Thursday, March 24, 2011

Sing a Song

Sing! Sing a Song! Sing out Loud! Sing out strong!
Sing, of good things, not bad! Sing of happy not sad!

 Sesame Street

In my world, most things are best said musically.

That is NOT to imply that I can play any instrument with skill, nor can I sing alone unless I am trying to be funny. But my brain thinks in music.

I grew up in a house permeated with all things music, my dad was a professional musician for a while, and his brass quintet would practice in our little living room. I have come to realize that in church and when singing along with the radio I sort of always sing the French horn part, even if the song doesn’t HAVE a French horn part. I know what it should sound like.

We all knew that my grandmother had played Rachmaninoff on the piano when she was 15. I know I was a disappointment to my grandfather in my horrible stage fright and lack of skill on the piano, although I found out much later that my grandmother also did not like to play in front of people.

So I guess my brain just processes life musically. I know this can be annoying for anyone talking to me, as almost ANY comment makes me think of a song lyric. It’s like I have a weird synapse that fires in conversation. But words trigger lyrics, which often trigger Random Outbursts of Song.

I reached an amazing milestone in my marriage when one of my kids said something about going up to their room or something and my spouse said “up up up up, to the Heavyside Layer”. I think even he was appalled that Cats popped into his head. My work in this arena is apparently done.

While my daughter was on treatment we made up Transfusin’s Hard to Do and the Low Low ANC Blues. We also sang her chemo to the tune of YMCA. I once made up a cheerful song called “God Really Hates Me”, which strangely did NOT catch on in my house. But generally, music can take care of ANYTHING.

So when I walked into school this morning and realized that the dress rehearsal for the choir tour was running long (I had been warned that it might run into my class time), I figured I’d sit and listen to the kids sing, instead of going to the office to copy papers and such. There are some songs in the repertoire that WE sang when I was in this choir years ago, so I figured it might be nice to listen. And I was tired and feeling kind of down (understatement!)…

Music helps me. Yesterday was an Evanescence on the treadmill playlist kind of day—ie a bad day. Last week I listened to a lot of Simon & Garfunkel and old recordings of Freedom Songs while I worked through a class unit on the Civil Rights Movement. Owl City makes me happy when the sun is shining. I listen to Eminem, or Satie, or Ladysmith Black Mambazo, or Mozart Horn Concertos, or Godspell, or the Indigo Girls, or the B-52s. Music connects to some deep part of me in a way I find difficult to explain. I think that’s why I like so many different kinds of music. It all speaks to me, to my heart.

I like choral music. There is a power in an awful lot of voices singing together. I do, however, have an incredibly low Velveeta Threshold. That is to say, there’s an awful lot of cheesy choir music out there. I’ve helped search for stuff for our school’s choir before, the extra cheese floating around is enough to clog an audience’s collective arteries.

There’s a fine line between profound and Velveeta. Native American singing “Colors of the Wind”? Profound. 16 year old on American Idol singing “Colors of the Wind”? Velveeta. Sometimes things just don’t work out of context. Some things REALLY don’t work out of context and sung by 100 teenagers.

I have learned, too, that not EVERYONE wants to share my cheese views. I have ruined at least one religious song for friends because it sounds like a show tune to me, and I can’t help but sing it like that, with dramatic gestures and all. It’s awful, I can’t help myself. ; )

Anyway, I was a little curious when the next student introduced the next song, a song from a cartoon movie. Uh-oh. Velveeta warning!

And then they started to sing. 100 teen voices…

Many nights we've prayed
With no proof anyone could hear
In our hearts a hopeful song
We barely understood
(At this point, I could feel myself starting to crumble. Yeah, I have this t-shirt in an awful lot of colors).

Now we are not afraid
Although we know there's much to fear
We were moving mountains long
Before we knew we could.

There can be miracles, when you believe
Though hope is frail, it's hard to kill
Who knows what miracles you can achieve
When you believe, somehow you will
You will when you believe

(desperate futile search for tissue in purse and pockets began).

In this time of fear
When prayers so often prove(s) in vain
Hope seems like the summer birds
Too swiftly flown away

(wondering if choir – 100 kids facing me and 3 other teachers– will notice if I wipe my nose on my sleeve. Also wonder if my mascara is anywhere near my eyeballs anymore.)

Yet now I'm standing here
My heart's so full I can't explain
Seeking faith and speaking words
I never thought I'd say

There can be miracles, when you believe
Though hope is frail, it's hard to kill
Who knows what miracles you can achieve
When you believe, somehow you will
You will when you believe

(just thinking of so many friends, and kids, and my own recent despair of things ever turning out well for anyone in my family).

They don't (always happen) when you ask
And it's easy to give in to your fears
But when you're blinded by your pain
Can't see your way straight throught the rain
(A small but )still resilient voice
Says (hope is very near)

There can be miracles
When you believe
Though hope is frail
It's hard to kill
Who knows what miracles,you can achieve
When you believe, somehow you will
You will when you believe

I actually had to leave the auditorium by the end of the song. Thank God 2nd period was nearly over!

My brain has kind of been hurting recently, and I have NOT been listening to random music except when running (Lent!), so this beautiful song, sung with such beauty and harmony, spoke to my soul in a way I have struggled to express recently.

I need to make sure my students know, when I see them tomorrow, that their audiences may hear this song in a way the kids don't quite understand. We all hope for miracles sometimes, right?

I have trouble believing. I’m not going to lie, I do find miracles slippery and elusive and hard to believe in, even as I try to keep hoping. I do believe we can always hope. And that is a song worth singing.


The original is the best version I could find ...

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Need for Speed

This the text of what I said (um, read) at our Coffeehouse for a Cure to benefit the NF Endurance Team last night...sans weird ad libbing and the random "ding...dong" sound that came out of nowhere halfway through...

I am fast at a lot of things.
My students (and most of humanity) can attest to the fact that I talk really, really fast.

I can polish off a bag of Cadbury Mini-Eggs lightning fast.

Give me a word or situation and I will burst into an obscure show tune or commercial of the 80s or odd protest music from the 60s Super Fast!

I can spend $100 at Target alarmingly fast.

Make a mess in any part of my house? Fast.

Misplace my shoes? Crazy fast.

Lose my temper? Yeah, too fast.

I type uber-fast, and read crazy fast, and get through Costco on a milk/cheese/eggs
run scary fast.

So there’s a lot of things I do insanely fast. I like fast. Fast is how I roll.

But ironically, in light of what our Coffeehouse is about, there’s one thing I am embarrassingly slow at.


I am a pathetically slow runner.

Global warming happens faster than I complete a 5k. People on jazzy scooters pass me when I run. I go out for a mile jog and I have to make sure nobody sends out a search party for me when night falls and I have not returned.
I am really, really slow.

And honestly, I kind of hate running. I hate the way I look in running clothes –to quote a friend, “spandex is a privilege, not a right”, I hate the funky smell that follows any kind of running, I hate the feeling of having run 87 miles and then seeing a measly ½ mile marker. I am fluent in Whinese when it comes to running. I am REALLY fast at making up annoying little songs about running…running running is annoying/running is the thing I loathe…moving quickly getting stinky wearing stupid spandex clothes!


So why the heck do I keep running? I mean, there are a lot of things in life I’ve made peace with stinking at. I simply don’t DO those things anymore, and the world is a better place. I will never be a great Ukrainian Dancer…or Scottish Dancer…or Hebrew Dancer…or Irish step Dancer—and that is truly ok. I will never be a champion in any sport that involves being outside in the cold (I like having feeling in my extremities, once I lose that things literally go downhill). I get full fast (add that to the fast list) so I will never be a competitive eater. One hotdog is fine for me. I am perfectly ok with NOT doing these things.

I’m probably NOT going to grow up to be Aretha Franklin either…that I’m less peaceful about. But I digress…

… why the heck do I keep running when I am slow, and awkward, and really have not earned the privilege of wearing spandex?

It’s pretty simple, really. In fact, it would make a great t-shirt…

I run for a reason.

I run for a lot of reasons, really. My reasons include, but are not limited to, Dave, Genna, Rosie, MJ, Emma & Amie, Gabbie & Ori & David, Maddie, Ann, Siobhan, Jennifer & Patrick, Jaxon, Meadow, Ryan, Jenna with a J, Preston, Jerry, Katsie and Carly and Genna’s new friend Tommy and Drew and Joey and Nora and our beloved Sandra.

Frankly, I think my reasons to run are better than my reasons NOT to.

Still, I am only able to run because of the NF Endurance Team…and not just because they gave me a snazzy neon singlet to wear with my ill advised spandex. Being with the team has shown me that the ability to do this is IN ME. I can do it, because the first rule of the NF Endurance Team is that we never run alone. There is a community of runners and supporters all over the country, all running for the same goal.

There’s crazy power in that.

It’s an odd thing, the NF Endurance Team. A few minutes with the families and friends and organizers of the team and you just WANT to get out and run. I can’t explain it. Even I felt that, and really, I am the Poster Gal for Sedentary is Super!

This team is just that amazing; the runners are just that inspiring; this cause is just that important; this reason to run, a cure for Neurofibromatosis, is just too compelling to ignore.

Standing on the sidelines at the Philly Rock n’ Roll ½ marathon in September, seeing over 100 runners with “NF” on their singlets running collectively for all our our loved ones…there is CRAZY power in that.

I will never be an ultramarathoner like my brother, who is once again running the Leadville 100 mile trail run in August for the Team. I may never actually get through a ½ marathon like my sister, Emily, is going to do in Seattle this spring. I may not even actually join Dave except as a cheering squad leader in Philly at the ½ in September. But my 4.5 miles at the Jersey Shore Relay are the way I can oh so slowly do something proactive for my family in the face of NF.

I may be slower than beach erosion in Point Pleasant where I’ll be running—in the broadest sense of the word-- on April 16, but I run for a reason.

You can too. Even if you are slow. Even if you hate moving fast. Even if spandex is not an inalienable right for you either. Come be slow with me. You won’t regret it.

There’s a famous quote by the runner Dean Karnazes that keeps me going when I’m training or when I’m discouraged in our long trek with NF. Run when you can; walk when you have to; crawl if you must, just never give up.

My girls face a marathon every day. Their battle with NF is involuntary and unending, and the fact is, we really don’t know what kind of roadblocks we are going to face in the future. This past year was a tough one. We faced the real prospect of restarting chemotherapy with Genna. Rosie started having hearing issues related to her tumor. To try to encapsulate the fear and despair and helplessness of the second half of 2010 in those 3 sentences is almost ludicrous. 2010 was a tough year. And in the last week alone, two of our dear friends in the NF community got really bad news…two children at a crossroads, again…
What more reason do I need to run?

So with NF Endurance I run against NF. I run for my children and my spouse and my friends and their kids. I run for a reason… and for that reason, I will Run when I can, walk when I have to, crawl if I must: but I will never give up. And I thank you for joining us in this race. Thank you.

Now the remnant of our old Smile Crew is going to sing…a song about being there for each other, a song, as always, dedicated to Sandra Blumberg, who showed us with endurance with a smile was all about….