn’t chose a side – it remained neutral and simply did it’s job.
So why is an opera singer writing about this on her blog? (Maybe it’s because she should take more than one day off every 2 weeks and then she’ll have a bit more presence of mind?!?!) No, I jest – it’s because that “event” at my Dad’s bedside was a gift. An enormous, beautiful, surprising gift. (Yet another thing he gave to me!)
Of course a trip to Westminster Abbey was in order: evensong at 6:30. A chance to sit with the memories and the lessons learned. The gift that came from that wretchedly beautiful evening in the hospital, was the brash reality that the only moment we ever actually HAVE, is now. I know it sounds a bit “self-helpy”, but it really is the realization that I walked away with. At that moment by his bedside, the past didn’t exist, (because I couldn’t go back and “be there’). And certainly the future didn’t exist, (because we couldn’t find a way to get there, try as we may). Instead, I took the moment, held my Dad’s hand, told him it would be ok, and we were together – there, in that very moment. It was the only moment of repose I found in all of those weeks – when I simply let the moment in. No past, no future – simply NOW. I sat and listened to the Vespers tonight and realized MUSIC is the embodiment of this. Music is only ever alive in the moment – with the breath of the musicians and the eager listening of the audience, it is alive in that moment. The second the curtain comes down, the life on the stage has gone. Yes, it can remain in our memory, but it lives in the NOW.
I think we continually turn to music to bring us into the moment. And consequently, it enables us, it invites us, to sit with things – and to simply experience where we are in that moment. It has the power to unlock things inside of us that beg to be unlocked, which we so rarely dare to face. It gives us the key (if we’re willing to accept it) to actually FEEL things that perhaps we stopped allowing ourselves to feel. And it happens in the NOW. It invites us to be alive now.
As a performer, I’m doomed if I occupy myself with the passage that just finished: if I spend my limited brain cells on analyzing if it was good or bad, I’m not present to actually take care of singing well the phrase I’m actually singing! If I’m singing a phrase, and my mind starts to wander forward to the finale of the aria with the high note, I don’t have the capacity to FULLY deliver the line I’m currently involved with!! I know it’s a delicate balance, as we have to find the pacing, etc, of a scene – and even the entire show – but I’m talking about the inner dialogue that most musicians have of “That was bad – you always sing that flat…” (which impairs your confidence level) or “Here comes the hard part – I always crack on this note…” (which tightens you from head to toe out of fear) OR, maybe even more dangerously, “Here comes the part I always nail!!!” Often, with that last option, you think you’re home free, thinking of how great it’s going to be, how the audience will roar with approval, and you stop preparing the phrase you’re currently singing in the right way – which means, SPLAT, the next phrase will die! That’s a very literal example of staying in the moment, but the more I do this opera thing, the more convinced I am of the necessity to approach things this way.
The bonus of course, is that it works even better in life. Living too much in the past or too much in the future tends to breed that monster called fear, I think – and I decided a little while ago that I don’t like fear. I much prefer not to entertain that particular poison, as much as I can possibly avoid it. It’s not particularly easy, as it requires a lot of retraining, or rewiring of the old muscles, but I have to say, it is the best option I’ve found to weather the storm.
I can easily slip into the thinking of how terrible it is that my Dad isn’t here to share in my life anymore. And it is true – it saddens me deeply on so many levels. (Last Friday in Rome, as the chorus started their glorious entrance, tears came as I thought, “God, I wish Dad could have heard this!”) But if I stay in that place, I stop living my life. I stop sharing with others. I’m tangled up and prisoner of the past. I prefer to miss him, think of him, and get out into the sunshine, get out into the moment, under the hands of this irrepressible Big Ben, hear it’s thunderous announcement that a new hour has struck, and carry on with the business of life.
That having been said, to all you Fathers out there – Happy Father’s Day! Your daughters love you!! Of course I had “the best Dad in the world” – but I also think I’m not the only one to claim that title…
Time to head back to “Seville” in the morning. Not to be too much of a tease, but I fear we are brewing up a rather sensational show here in London….but I wouldn’t want to predict the future! I’ll stay here in the moment, do my work with my AMAZING cast, (truly – um, amazing!) – and hope that the results bear the fruit of our labors! Tick Tock!!