Saturday, July 7, 2018

At Last!

In October, I’ll celebrate my 6th re-birthday. It will be 6 years since an ischemic right pontine stroke blasted me in my sleep, a stroke I’ve affectionately nicknamed BS (Bastard Stroke). I won’t go into the gory details here, but if you want them, they’re here:

Anyhoo, this is about a recent milestone. I am SO AMAZINGLY LUCKY for many reasons, but one of them is that I’m surrounded by a community of world-class musicians and music lovers. And once every week or two, I get to sit in with the band and sing. One of my most memorable moments singing was at the wedding of a friend’s daughter. I got to sing “At Last” with a stellar band. It was one of those moments for me when all the stars align—band is hot, voice is in fine form, you’re feeling it down to your bones, not just singing it—and I almost cried, it all felt so good. Then along came BS. 

On the day before BS, I was sitting at a singing & healing workshop offered by a friend and former Little Town’er, and one of the things she said was that it doesn’t matter if you sing offkey, if your voice is shaky, if you think you can’t sing, etc. What matters is just to open up and sing. I had already had three or four TIA’s (mini strokes) in the previous two days (which I wrote off to stress and grading fatigue), so I was crabby and just feeling off. Right, I thought, whatEVER. It would take me six stubborn years to understand how right she was.

Among the “deficits” (seriously, that’s what the med/pharma complex calls the aftershocks of stroke) I was left with after BS, was a mucked-up throat: right stroke means left vocal cord can be “sluggish,” post-stroke BP drugs and CPAP mean that my throat is perpetually dry, which can cause some swelling, which means my tone can be pinched, and, worst of all, I don’t have the vocal control I had pre-BS; my voice can sometimes be…well…wobbly and willfully independent.

It took me about two years of checking things out with a vocal rehab ENT, rehab exercises put together for me by my friend C, a vocal teacher, and practicepracticepainfulpractice before I felt comfortable singing in public again. Even then, I stuck to “safe” songs—limited range, no challenging vocal frills, so familiar I could sing them in my sleep.

Then this week, I screwed up my courage and ASKED the band if I could sing “At Last.” I hadn’t tried it since BS, except by myself, shut in my home office, when no one was home. And I did it. It wasn’t great, I missed a few notes here and there, it didn’t come out quite as good as it had when I practiced it, but DAMN, it felt FINE! I can’t quite put this in words, but for me, singing that song was some sort of threshold I’d been terrified to cross.

And that’s the real milestone…not that I sang the song, but that I remembered what a loving, forgiving, accepting, supportive community I get to live in, and that I don’t need to be afraid. I just need to open up and sing.