Monday, December 9, 2013

Inspiration Monday: Finding Your Voice

This past weekend, I attended the funeral of a good friend. He was a former Navy musician, and a professional french horn player most of his life. He was an accomplished vocalist, an old-school barber-shopper with just enough ham in him to steal the show even in a gigantic chorus. My friend loved music with the zeal of a missionary and evangelized it like it was a religion. It was his one true voice, and he shouted his joy for the world to hear his whole life long. I was honored to play trumpet in a brass ensemble for his funeral.

I hate funerals. Even the lovely ones mean that someone who mattered is gone even though they still
matter. Most of the time, I find myself sitting tense in a pew, picking at my fingernails and chewing on my cheek to distract me long enough to survive the service. This time, I sat in the pew and held on to my trumpet. I don't know what it was about it, but holding that piece of cold, familiar metal in my hands throughout the service comforted me like a security blanket. It held me together and reminded me of the joy it was to play music with my friend. Holding my instrument close to me, I didn't have to think whole thoughts in jagged, sad sentences. It was like my whole body was remembering. How many times did I sit that way, with my trumpet slung across my lap while he told me jokes with his french horn tight in his fingers? How many easy days were there when we shot the breeze and talked composers, hating on Sousa with his oom-pah horn parts and sadistic trumpet licks? So many times he ran up to me and pressed a CD into my hand. "You've got to hear this," he'd say, and he'd mean it. To him, music held all things worth knowing in the world, and what better way to tell your friends you love them than to share all the secrets of the world with them?

My trumpet belonged at that funeral because it was as much a friend of his as I was. It was how he heard me, how we understood each other. There was no better, more natural way to honor a man who was made of song than to stand in front of his loved ones with my instrument and play music for him. I got to say goodbye to him in his own native language.

It got me thinking about all the ways we communicate with one another. I'm a writer (well, a person who writes), and I do a lot of thinking about how to say things so that I can get what is in my head into another person's head with the least amount of interference. Then I usually throw that out and try to think of a prettier way to say it. When I'm writing fiction, I write myself in circles and turn myself inside out trying to figure out how to capture a character's voice and make them seem real. I am a trained therapist and work as a case manager with an oppressed population, so I am always going around saying things about speaking other people's languages, and listening between the words for what a person might be struggling to say.

But maybe it is easier than that. There are so many ways to raise a voice, and who says a person can only have one? Music is a language I speak, and it is a part of who I am, always. Is it any more or less so than writing? Why can't they touch? I draw, paint, and bind books. In every piece of art I make, I mean to say something, even if I can't always verbalize what it is. There's a piece of me in everything I create. (Sometimes literally--I am not so good with the X-Acto when I move fast. I am not above bleeding for my art!)

This was an EXCELLENT cheeseburger.
What is art, anyway? How did we ever come to the ridiculous notion that artistry can only exist in aesthetics? Could you not find your voice making really excellent cheeseburgers? I think so. I think you can find your voice in any number of places, doing whatever it is that connects you to the rest of us. Everyone has something to share, some quiet, some loud, all worthy.

Go out and find your voice. Chances are you already know what it is, or you think you do. Look closely. There will be places in your life where you feel stifled. Don't grumble--sing! Find a way to bring who you are to where you are and be whole. Share your true self with others in whatever language you have.

I love this quote by Martin Luther King, Jr.:
“If it falls to your lot to be a street sweeper, sweep streets like Michelangelo painted pictures, sweep streets like Beethoven composed music ... Sweep streets like Shakespeare wrote poetry. Sweep streets so well that all the host of heaven and earth will have to pause and say: Here lived a great street sweeper who swept his job well.” 

If you find yourself making cheeseburgers for a living, make them with love and build them like works of art. It doesn't matter what it is you do, you are who you are all the time. Bring your voice with you where it falls your lot to stand and you will never be alone. Someone, someday, will stand up and say, "I hear you."

Panda Express never lies. Ever.


Ellen Morris Prewitt said...

What a wonderful post - a great message, told well. I'm gonna re-blog (if I can figure out how) because I think everyone should read this.

oldgeezer said...

I wish Icould express my thoughts the way you do. When I try, I seem to sound like I'm 3 years old. Your words paint pictures in my mind and I can see them very clearly. I too will miss Gary's humor and his dedication to his music!