Last night I went to see The Jayhawks at Mercy Lounge here in Nashville. I stood in a club crowd, a pack of middle-aged music fans, almost entirely white, 40s and 50s, maybe some younger, some older, elbow to elbow with strangers and friends, my hands raised to the ceiling as the band started their final song, “Blue”, soaring harmonies –
“you brought me through
you made me feel so blue
why don’t you stay behind,
why don’t you stop
and look at what’s going down”
Megan and Jason and Meg and Andy leaned in near to add their voice to mine. Tim even came over, a large grin on his face. The man behind me from Salt Lake City, with his tipsy beer almost dripping down my back, took the high part in perfect pitch. The woman in front of me, barely 5 feet tall and dancing throughout the entire show in ecstasy, who’d told me she hadn’t seen them since she saw them almost 30 years ago in college, blissful, teary eyes, awkward girl alone there shaking her long hair and not even noticing (or caring) that she was bumping into taller people all around her as she danced, her head closer to the ground than theirs. Everyone was singing. Had been singing. Through the entire show. And for that moment, those moments, that more than two-hour show, I felt like we were all — like all of humanity, was on the same team.
Last year, before I got pregnant, in fact, in between the IVF implant that didn’t work and the one that did and resulted in my son, I took Megan to Louisville to see U2. Megan had finished her breast cancer treatments, was cancer free, her hair growing back. I was grieving the implant that didn’t take and skeptical that the 2nd(our last) would result in a pregnancy. And we were on our way back from a show in Columbus and I got on Stubhub and bought tickets to the U2 Joshua Tree tour. I’d never seen them live and I became a fan of theirs in high school because John Goodman really liked them and I really liked John Goodman. I found “Boy” and “October” and I wore out my tapes. Then I wore out “Unforgettable Fire”. That time on CD.
We stood at our seats at the end zone, the band just dots in the distance. The music roared above us like the thunder of the jet that took off right above the stadium as “Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” came to its climax. I sang every single word to every single song, loudly. We danced. We cried. We laughed. I held my arms to the sky. And we sang, oh we sang, and the people around us, our age, too, sang. And we all cried and looked at each other with extraordinary gratitude, like as if to say, “Can you believe we are this lucky to be alive tonight?” We were all 40 somethings, reliving high school and college and maybe even junior high. Our first kisses, our first proms, our first bands, our first taste of out of body joy.
Last night, at Mercy Lounge, Tim came to join our pack as we all in choir sang “Blue” together and shouted over the music “How amazing is this? The power of music!” And for those few hours I forgot that outside the club it sometimes feels like we are all wary of each other, so different, so divided. I thought, if we can all get together and joyously sing, why can’t we this trainwreck of ugliness that hovers like a storm above our lives.
Huck came into this world under that shadow and I do my best each day to sing sunshine into his heart. We start our day with “Here Comes The Sun”most mornings and I will hold him in my arms and sing and twirl him around the room laughing. I sing to him everything I do, a little musical theater recitative constantly, rhyming “I’m changing your diapers”with “and feeling so tired”. He smiles at me and laughs and I feel like my own mother as she made up songs and rhymes and dances to keep us entertained.
I have a sign above my writing desk that says “breathe”to remind me of what is essential when I spin out into doubt and fear. Breathe. I wonder if I should replace it with ‘Sing’ these days. Just sing. Put breath on melody and let it fly, don’t try to control it or count it or hold it in, but let it be out of control, a high C that punches her fist through the stars saying “I’m here and I’m beautiful and you’re gonna have to listen to me spread joyshine all over your hurricane forecast.” Maybe that’s what I want to teach Huck. To learn to sing harmony. Anyone can sing lead. But to be a good harmony singer, you have to know to wait your turn and you have to know how to listen.You have to know how to add your voice to the others. The whole shines because of it’s parts.
“why don’t you stop
and look at what’s going down”