Saturday, January 18, 2014

A Car Collision and the Impulse to Sing

I was in a car accident the other day. It was a head-on collision (thankfully, in the city and not on the highway) and both vehicles were “totaled.” There was a moment before the ambulance came, that all four of us (my son and I and the driver and passenger from the other vehicle), were out in the minus thirty-something weather, comforting each other. I can't say exactly what the others were thinking in that moment of shock but I know I was feeling amazed that we were all relatively okay. It seemed to me to be nothing short of a miracle. Not long after, two cars passing by stopped and invited us into their vehicles to stay warm until the first response people came. My hat and mitts were back in my car and yet I did not feel the cold at all. It could have been a spring day as my body was not registering the fact that it was extremely cold. Initially, I didn't want to step inside the young woman's vehicle. I wanted to be out in the wide open sky where I could breath. The woman, in her own gentle way, coaxed my son and I until eventually we did and when I closed the door behind me, I immediately felt her kindness. (The warmth of her personality alone would have kept us from frostbite.) A few minutes later, she put a CD on with soft, soothing music, another act of kindness. Which brings me to the impulse to sing part of my musing.

Occasionally, I will hear someone humming quietly to him or herself but it is indeed rare. In our culture, we're shy to sing. We think that unless we have 'beautiful' voices, we should not impose our wobbly notes on the world. Most of us don't sing in community, other than perhaps in church if we happen to be churchgoers. Or some of us join choirs. For the most part, unless we feel total confidence about our singing voices, we remain silent. A number of years ago, my spent time volunteering in a hospital in India and she noticed how both the patients and the residents sang on a regular basis. One day, they asked her to sing a song, much to her discomfort. No songs came to mind and so she found herself singing our anthem “O Canada.” Since that time, I've often asked my students that if they were in a foreign country and were asked to sing, what song would they choose? Most respond the same; O Canada or Happy Birthday! If I ask them to dig deeper, they sometimes will come up with a nursery rhyme from their childhood. This lack of repertoire seems commonplace among us Canadians, at least Canadians in my neck of the woods. Of course, not everyone falls under the umbrella. A friend of mine, who recently passed away, sang constantly. She sang when she woke up in the morning and she sang while she cooked and she often encouraged others to sing. Whenever she visited my home, she sat at the piano and invited me to sit beside her. I loved singing with her. It lifted my heart; it put my priorities in the right order for the day. But it didn't 'catch'. When she left my house, my voice again fell silent.

Recently that's all changed. I often find myself singing. I sing while I drive in the car; I sing while I meditate or while I'm out walking; I sing while I cook or sew. I don't know how it is that I suddenly have an entire repertoire of songs. They seem to be emerging from my childhood and if I don't know the words, I just make up my own or hum the tune. I find myself singing snipits of melodies from classical music or opera, thanks to my father who played classical and opera music continually when I was a child. And now, it strangely feels very natural. It makes a subtle difference in my day. I have no intention of becoming a 'singer.' It's just that singing seems to take the air around me and the thoughts within me and shape them into something clearer and kinder. Like everyone, many of my thoughts don't even crest the wave of my conscious mind; rather they're undertows of desires and fears. When I sing, it's as if a simpler part of myself emerges; less complicated, less competitive; less forced; more genuine.

After the car accident, sitting at home, gazing out my front window, I had a sense that everything had changed. I noticed the objects that I had placed earlier in the day. There were two vases, clear glass, that I had photographed. And hanging above the vases dangled my stained glass chickadee. They looked different. I reflected on the fact that I had spent an hour singing earlier that day.  And those songs were somehow still resonating inside of me, helping me get through an evening of shock. A voice expressed does something for us. And perhaps, in the end, it does something for others too.