Colder Weather

My brother died recently. Unexpectedly. Tragically. As a person who references the “Soundtrack of My life” regularly, I suddenly felt as though that soundtrack was frozen on pause.

My brother and I didn’t share a love for most of the same genres of music. Perhaps that is why, for one of the few times in my life, I struggled to find ANY type of song that was relatable. Sure, there are a lot of songs that “could” be appropriate. Probably many that even “should” be appropriate but surprisingly not one that seemed to be a perfect fit.

I asked a few of those who were close to him if they could guess his favorite song. No one seemed to know. Why didn’t I know? The answer will haunt me, I’m sure. I’d be willing to bet my brother loved music as much as I did. And he was an artist. So it’s possible we might even have shared some similar personality traits, but not to the average onlooker.

My brother was bold and unfiltered. I am reserved but equally as passionate. Although we were apparently close prior to beginning school (after all with only 18 months age difference, he was my first playmate), after that, he went one way and I went another. Still, I can remember his excitement over getting a new CD to play on our home stereo at maximum volume. It wasn’t a matter of if he would do this, but when. My brother and I got home from school before our parents came home from work. I’d usually choose to go to my room, but he often took advantage of no parents to blast some loud music downstairs. I’m not really sure what happened to that stereo we had, but the speakers were huge, and he made sure we knew their capacity.

Prior to my brother passing away, we hadn’t been close. In fact after my grandmother passed away and family stopped getting together for Holidays, a decade passed after leaving home since I’d seen him. A quick trip home, then nearly another decade. But in between the times I saw him, every so often, I used to send him a message and say, “Hey Aaron, are we ever gonna put our past disagreements behind us?” and I’d make an effort to try to connect with him; he would just say “F#ck you Renee” and that was that. After trying numerous times, The last time he said that, I just thought to myself “Maybe I’ll just wait till he gets older and calms down before I ask him again.”

I never got that opportunity.

About two weeks after the heartbreaking news, I flew back home for his funeral, then returned and tried to get back to “normal”. It was surprisingly difficult accepting the death of a brother I always thought I’d eventually have time to get to know. But then, this morning on the way to work I accidentally selected “shuffle stations” on my Pandora app, resulting in a random selection of the song ‘Colder Weather’ by the Zac Brown Band. Surprisingly, the floodgates opened and I just bawled my eyes out, listening to a genre of music that was probably more dear to his heart than my own.

I’d heard the song once a long time ago and it wasn’t relatable. This time it hit me differently; in grief I seem drawn to anything that reminds me of my brother, almost as a way to cope with a loss I hadn’t had time to prepare for. He was 47 when he died. Surely I had thought on many occasions that he just needed more time to simmer down -with age many men grow milder- maybe then we’d be able to become closer.

It’s hard to imagine not having the opportunity to grow old. I always envisioned the two of us being there to figure things out when we were the oldest 2 remaining in our immediate family. Suddenly, I was left as the oldest surviving sibling, feeling like I was frozen there, just holding a pile of question marks.

The song has this line that says 🎶 Im a rambling man and Im never going to change. 🎶 Now, I am personally not one to use the clichè phrase “People never change.” I don’t believe in it. As a therapist I see transformation and generational patterns broken on the daily. It’s almost magical when it happens. Aaron would have said it though. It’s possible maybe he even thought that about me, resulting in his continuous rejection of my attempts. I guess I will never really know. Maybe not in so many words, but he’d have said “This is who I am, if you don’t like it, tough.” That authenticity was something we could probably agree on, despite our many differences. The irony of it all is I don’t want to remember him any differently than exactly the way he was.

🎶Maybe tomorrow will be better, can I call you then? 🎶 It’s heartbreaking singing this verse of the song. I’ll never to be able to call my brother and ask him if we can finally resolve our differences. I saw his body in the casket. I remember thinking I was glad to see him again one last time. We all sobbed as the bugler played taps and the Army carefully folded up that flag that was draped across his grave. No parent thinks they will bury their son before they pass. Honestly even though my brother served in the military years ago, I realized I’d never considered after he survived his time on active duty that he could still die before he had a chance to grow old.

It’s a strange song to have resonated with me enough to blog about. The song is about a different type of relationship, but left me with the same feeling of longing for something more that the lyrics describe. I went from a little sister who sat across from my brother and mirrored everything he did to a grown woman who felt like she barely knew him; on the outside looking in.

I don’t currently live close to where he is now buried. We hadn’t had time to think out his gravestone but I look forward to the next time I get to visit. While others find cemetery’s morbid, I’ve always felt a strange sense of comfort and peace there among the headstones honoring the legacy of generations with the groupings of familiar names. Although I can visit his final resting place I’m left finding truth in a quote I heard over the years that never applied to me. Until it did….

What one thing resonated with me most during this experience? My brother had two Bibles he used and studied. When my Mother and I looked at them there were so many things underlined and highlighted. I’m not sure why this surprised me. I’m so glad even though I never anticipated this happening, that I did anticipate bad things would happen in life and prepare for it by devoting my life to a spiritual practice that provides peace during difficult times. It was comforting to see that he did too.


Inspiration: Zac Brown Band/Colder Weather https://youtu.be/oouFE51HcqM

Hallelujah

What’s your favorite version of the song Hallelujah? It seems like nearly every popular singer or group has done one from time to time. Since I first heard the song it was an instant favorite, but never did this song hit me quite the way it has in 2020! Who is with me?

It’s been a while since I’ve written a blog post because…well, because 2020! In fact, after I wrote my last blog, filled with hope and excitement about a new decade and then almost a few weeks later we got the news of Covid 19 and the shut down, I have to say I was sort of in freeze mode or WTF mode as probably was most of the country, even other parts of the world.

And what a year it’s been! I think we’ve gotten to see every side of human nature in the last 5 to 6 months, haven’t we? We’ve seen the people who catastrophize. We’ve seen people who are overwhelmed and don’t know what to do. As a therapist, I’ve seen people who believe it’s just gonna blow over really soon and people who think will be dealing with it for a couple of years. I’ve personally known people who have lost family members, and others who think it’s a conspiracy. With all the unrest right now, it’s really difficult to be positive.

We’ve seen the people who believe in conspiracy theories. We see the people who are in denial that it’s even a problem. Meanwhile we see 200,000 Americans dead and political and social unrest. All in all it’s been one hell of a year, and the years not even over yet. I have been thinking for a while about what song could embody 2020. It took me a while, but I arrived at the song ‘Hallelujah’.

The song has a refrain:

🎶 The baffled King composing Hallelujah...🎶 showing us that it’s not uncommon for people to be in disbelief on how their life is playing out, or their reaction to their experience.

I guess it had always been a thing that I’ve wondered how people do; stay joyful through a difficult time? How is that possible? It seems that when those thoughts crossed my mind I wasn’t really aware of the difference between joy and happiness. Isn’t our culture obsessed with being happy? We see coffee mugs and T-shirts and memes and slogans that say things like ‘good vibes only’. I like the way Maya Angelou put it.

So that brings to mind the question; what is the meaning of the word Joy? Joy is not the same as happiness. Our culture is obsessed with being happy. For many it’s a life goal, one that has people living outside of the present, telling themselves, “I’ll be happy when…”. But life was never supposed to be 100 percent happy. Joy is different. Joy is more like a deep abiding. It lies in the realm of authenticity. It is the acceptance of unchosen circumstances over which we have no control or power. It’s an ability to sit in and walk through difficult life experiences with a sense of peace. Allowing us to be present and available for those around us. For me, it’s been a lifelong destination. A practice I’ve begun to hone through desert experiences, rock bottom valleys, and the occasional mountain top view.

Living in America for some people makes it hard to get an accurate view of what life is supposed to look like. For some people 2020 is a struggle, sure, but they’ve been struggling their whole lives. For others 2020 is a big slap in the face for someone who realizes that maybe they really don’t have as much control over their life as they thought they did. Or maybe 2020 is a wake up call for someone who didn’t think racism was a problem, or that a pandemic wasn’t just a chilling movie plot, but something that could affect the entire world.

I do a lot of deep pondering. Not a stretch for an Enneagram 4 who is comfortable in melancholy. And then I heard the Jeff Buckley version of Hallelujah. The person who recommended it to me has a unique connection to music, but didn’t know about my deep connection to the song. Listening to this version of it for the first time felt like time and space standing still, as I experienced its raw unrefined melody. You see, nothing speaks to me more than live acoustic versions of songs because of their authenticity. The song is like that too though isn’t it? All the ways a person, in this case a man, can go wrong and still end with a bittersweet hallelujah. Whether it’s sung courageously, triumphantly, defeatedly, or barely audible through grief or regret, its a song for every life chapter, inevitable that we’ll hear ringing true if we’re blessed to live a life of any length or magnitude.

🎶 And even though it all went wrong
I’ll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah
🎶

Regardless of where you stand with how 2020 hit you, it seems reasonable to say that it must have affected you in some way. For me personally, I got to a point where I realized why it’s so important to lay a solid foundation, and to have a contingency plan or to prepare for a future that you don’t have a guarantee will ever happen but realistically know could, or for one you hope for and pain to bring into existence. If 2020 finds you disillusioned Buckley’s version has a verse not found in all versions. It’s one questioning if there is a God above. If you feel that way this year, you aren’t alone.

My hope and prayer for you is that through whatever you are experiencing this year, you will remember God wants us to ask for what we need. Hallelujah!

Song Credit Jeff Buckley – Hallelujah

Continue reading “Hallelujah”

I lived…

There’s going to come a moment. A day. A week, maybe a year when you find yourself fully awake. Maybe it will feel like waking up after a long restful sleep. Or maybe it won’t be that comfortable, less like something you’d see on a movie, and more like something real and raw. But don’t dread that day.

🎶Hope when you take that jump
You don’t fear the fall🎶

It might not be obvious that it’s even “that” day. You probably won’t wake up and hear a chorus of angels sing. I mean if you wake up and hear that, it might be a different day altogether.

😳

It hadn’t really hit me that the end of this decade was nearing. I’d been really caught up with my kids, my health and getting my career back on track. I’d been really busy all summer the way I like to keep myself so I don’t have to really think. But who am I kidding, even at a breakneck pace, I’m the girl that’s thinking like a browser with 24 windows open.

Still in the last couple of years I’ve noticed more loss than in my young life. And not just of people you kind of expect are near their expiration date. Friends. Parents of friends who you thought had decades left. The level of grief people around me are experiencing seemed to kind of toggle there in a much more obvious way than it ever had before. It reminds me that we’re not promised tomorrow and to live accordingly. I talk about that here:Live Like You Were Dying

But, I’ll be honest with you, I thought I’d already experienced my awakening. I talk about that here: I Can See Clearly Now This most recent wave has been one I never would have expected. You’d think by a certain point in life the surprises would grow less, but maybe I’m still a lot like that naive girl who I can still close my eyes and imagine from decades prior. Maybe visiting my childhood home this summer awakened her, but with recent exploration and discovery of my Enneagram type I realize she’s always been there. Waiting. Waiting for me to ” get it”.

Maybe I’d had my awakening, but perhaps the journey from awakening to authenticity isn’t that simple. So I challenge you to stick with it. If you feel awakened, it doesn’t mean that exact day everything is going to fall in to place. Maybe not even that year. If I’m honest it’s been several years between the awakening and the “moment” I’m describing.

My son is a teen who can’t remember a time he didn’t get almost an immediate connection to the internet, a few clicks and he’s where he wants to be on the TV. A book he wants to read can be instantly downloaded without a trip to the library or waiting for a package to arrive in the mail. So if you’ve become accustomed to instant gratification, it’s a bit unnerving when life doesn’t play out that way. Even I, who does remember dial up, or the military lifestyle of “hurry up and wait” that can train an inpatient mind to practice patience, finds myself frustrated with the speed and seeming lack of control I have over it all.

🎶Hope that you spend your days
But they all add up
And when that sun goes down
Hope you raise your cup🎶

Don’t dread the work you’ll do between the awakening and the day it all makes sense. That old adage about time passing either way is true. You’ll (hopefully) still pass the time one way or another, but the satisfaction of arriving at that day feeling like this…well, it’s hard to beat!

We’re all worried about getting to the end of our lives and having regrets, yes? I feel like it would be really hard to regret working on yourself.

🎶I, I did it all
I, I did it all
I owned every second that this world could give
I saw so many places, the things that I did
Yeah with every broken bone
I swear I lived. 🎶

Raising my cup with you, friend. Happy 2020.

Song Inspiration I Lived – OneRepublic

Broken

A neuroscientist once told me as people age their sense of sight, hearing, and taste can diminish but the one sense that doesn’t diminish is PAIN. Think about that for a minute.

When you can’t see, and you can’t hear, you feel isolation. All the wonderful things that make life grand; the splendor of a sunset, the melodic sound of crashing waves, delicious food, fresh air, the chatter of loved ones become subdued. Meanwhile pain still screams out loud and clear.

When we’re younger we often think we will always have these amazing gifts and we tend to take them for granted, don’t we?

But imagine how it must feel to come to a place where your body doesn’t work like it used to, you can’t do the things you once enjoyed and your body is breaking down and causing you undeniable physical pain, the kind that can’t be remedied by popping a couple Tylenol and then it just goes away. The mental anguish of realizing you are aging and regret and frustration add to the pain. You just feel…Broken.

Aging people in our society aren’t always valued like they are in other cultures. I’ve rarely taken a trip to a nursing home where I haven’t met at least one precious resident who has told me about how their family never visits them anymore and begs me not to leave.

When I’m out in public with my baby daughter and encounter an elder, the interaction between the two is the sweetest thing I’ve ever seen, they both gaze at each other with so much fondness. It makes me wonder how that all changes as we become adults.

Erik Erickson said it this way, “Lacking a culturally viable ideal of old age, our civilization does not really harbor a concept of the whole of life”. I think the renown psychologist was on to something. Our culture FEARS aging and death. We have made retaining one’s youth an idol and therefore we must live in denial that we will ever get old….until we do.

In many Native American tribal communities, wisdom and life experience is handed down by elders and deeply respected. Chinese children care for their elderly parents. Greek cultures celebrate aging, In Korea, respecting their mothers and fathers is a fundamental value they take very seriously. In India, elders are considered the head of the household. So why is it our culture thinks caring for aged parents is inconvenient and cramps their style?

So I’m watching this video they made for the song Broken by Seether. I usually comment more on lyrics than imagery but you can’t help but notice what’s being said here visually. Although the people in this video aren’t old, they look as if they’ve just been left in a wasteland to wonder around broken and confused. The lyrics, ‘Cause I’m broken when I’m lonesome. And I don’t feel right when you’ve gone away’ so powerful they give me chills. I can see it two ways. A elderly person left in a nursing home to die, with no visitors, or a young person crying out because they are lost; God is not in their life.

I’m glad my Mom took me to sing and play the piano at Assisted Living locations when I was a child. It inspired me to visit veterans at nursing homes when I served in the Air Force and it reminds me of how the Bible reminds us to respect the wisdom of our elders.

The truth is, I could be doing SO much more. I challenge you to search out someone you may know who is getting older and take them to lunch or go visit them. If you don’t know anyone who is elderly, isn’t it time to make a new friend?

Song Credit: Seether Broken

https://youtu.be/hPC2Fp7IT7o

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