the music never stopped

We recently took our 7-year-old son to his first concert.  Because it’s what my husband and I have been listening to almost daily for the last couple of years, one of his favorite artists is Jason Isbell.  Isbell came to play at a venue about 45 minutes away so we made plans to take the kiddo.

Leading up to the show, he would grin every time we mentioned how cool it was to go to your first show at age 7.  He wore his Jason Isbell shirt the day of the concert.  We dropped his brother off at a sitter and we took him to deli that we go to every time we see a show in this town.  Sandwiches piled high with processed meats and cheeses.  Cash only.  Delicious and so bad for you and perfect, really.  The kiddo ordered a kids meal–a huge grilled cheese sandwich, potato chips, a pickle, a soft drink, and a cookie and ice cream…all for $2.95.

We finished our meal, paid up, and headed to the auditorium.  We were there in time to see the opening act that started at 7pm.  The band was good, but not quite our favorite kind of music–and certainly not who we were there to see.   Kiddo’s attention was drifting.  Finally, Jason Isbell came on stage.  His face lit up and I could tell he was a little overwhelmed. He played the opening song, which we all knew every word of, and it was so good.

By the third song in, I looked over at our son and he was sound asleep.  It was right at 8:30 (his regular bedtime) and he was completely out.  I wanted to wake him.  I didn’t want him to miss the music.  Especially when I heard the beginnings of “Flying Over Water”, an older song that I didn’t expect–and kiddo’s absolute favorite one.  I patted his leg and whispered in his ear but he did not wake up.

The music played on.  We were there for our son–not for ourselves.  We have seen and heard Isbell live a few times, once at the Ryman in Nashville.  After that, nothing will sound better.  We were here so our son could be blown away by live music.  He wasn’t really blown away.  He was just sleeping.  We enjoyed the show which seemed to last forever and then left before the encore so we could make it to the car ahead of the crowd.  He slept the entire way home.

The moment illustrated a haunting truth: the music plays on even if we miss it.

The kids play happily, pretending they are fast cars in a race and help each other to the finish line.  Pure joy expressed while you are on the phone in the next room.  

Trees drop their leaves in a beautiful act of surrender and you are in the house vacuuming.  

A customer in the next line pays it forward in an act of simple generosity while you are busy thinking of what you’ll order.  

A musician belts out poetry to indescribably beautiful sounds and you’re asleep.

Last week I wrote about false choices.  Our awareness is a different story.  Our awareness forces us to be single-minded.  To choose.  We can’t be two places at once.  Our awareness has boundaries.  We can’t be fully present with our spouse and also be outside talking to a friend.  We can’t be at work and playing blocks with our 2-year-old at the museum.  We can’t be asleep and rocking out at the concert.

My first reaction to my son’s sleeping at the concert was disappointment and a little bit of panic.  He was missing out.  We paid money for him to see this and he never got to take it all in.  He was missing the beauty, the sound, the fun.  How could I allow that?

My second reaction was joy: the music plays on.  For those of us who are awake.  Even for my sleeping son.  What better lullaby than this?  The music plays on.  If for no one else, for the one playing it.  There’s something really humbling and magical about living in a world where beauty happens just for happening’s sake.  Flowers bloom whether you see them or not.  Babies smile in rooms all by themselves.  The music plays on while you sleep.

There’s a big difference between “I’m missing out” and “the music plays on.”  The first says that there isn’t enough.  That the world is a scarce place and I must hustle to get my fill.  The second says the world is a place of abundance–so much so that even when I don’t show up, there will be enough.  As Geneen Roth says, “Enough isn’t a quantity–it’s a relationship to what you have.”

We are surrounded by more magic and beauty than we’ll ever be able to take in.  I am reminded to pay attention. To be a witness to the life around me.  I am reminded that the problem of scarcity is a problem of my own attention.  The problem isn’t that the magic doesn’t exist–it’s that I miss it.

Here’s to a 2016 of awareness and attention and gratitude.  Here’s to a 2016 of the second response: The music plays on.






Hard to lose (a poem)

Even the dog’s
Eyes make me sad
For living
is being with life which
looks at you
through lashes
or the other kind too.  Yes,
even the sores
are hard to lose. 

Even my dad’s
Eyes make me sad
For living
is being with life which
looks at me 
through glasses
or the other kind too.  Yes,
even the drink 
is hard to lose. 

Even my brother’s 
Eyes made me sad
For living
is being with life which
looks at me 
through memories.  Yes.  
The living are hard to lose.  

-Amanda Lynne Noell, May 10, 2002

Mighty. Small.

“Oh, the Mississippi’s mighty, but it starts in Minnesota with a place that you can walk across…”

This line is from one of my favorite Indigo Girls songs, Ghost.  I listened to that song a LOT in high school, especially when I was driving my 1988 Honda Accord.  The music played through my disc-man connected through my tape player.  Back in the days before digital music and bluetooth.

The song is about a relationship and there are many references to water throughout it.  This one line is so powerful because it reminds us that one thing can be at once mighty and almost unnoticeable.  A river can be so wide, deep, and powerful that it drowns you–and yet at its source it’s possible you would miss it altogether.

At work I am a little bit famous for not believing in false choices.  We give these to each other and to ourselves all the time and I just don’t think they’re helpful.  We can either do what’s right for our staff or our clients.  We can either have fun or follow the rules.  We can either save money or get the best product.  And I always wonder (and often say out loud): “Why not both?  How about we say AND instead of OR?  I love the line in this song because it’s proof on planet earth that big and small can co-exist at the same time.  Sure, sometimes we have to choose.  And…there are times we don’t have to.  It’s helpful to offer up ‘and’ instead of ‘or’ to see what’s possible.  One of the worst ways we often see this is in our understanding of God.

When I was a camp counselor at Camp Little Crossroads (now named Crossroads Camp and Conference Center) in Amherst County, Virginia, we had vespers every night.  This was a time when we worshipped God out in the woods.  We walked our campers there from our cabins and sang fun songs all the way up the road.  One of those songs went like this: “My god is so BIG, so STRONG, and so MIGHTY, there’s nothing that he cannot do!”  We acted it out with motions by making big muscle arms and big wide out-stretched arms.  I guess when you’re little, it feels comforting to know that God is bigger than anything you could ever be afraid of.  It’s good to remember that God can do all the things.

Then, just a few years later, I found myself in the small hospital chapel at Lynchburg General Hospital, praying for my brother who was upstairs in the neurological ICU.  He had been hit by a truck on route 122 coming home from a night out with friends.  His 22-year old body was broken all to pieces.  His brain was injured.  He was not the same as he was when he left us earlier that day–my first day back from my sophomore year of college.  I prayed for him.  I prayed that he would live.  And then I learned what life would be like for him if he lived and so I prayed that we’d have the courage to survive whatever outcome.  I prayed that God would be present–with him and with all who were so heart-broken by his injuries.  And I prayed that God would be small.  Tiny.  Microscopic.  I wanted God not to be big and mighty and strong, but small enough to crawl through his veins and neurons and blood cells.  To seep into his innermost thoughts and memories and remind him in his state of unconsciousness that he was loved and he was not alone.  I wanted God to be invisible enough to live in unseen places and do work that wasn’t possible any other way.  Healing work is tiny.  It happens in itty, bitty moments.

It is Christmastime.  December 20th.  One of the times of year we remember that God came into the world as an infant.  For those of us who believe the story that Jesus–not created, but begotten–came into the world as a tiny, scraggly, vulnerable infant: God really was small.  He lived in a womb and entered the world the same way each of us has entered: the human way.  He was god and he entered our world.  He was mighty and he was a helpless infant.  He is an AND god, not an OR god.  From the very beginning and to the very end.  Like the Mississippi River.

I’ll leave you with one other line from the Indigo Girls’ song: “Oh, there’s not enough room in this world for my pain.”  My brother did not live through his injuries from the car wreck.  After eight long (and, somehow short) days and nights in the hospital, he died.  His body was so badly injured and it worked so hard to help heal itself that it gave out.  Earlier on the day of his death, my mom and dad and I sat by his bed.  My dad opened the bible and read from the book of John chapter 3: for God loved us so big that he sent his only son to us.  It was a reminder that I can only now appreciate–God got small just to be with us.  Now, that is big stuff.

Merry Christmas.