It was August 1992, and my mother was nearing the end of her battle with lung cancer. This was the day my Dad and I got a prescription filled for morphine. There was a hospital bed in the room where she used to sit for hours in her recliner. We took turns sleeping on the sofa near her, and, on this night, the two way intercom crackled on in my room with my Dad’s call for help. She had gotten off the bed to use the portable potty, and then slumped over. We think she had a small stroke, and we helped get her back lying down. I asked if she wanted to start the morphine, and, being unable to speak (something new for her!) she shook her head “No” emphatically. Her strong will remained – she did not want to start taking that drug.
After Dad went back to bed, I asked her if she wanted me to play the violin. She nodded gently, “Yes,” and I played Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring and a couple more beautiful, relaxing tunes.
In the morning, Dad was on the phone to Hospice to find out how best to care for her now that she was not conscious. I noticed that her breathing was slowing and Dad got off the phone. We held her hands, said our goodbyes, and watched as her chest moved less and less until it stopped.
Her last volitional act had been nodding to have me play the violin! And despite her great fear of a horrible choking death as her lungs failed, she passed peacefully away with no suffering at all.
This experience still radiates joy to me for two reasons – that even someone who struggled in life can be blessed with a peaceful death, and, by showing up even in difficult situations, I can let the moment guide me to find appropriate and inspirational modes of expression.
Taken in May 1983. My mother and my son enjoy blowing bubbles.
I sometimes think of the Now as a Universal – a large all-encompassing entity. That may be so, but it also operates on a personal and local level. Just pay attention.
A friend was on a website she rarely visits just to check on a kayak trip a friend was leading, and upon poking around a little, found an upcoming workshop with Paul Winter. She remembered that I had a transformative experience with him almost 20 years ago and sent me an email, less than 2 weeks before the event. I flipped at the opportunity to come full circle, having lived with his improv suggestions for so long. If she had not shared with me, I would have missed it, and she would not have gone alone. She did not email anybody but me.
Instead, we both deepened our comfort with playing the Now, in whatever form it may take – with an instrument, a poem, spontaneous song, a photograph, or by drawing or painting.
May you be listening the next time a small voice rises above the background noise of daily life!
My friend Linda and I in a jam with Paul Winter
Almost 19 years ago, I deepened my experience of freely improvised music with Paul Winter in a Living Music Village held at Omega. This past weekend he offered a shorter and similar workshop in Virginia. Again he kindled something profound in me, and an appreciation for how important it is to help others rediscover their innate spontaneous expression. I truly enjoyed all the ways we all made music, even those who had no musical training. Given attentive listening, satisfying music can be made with 3 or 4 people without uttering one word of instruction or planning.
This idea has expanded in my experience to include all modes of expression. Viewing a sunset across a Virginia valley delivered such a profound experience that I wondered the next morning if perhaps there was a poem there. “Exquisite Sunrise” is presented elsewhere on this blog.
When I shared my belief that the medium of expression really doesn’t matter, it struck something in Paul. He said this was the opposite of what communication theorist Marshall McLuhan said, “the medium is the message.” In my experience, to express what happens at any given moment, any medium of expression is fine. The Now can be expressed in music, words, dance, visual art, photography, or just in appreciative silence, alone or with others. The mere act of noticing and paying attention is enough.
After 3 days of guiding us in improv sessions, Paul Winter shares a smile with a fellow reed player.
It is around this idea that Players of Now seeks to form. May you have many moments when you can play with the Now!