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.

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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.

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Simple pleasures

I’m trying to take my Shabbat consciousness and bring it to my everyday life at least some of the time. By Shabbat consciousness I mean being aware of what is happening in the moment and attempting to not think about plans or goals – cultivating a sense of satisfaction.

This year begins and I’m most struck by how satisfied I am by simple activities.

Example I: Today there is no work. I wake up, wash, and put in my contact lenses, then stroll into the kitchen, turn, and take a large onion out of the pantry. I peel the onion and slowly slice it into thin slices. photo(1)My eyes tear a little as I separate the thin rings of onion. I warm the iron skillet and after a few moments pour in a fair amount of grape-seed oil until it looks hot but is not yet smoking. I scrape the onions into the skillet and hear the loud sizzle as the thin rings hit the pan. I stir them with a wooden spoon and lower the heat. The aroma is wonderful. I’ll let the onions cook for 20 minutes. After they caramelize they are sweet, no longer sharp and tear provoking. I think about how amazing it is that a simple onion can go from pungent to sweet in 20 minutes! How lovely! They will be the main filler for the omelet I prepare for Al and me. Delicious!

Example II: Lately I’ve been cutting through the weeds in our garden. The blackberries and anise stalks have taken over. We have a large backyard area because our lot is a standard size lot in San Francisco and our house is quite small. There is an enormous amount of space for blackberries, anise, vines, all kinds of native-growing wild foliage to thrive – with or without a drought. The weeds have grown so high over the years. Between my day job and taking classes I didn’t think there was time for working out back so the weeds flourished.

photo-1Sometimes I liked the jungle-like appearance back there but now I’d like to help create a space where my grandchildren will be able to play. Every day I go out back and weed for 1 ½ to 2 hours. I cut through the brush, pile the debris in the front of the yard and then cut the branches to fit into huge garden waste bags. I hear the birds and smell the earth and breathe the fresh air. All I have to do is step outside my own house and I’m in nature. What a pleasure it is to simply cut weeds, hear birds, and smell the earth.

Example III: My good friend calls me in the morning. “Do you want to walk to the top of Bernal Hill?” she asks. Yes, surely I do. I eat breakfast, get dressed and we start out on our walk, catching up on what is new for each of us. We see a woman two blocks away and my friend asks her if she took art classes with her. The woman did not, though she is an artist and attends art meet-ups that my friend may want to attend. We talk with her for quite a while and we’re all quite happy to stand outside talking about our lives. My friend and I walk further, continuing our conversation about things we’re going to do in the New Year, about children, grandchildren, life, how lovely the day is. We walk for 1 1/2 hours and make it to the top of Bernal Hill. The view is amazing and the walk back is lovely also. We both know how lucky we are to be able to walk 9 miles up and down hills. We don’t take this for granted.

photo (22)Sweet onions, birds, weeds, earth, friends, conversations, sunny days, walking up and down hills – I am grateful for these simple pleasures.