To Love Through Song

Shabbat morning. I have found a new way to celebrate this most important day of the week. First, some background:

Let me start by saying that the joy of my life right now, aside from my husband, children, and fabulous grandchildren, is singing with the Threshold Choir. We sing at people’s bedsides, mainly to those who are dying. There are Threshold Choirs all across the United States, Canada, and Australia.
The experience of singing at a person’s bedside is profound and beautiful. Recently, KQED, a local public television station, showed a short segment about our work, if you’d like to see what I’m talking about.musical_cleff_-_maroon_copy-e1367955072178

Kate Munger founded the Threshold Choir. Years ago, she found herself at a loss when she was visiting a friend who was dying of AIDS. She felt helpless, but then she began to sing to him, and her singing comforted him. This is how the Threshold Choir was born.

I joined the choir in San Francisco almost a year ago, learned about 30 core songs, and began singing at bedside recently. The songs are spiritual but not “religious.” Whether a person is deeply religious or secular in orientation, the songs are comforting, calming, and loving. Those are the facts – but how do I describe the experience?

I’ll tell you about that Shabbat morning. We visited one person who was in great distress, crying out with anguish. No one had been able to calm her, though she was in a facility with the highest standard of care. Three of us from the Threshold Choir sat by her bed and we sang. We watched as she became more and more calm, and ultimately drifted off to sleep. We were barely able to keep singing; we were so moved to see her relax. When can you do something you love to do and have that profound an effect on someone else? What a gift it is to be able to sing for people. It is as simple as that; to do what you love and to help others. The boundaries of who is singing and who is soothed melt away. We are singing and hearing and calming and connecting. What a joy! Shabbat is an imaginary moment of perfection. On that day, for me, Shabbat was truly realized.

FullSizeRender (4)

Not everyone would feel comfortable singing at bedside. If you would like to contribute to this wonderful organization to support their work, please do! This could be an especially kind and comforting way to support a friend or family member who has recently lost a loved one.

Advertisements

Moving from fear to joy

Have you seen the “horse learning about water” video? Some say this video has gone viral. I try to understand why. Here’s the link, if you would like to see it for yourself:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yAQLkI3EpMk

I’ve been pondering why the video has so much power. For those of you who may not have access to the video, I’ll briefly describe it. We see a pre-teen girl sitting on a horse, leading it toward the bank of a body of still water, likely a pond. The horse is clearly afraid and backs up. 1HORSE APPROACHING WATER The girl leads the horse again – again the horse backs away. In the next scene we see the girl, now off the horse, leading the horse by the reins toward the water. 2HORSE LEADING ON FOOTThe horse backs away again. But the girl is patient and persistent. She puts her foot in the water, and circles of water radiate from where her foot entered. She does this repeatedly and the horse looks at the rings of water and appears interested and puts its hoof in the water to3HORSE GIRL SHOWING WATER CIRCLESo. Slowly, the horse appears to be more and more comfortable in the water. The girl leads it in further. The horse splashes the water with glee. 4HORSE SPLASHThe girl laughs and laughs and the horse, its comfort level quite high at this point, keeps splashing and splashing. The joy of the splashing is punctuated by the girl’s infectious laughter. Pure joy is expressed by the horse and by the girl. If we empathize with these two beings we experience deep fear, patience, curiosity, and joy all in a period of 2 minutes and 19 seconds!

I wonder why I am so taken with this video. I begin by googling the symbolism of horses, since I know that if I had seen a mouse, or even a small child get acclimated to this water I don’t think I would have responded as strongly as I did. My search is unsuccessful – I mainly find posts about spirit animals and the meaning of horses in dreams. These posts do not resonate for me at all. I’m left to my own imagination – so here goes:

Horses are powerful creatures. The level of fear that I experience if I identify with this powerful creature is high. I am that horse and I feel the strong discomfort of discovering something new that scares me to the core of my being. Something guides me, though, to face up to this fear. I see someone else modeling comfort with water, and I realize that with this support and guidance, maybe I can try to face my fear. Not only is the fear overcome, but also the experience that follows is indescribably joyful.

I find myself wondering about what I’m afraid of. What is standing in the way of my joy? My first thought is that I am afraid to express my feelings to family and friends. I grew up in a fairly non-expressive family, the reins held back because of fear of total loss of control and mental illness, a real and persistent problem in my mother’s family. As I write this, the tears come, so I think this is real. The water in the video perhaps symbolizes life and the free and full expression of emotion. This is what I have to learn to splash in and not back away from. Luckily, I have the good fortune of having a persistent guide, who, though I resist again and again, keeps grabbing my reins and pulling me toward the water. Perhaps this is why the viral horse video has so much appeal for me. How about you? What is your fear? What stands in the way of your joy?