Are you okay?

I woke up this morning thinking about my former students. They live all over the place: NYC, DC, Seattle, LA, Columbus, Cincinnati, Kentucky, Detroit, Dallas, St Louis, Paris, Aspen… well you get the picture.

Many of them work for nonprofit arts organizations which means, because that industry is shut down, they are at home wondering if their jobs are safe and whether they and their families will stay healthy.

It’s a weird relationship a professor has with her students, especially when they are thrown together daily for almost two years. During that time each “class” becomes a family of sorts. They eat together, study together, party together, piss each other off, and basically create relationships that resemble siblings. I was the house mother, career counselor, task master, financial advisor, and probably also called some other things I don’t want to know about. But the bottom line is that I came to love those quirky, brilliant humans.

Now here I sit wondering how they are all doing. I hope they are ok. I pray that their families are okay. I see some of them on Instagram – one has a new puppy, one a new baby, one a new job, one is getting married. I wish I had them all back in the classroom so I could tell them how proud I am of what they have accomplished and let them know that our time together meant the world to me. I’d also tell them I wish we could go back to a simpler time when the biggest worry was writing that stupid fake grant proposal or getting the development/marketing plan finished so they could graduate.

Time slips by, lives move on, and pandemics force us to stop and think about the students who helped us grow as humans. If you are out there CCM Arts Admin, check in and let me know you’re ok. I’m worried about you.

How we deal with it will define us forever.

After more than a generation of a culture that idealized individualism and said selfish greed was good, the coronavirus is forcing us to evaluate whether that is what we want to be as a government, and as a nation.

Heather Cox Richardson, March 18, 2020

I read this blog yesterday morning from Jack’s Place, the residence built by the Shaw Regional Cancer Center for cancer patients and their caregivers. This center was constructed because many of the patients who received care there could not afford hotel rooms in Vail on top of the other expenses associated with a cancer diagnosis. The tipping point was when the founding director stumbled on one of them sleeping in his car.

What happened next is beautiful. A group of caring people made Jack’s Place happen. They didn’t do it because there was anything in it for them, they did it because it was the right thing to do.

How many times in the last few years have we seen the exact opposite? Partisanship and greed have chipped away at the morals of this nation (and world) and created a very ugly place. It needs to change and if nothing else good comes out of this pandemic, perhaps it will make each of us look closely at our priorities and decide what is right – regardless of whether there is anything in it for ourselves.

We have time now to slow down and reflect on what is important. Is it the big house, the big salary, the next cool gadget? Or is it reaching out to the “guy sleeping in the car” and giving him a place to stay while he undergoes cancer treatment. Are we teaching our children to respect others, the environment, themselves? Or are we encouraging them “to be # 1” regardless of the consequences.

For too long we have lived in an ultra competitive, every man for himself world. This culture is reinforced by our politics, our sports, our media, our entertainment, and even by our friendships. Keeping up in the workplace and in the neighborhood is a way of life. Now would be a good time to stop.

I realize that we have a whole host of issues to confront. For now, since we are all homebound, let’s start with our neighborhoods. How can we reach out to the folks who have lost their jobs, have no childcare, don’t have enough to eat, are sick without healthcare, are alone? Is there someone like that in your neighborhood? Can you find a way to help?

And how about all that “stuff”? Do we really need it? Is there someone else who needs it more? And that job promotion – is it really more important than being with our families and watching our kids and grandkids grow up healthy and happy? Why not plant a garden and share some of the food instead of spend all our weekends making sure our lawns are perfect. Let’s take a walk and breathe in the air and remind ourselves that we have to take care of our planet if we want our grandkids to be able to do the same.

I fully admit that I am guilty of all of the striving, getting, and needing of which I write. But this quiet time is forcing me, and I hope you, to think about what it will be like “after.” As one of the comments on the blog I referenced above said: how we deal with this pandemic will define us forever.

Seth Avett posted this in Instagram today. He read my mind.

Music in Times of Trouble

Today marks the third day in my husband, Russ’, journey through radiation to health.  It also marks the first days of social isolation due to the COVID-19 virus.  We live in crazy times.

Over the last few months as we navigated the territory between diagnosis to treatment, it felt different, but not surreal.  With the onset of the virus and the changes it brings to daily life, it now feels surreal.  It is very much like the days after 911 when the whole world shifted and everything I thought I knew, well, I didn’t.

I am quite sure that I am not saying anything that others have not thought, but today an email arrived in my box and it brought the tears that have been pent up for all these months.

Singing in the Collegiate Peaks Chorale has been one of the most rewarding things I have done in many years.  Besides challenging me to remember how to read music and blend my voice with others, I have made new friends and learned new music.  Brandon Chism, a gifted musician, leads us.  He has challenged us, made us laugh, and taught us more in his short tenure than any other choir director for whom I’ve had the pleasure of singing. I look forward to Monday nights with the Chorale and recently, with all the stress that comes with a cancer diagnosis, it has been a refuge.  For 2 hours I could not think about anything but the music in front of me and the task of getting it right – for my fellow altos and for the Chorale as a whole.

As things worsened with the virus, I knew that the Spring concert would (and should) be postponed. Starting today, we made provisions to continue rehearsing virtually – via YouTube, just in case the virus settled down enough to present the concert at a later date. I was ready.  Then the email came canceling the concert. That wasn’t what brought me to tears.  It was something that Brandon wrote as he ended the email.

“I have decided to continue with our planned “virtual rehearsal” for a number of reasons. Rather than dig into the music functionally, I will lead us in simply singing through most of the repertoire from the beginning of the program to the end. Our purpose in rehearsing serves many needs and desires other than aiming toward a performance, doesn’t it? Our joy in singing together and also the meaning and healing it can bring each of us in our lives. So, use tonight’s opportunity to enjoy this repertoire one more time, and let’s lift our voices together from our homes!”

The repertoire is all written by American composers:  Folk songs, Spirituals, Gregorian Chants (yep, written by an American), and well-known songs from films.  They were written by people – just like us – who have lived through the good and the bad that makes up this democracy.  They used music to express their joy, sadness, humor, love, and longing.  So tonight, through the tears, we will sit alone in our social isolation and “lift our voices” to the messy, beautiful place we call America.

Thank you, Brandon, for leading us, and thank you fellow Chorale members, for joining your voices with mine.

Bekah is 40!

This is my favorite picture of Bekah.  Don’t ask me why, it just is.  We collected over 500 photos of her over the years for her birthday celebration, each one better than the next, but I still love this one best.

Maybe it’s because it shows how at an early age her personality was written all over her face.  There she is sitting in a bucket outside of the cottage we rented on Bruce Beach.  The bucket is supposed to be for washing sandy feet so it wouldn’t get tracked inside.  But to Bekah it was a place to play… who cared about the sand left by so many feet, that just made it more interesting.

As we celebrate her 40th birthday, I celebrate my second daughter, born three weeks early and basically attached to me for the first 6 months of her life.  I’m not kidding, she would not let me put her down.  I wore her in a snuggly during the day and slept with her on my chest at night.  I think she needed to hear my heart.  And sometimes I think she still does.  What mother doesn’t love that?

Being the middle child meant finding her place between two sisters. It wasn’t always easy running interference between them, but the rule was that sisters stick together – and in the end it stuck. Bekah, Emily and Anna are best friends even though they drive each other nuts sometimes.

Bekah walked at nine months and said her first words shortly thereafter.  I’m pretty sure she hasn’t stopped talking since.  If you’ve ever spent time with her you know there is no shortage of interesting conversation.  We’ve had so many “good talks” over the years – conversations about friendship, romances, parenthood, the meaning of life, ideas for her books, her love for her family and, of course, her next travel plans.

Her adventures have taken her to New York, Boston, Chicago, and finally to Denver where she and Kyle have found a home for their family and a place where they can raise their girls with plenty of fresh air and sunshine.  Heck, we liked it so much, we followed them to the mountains.

I am lucky to have been there to watch as she took her first steps as a writer.  I remember sitting on a deck, not unlike the one in the picture, when she turned to me and said, “Mom, I have a book inside me and it has to get out.”  Little did I know that this was the beginning of a writing career that continues today.  And once again, I have seen that little girl sitting in a bucket make something interesting out of an idea.  I am so proud of her tenacity, her imagination, and her transformation into an author.  There is nothing better than getting a phone call from Bekah wanting to pick my brain.  Sometimes it’s about the plot, sometimes a character, or sometimes it’s just to listen to an idea that’s percolating.

Bekah has always been a people magnet and when she married Kyle they quadrupled that strength.  Watching them collect friends and open their lives to them has truly been a joy and, lucky for us, we are often included as part of the gang.  How many parents get to do that?

Then there is the travel. Kyle remains my favorite travel partner, but Bekah is a close second.  She would probably be first but she made me jump off a rock in Scotland.  I injured my knee and I couldn’t hike the next day, so I’m still trying to get over that. If you don’t believe me, ask our guide Gary. He will back me up.

Our trips with the Cranes and their girls have been some of the best travel times of my life:  Spring breaks in the Southwest, the infamous The Ladies Trip – Yurts vs. Disneyland, Scotland, Ireland, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany… so many memories, so much Whisky, and more laughter than one person deserves.

Bekah and Kyle’s favorite Avett Brother’s song is “Salvation” has become the family anthem.  Anna gave them a painting that includes some of the lyrics and it hangs in Bekah and Kyle’s living room.  It always makes me tear up because the words are so appropriate.

“We came for salvation. We came for family. We came for all that’s good, that’s how we’ll walk away.  We came to break the bad. We came to cheer the sad. We came to leave behind the world a better place.”

I recently had a friend tell me that Bekah is effervescent.  Maybe that’s what I like about that photo.  I can literally see her energy bubbling up.  When she is in the room, as my mom used to say, there is never a dull moment.

Happy Birthday, Bekah! We love you. You clearly leave the world a better place.