Almost one year ago, exactly, I stopped listening to music. The deal was, my mother was dying, a beautiful woman named Janet, illuminated with cancer after 80-plus years and friends and knitting groups and hope and silver bracelets and then she died. As likely you have experienced, if you are young, an Uncle Doofus dies, if old, a Dearly Beloved, the woman of your dreams, and here I was in the middle. I’d been through death before, a grandfather in far-off Montana passing away with the news relayed via phone causing a young boy who loved his stories and boxing moves and lamb chops on earlier sweet summer vacations to run through a Vermont field amid overgrown grass and dirt holes caused by groundhogs crying and screaming in shame-anger to the more-recent father passing, after a visit to the old house and long drive back to work amid clouds glowing orange in the sky with a faint scent of hope, purple lines on the New Hampshire horizon lying that hope exists, the phone saying what any son can’t comprehend at first, hope is dead, your Dad is gone. But a mother, a Mom, when that time comes, for you, that will be different.
What was different was I was there at the instant of Her death. Her wizened face drew ever more taunt, the morphine drip a bliss from hell, as she grew thinner and thinner until with one last intake she did not exhale, and I caught the moment as nurses swirled around puttering and no exhale came except one tear, one shining drop of liquid saline, drifted from her left eye down her cheek and I watched almost in admiration at this signal that no future breath was coming. And she was gone. As luck would have it, a few of her friends walked into the nursing-home room at that second to check in, and torn between universe-rending bereavement and neighborly politeness I looked up and said, “Hey, I think my Mom just died, can you give me a second?”
So I stopped listening to music. The career thing was tough, I’d had a few bumps at work, the thrust-and-parry of an agency and internal politics and egos vs. egos had had its day, and suddenly the woman who carried me into the world was missing.
So I stopped listening to music.
In this past month, I calmed down. I’ve been reading a bit on Buddhism, not to share any literature shit with you or question your Christianity but simply to study the philosophy of “letting go,” the idea that stress is hot coals held tight burning in your hand so drop that shit down, and watching the brilliant Dan Lyons/Fake Steve Jobs recover from downturns and reading Marcus Aurelius think deep thoughts on kicking ass in Europe and suddenly realized I should try to inspire those around me, officemates and agency partners and clients and my sons, dear boys, to reach their potential. So I found the old iPod, a blue widget so small I almost lost it in the laundry, plugged it in, and recovered the playlists a slightly younger Ben once listened to and realized the … music was … good.
So last week, on a sunny day, I packed my old workout gear and at lunch stepped outside the brick machine to jump rope for 30 minutes in an early spring workout listening to songs that had not pumped me up for more than a year.
The rope swung. I was stuck inside the vortex. The clouds passed by and I went into that bliss zone of pumping peace. OK, after 10 or 15 minutes, I felt like vomiting, but I still swung the damn rope, to the beat, drifting into the state of sound that I once knew as a young man while fitter. Not sure how that one made the playlist. Wait, that’s better.
I had recovered the sound of song.
Sorry to have lost you.