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Saturday, November 7, 2015


And when I think that God
His Son not sparing
Sent Him to die
I scarce can take it in

How Great Thou Art (Chris Rice version)

I like a broad range of music. Not as broad as some, but broad. When I was young, I didn't care for many kinds of music, just Rock mostly. I grew up in the 80's; Punk and I guess later "progressive rock" (among others) were influential during that era.

Later in life I took to progressive rock, classical music, folk, Nordic, country (which I used to despise) and even top 40. I like to challenge myself with new music. I once joked that if aliens found my iPod, they'd think our species was pretty crazy. Probably they'd be right. Primus and Johnny Cash together on the same device? What the...?!

Music, as an art, is a big part of many of our lives. It can instantly bring back memories and re-establish emotional states from a past time and place. Certain lyrics, melodies or harmonies resonate with us. My music taste changes based on my mood or what's going on my life. All of art is like this, and I think different people react to different art forms, in a positive way, and that's ultimately a reflection of ourselves. We have a relationship, or connection, to the artist, an idea, something.

I have come to understand it's a necessary part of my own life. It's as important as anything else to me, like scientific understanding, or philosophy, or spirituality. Everyone believes something, how well it is consciously defined in their own mind varies. I think a balance of these things is needed for one's own growth and peace.

But I digress....

When I was in the hospital that first time, I wanted to listen to music to pass the time. There's not much else besides daytime TV in the dialysis clinic, and I found it also hard to read. The problem I ran in to:

I felt not at home in my own music collection.

It was disconcerting not being able to listen to my own music. I found that I didn't really have any music to fit my early hospital days of shock, anger, and fear. Or if I did, I didn't really care to hear it. I couldn't find anything I wanted to listen to, and some songs made me so sad I wanted nothing to do with them. Which ones were those? They were typically ones that reminding me of past happy things. Like going to baseball games with my daughter. Who knew going to college baseball fields would keep me up to date with what the kids were listening to? Or going hunting with my son. Or some songs reminded me of past good times with my wife, our honeymoon, our children. Or from my youth; I can name songs from the first middle and high-school dances related to first kisses. And so on.

Eventually, with time, these uneasy and negative feelings passed. Now I have some other memories from that time tied to music. These aren't things I like to remember, but it's part of me, and music doesn't differentiate happy from sad. Music will invoke what it does; and we can't control what we feel at a given moment. We can control what we do, but not the emotions we have. They are a more complicated by-product of our inner selves. Sure, these things can evolve over time, as we ourselves change.

I spent 17 days cooped up in the adult bone marrow transplant ward at Duke University Hospital. The one song I remember from all that time is Run, by George Strait. My wife couldn't stay with me, so a lot of time I was waiting for her to return. Or for my family's return; or anyone's. Listening to this song instantly takes me back to that time, lying in bed, exhausted; lost.

'Cause out there
Ain't where you ought to be 
Baby run, cut a path across the blue skies
Straight in a straight line
You can't get here fast enough

The other significant thing I found during this journey was a collection of art in a book based on the Lilly Oncolgy art contest. I found a lot of things in there I identified with, and still do. These works span every experience, and if you're looking for an expression of how you feel about having cancer, I urge you to look here, also.

One of my favorites from the early days were these. "The Look" (as I named it) was something with which I identified all too well; I remember having that same exact look and posture. I knew exactly what these people were feeling.

In the beginning I identified with the images of despair, uncertainty. There were some depicting pathways into the dark, some with light or bright colors on the other side. I knew I wanted to be on the other side, but it was going to take a long journey through the dark, through some places I didn't want to go.

And it was, but now I've emerged on the other side, at least for the time being. I can identify with the images of victory or hope. My perspective has vastly changed, but I can celebrate whatever victories we get along the way.

It's difficult, if not impossible sometimes, to share emotion with another. We can try to explain things to each other, but these things are so personal. We've all tried to have someone listen to a song to have them understand how we feel, but it doesn't always work. It rather is more personal to them, they have their own experience tied up in it, and it might not match ours.

But, keep looking, listening. We have also been there, and some have the gift of showing us. Read, write, take pictures, draw, paint. At times we are alone in the journey, but not always. Thankfully others have blazed some trails for us. Seek them out when you need help, and help when you can.

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