Music is a Gift That Must Be Shared

I was not thrilled to be at church yesterday morning at 8:15 to prepare for Mass. I wanted more sleep, my car’s tire light was on the whole way to St. Anthony’s in Waldport (low pressure, not a flat), and I was wiped out from volunteering at the Willamette Writers’ conference. Nor was I thrilled when I realized I’d be doing this Mass alone because guitar-playing, big-singing Tim was waylaid by a situation at home, and the other singer I had expected was not there to sing. But God gave me a voice to sing and a piano to play, so here I was, grateful I had taken time to practice.

Tim made it in eventually, and the Mass went well. Afterward, a man came up to tell us how grateful he was to hear our music. He broke into tears. “My wife just died two weeks ago,” he said. “Usually the 9:00 Mass is so quiet. I’m so glad to have music.” I clasped his hand, but he pulled away and left, clearly embarrassed to be weeping in public, even though he had every right to weep. “My husband died, too,” I called after him. But he was gone, and it was time to get ready for the 10:30 Mass.

As much as I hated getting up early and playing back-to-back Masses, I vowed to keep doing as much church music as I could for as long as I could. I used to get paid for it at my previous church. I don’t at St. Anthony’s. I don’t care. I don’t need the money; I need the music.

Music touches people. It heals and soothes. Not all music for all people. Hip-hop, for example, just annoys me, and I hate the meandering organ music sometimes played at funerals or before church services. Give me a good melody and an earnest voice, even if it isn’t perfect.

I’ll be 70 next year. What is this little old lady still doing behind a microphone? Until I was 30, I sang mostly in school and community choirs, but as 30 approached, I had an “if not now, when?” moment when I decided it was time to step out and start performing on my own. I still did the choir thing with The Valley Chorale in Sunnyvale, California, the Coastal Harmony Vocal Band in Pacifica, and the Billy Vogue Country Singers tour that was supposed to make us all famous–and didn’t, but I also took my originals and cover songs to art galleries, festivals, sidewalk markets, senior centers, nursing homes, garden tours, coffee shops, and stage shows of various sorts.

In the early days, I had a nylon-string guitar and no sound equipment. I was too chicken to play piano in public, but eventually I had a carload of gear and played guitar, mandolin and piano while continuing to sing. My late husband Fred was my roadie and my biggest fan. It’s not the same without him.

Did I ever make much money at it? Precious little. Ages ago, I decided I could not pursue two careers full-tilt at once, and I was a better writer than musician, so I would write for work and do music for God, my only goal to do as much of it as possible as well as I could.

COVID knocked out all in-person gigs. While some churches had no music at all, we were lucky to continue offering music at St. Anthony’s. For a while, we sang with masks on to pictures taped to the pews and a camera sharing the Mass via Zoom and YouTube. Gradually the restrictions eased. The people came back, and the masks came off. Now we may be looking another surge of the virus with renewed restrictions, but meanwhile, I’m still playing and singing.

I’m not the only one. One day last week, I felt really depressed. I had cried a few tears at my desk, asking God why I had to be alone. Then Facebook notified me of an “Open Your Hymnal” concert being offered live. Three Catholic singers offered healing songs and prayers. My tears dried. I grabbed my guitar and played along, watching their fingers to “read” the chords. I was comforted.

I hated getting up early for church. I hated driving all the way to Waldport with the tire light on because I didn’t have time to stop and there are no gas stations or tire shops between South Beach and Waldport. I still feel a little stage fright wherever I sing and play. But I love the music, and I thank God we could give something to that heartbroken man who just lost his wife.

Whatever your gift, let it shine. Someone needs it.

****

P.S. The monthly South Beach acoustic jam/open mic is happening Sunday, Aug. 8, from 3 to 5 p.m. at the South Beach Community Center, 3024 SE Ferry Slip Road, across from Pirate’s Plunder. Bring your instrument and join us.

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Be Merry, Be Healthy, Keep Singing

Merry Christmas, dear friends. Although this year has been a disaster and I can name lots of things that I miss–my family, hugs, eating out, in-person church, parties, swimming, lipstick, performing, live music, theater, travel, potlucks, new episodes of my favorite TV shows–I can also name quite a few things I’m grateful for this year. All of you who are reading this are right up at the top.

Sick as we all are of Zoom, it has allowed me to connect with people all over the world whom I would not usually be able to see without leaving home and traveling many miles. I have done readings and attended workshops that would have been impossible for me to get to in normal life. We are blessed to have technology that connects us in all kinds of ways. Yesterday, a friend who lives nearby but is staying home to avoid COVID video-called me via Facebook messenger. I didn’t even know that was possible, but it was great to talk to him.

Staying home has given me more time to read–81 books and counting this year–and to write. I was blessed with a poetry chapbook (The Widow at the Piano) that came out in March and a new book about childlessness, Love or Children: When You Can’t Have Both, that made its first appearance on December 7.

I have been lucky to still be able to sing and play at church for our recorded Masses at St. Anthony’s in Waldport. Most other musical outlets are closed, but I’m still singing for God, and I’m grateful.

I’m also thankful for Annie the dog and our long walks, for time to bake and try out new recipes, and time to connect by phone or online with people I can’t see in person. I’m grateful that the beach is still nearby.

It has been a hard year. I have lost nine friends in 2020 and may lose more before the year ends. I’m still grieving the loss of my father and the house I grew up in. Of course, I miss my husband, too. I know now why some old ladies weep so often. But we go on. As I write this, I have fresh-baked honey-oat bread to eat with homemade spinach soup and fruit salad for dinner, I’m reading a book I’m finding hard to put down–The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd, and I still have more episodes of “Victoria” on Amazon Prime to watch. Plus, I actually got my bathrooms clean and my laundry done. I am blessed.

I wish you all the best possible holidays this year. If it can’t be the usual lollapalooza, enjoy the simple things, being with the people in your “bubble,” singing the songs, saying the prayers, eating the food, soaking in the decorations, and watching those corny Christmas movies.

I’m not good at making music videos. I’m embarrassed to say how many tries it took to make the one posted here and how many more tries it took to get it online, all the while having to listen to myself sing. Let’s just say, I don’t need to sing Silent Night again unless I can sing harmony with someone else.

Big socially distanced hugs,

Sue

Sitting in the Dark Without My Toys

OMG, is this the wildest November ever? The election, COVID, hurricanes, Zoom Thanksgiving. Is God pissed off or what?

What a weekend I had. It would have been enough to play and sing at St. Anthony’s in Waldport for two funerals in two days and then do a regular weekend Zoom Mass.

Friday we said goodbye to Phil Rilatos, a good guy whom I didn’t get to meet. Saturday, our Mass was for a beloved friend, Roy Robertson. Since he and his wife Mary Lee Scoville were musicians, we musicians turned out in force—as much as we could while following the COVID restrictions, masks, distancing, and limited numbers. When the barbershoppers sang the same song that Roy and his quartet sang for my husband’s funeral, I became a weepy mess. We all were. Roy was probably up in heaven grinning his gap-toothed grin and singing along.

So there was that.

And there was Gov. Brown’s announcement that Oregon would be going into a two-week lockdown starting Nov. 18 to try to stop the soaring numbers of COVID-19 cases.

But there was more. Thursday night into Friday morning, we had rain, lightning, and high winds. Early Thursday morning, on Birch Street–the only way in and out of our neighborhood–a tree fell on a power line, knocking out the electricity.

A long, dark day and night followed. Fifteen powerless hours, most of them spent huddled by the wood stove in my den. I wrote, played guitar, tried to read, made phone calls on the ancient Princess phone that still works, and ate cold food by candlelight.

Staring into the flames made me think about a lot of things. Being alone. Sitting around campfires with my friends. How much I depend on the distractions of cell phone, computer, TV, and all my other toys. How I should have bought more AA batteries.

The power returned at 8 p.m. Dazed by the light, I thanked God and the power company and eased back into regular life. That was Friday night.

Saturday we attended Roy’s funeral. Lots of tears. After my friend Pat and I ate a substandard lunch in a chilly restaurant where they were clearly starting to scale down staff and supplies for the coming shutdown, the St. Anthony’s choir did the second Mass.

Finally, at 5:00, I could go home. It was raining again, the wind blowing so hard we could barely stand in one place. But at home, I could eat a hot meal, watch TV, and hang out with Annie.

God had other plans. As I turned off 101, I noticed the lights were out. Swell. But there was more. Turning onto Birch, I faced a wall of fallen trees and dangling wires. I could not get home. I got out of the car and looked for a way to walk or crawl through, but it wasn’t safe.

I called 911. They said help was on the way.

How long would it take? Should I go to a motel? I had no other clothes, no pills, and my old dog Annie was alone.

Total darkness. Now my cell phone didn’t work. I had no one to talk to except God. I prayed.

It was too dark and spooky, and I was surrounded by trees that could fall. I drove up the highway to the South Beach Post Office where there was light and phone service. As I sat in the parking lot, rain sheeted down the windshield while wind pummeled my car. I was cold, hungry and starting to need a restroom. My black slacks were wet from walking out in the rain.

After a while, I drove back to my neighborhood and parked behind the big Public Works trucks. A guy in a yellow slicker told me they would try to clear the road enough to get a car through, but it would take a half hour or so.

I sat in my car, rain pouring, my hazard lights blinking lest someone unaware come barreling into the back of my Honda. I watched the green arrows blinking, watched the rain pouring down my windows. I prayed my house was okay, that none of my trees had fallen.

At 7:10, the yellow slicker guy told me I could drive through, carefully. And I was home! It was dark and cold, but I only cared that I was home. As much as I could see, everything looked fine. I built my fire, lighted my candles, scavenged dinner for me and Annie, and waited for daylight.

            Early Sunday, I heard chainsaws. At 11 a.m., the lights came on. It was dark for 18 ½ hours this time. I threw out most of the food in my refrigerator, glad I hadn’t found the energy to go shopping last week.

            Monday, I bought food at Fred Meyer to restock the fridge. The store was jammed with people stocking up for the shutdown. Toilet paper was disappearing fast. Here we go again.

            Do I trust the lights to stay on? No. The wind is blowing hard again today. But there’s a little patch of blue between the clouds. I’m just grateful to be here and so thankful for the workers who go out in the dark and the rain to clear the way for people like me to go home.

            So that was my weekend? How was yours?

Sheltering in Place Has Its Blessings

My house is not a bad place to be “social distancing.” It’s not like I’m stuck in a bomb shelter, a cave, or a jail cell. It’s a nice place with everything I need. Not only do I have food, shelter, and bathrooms with plenty of toilet paper and fancy soaps, but I have my dog, my musical instruments, my office, my WiFi, two TVs, a hot tub, and hiking trails galore.

I have paid lots of money to go write in places that weren’t half as comfortable. This is a great retreat house; it just needs a name. Alder Grove? Tall Spruce? Bear Haven? Robin’s Rest? Help me out here. Suggestions welcome.

Unlike some folks, I’m social distancing all the time. COVID-19 hasn’t changed that. Lacking husband, children, or nearby family, I am usually alone here. Except for my dog Annie, of course. She’s swell company, but her vocabulary is limited. So I’m kind of used to it. Also, I’m not bored. I have more to do than ever.

Most days, I still keep to my writing schedule, working till about 3:00, then going for a walk with Annie. Then a little more work, a little music, maybe some chores, dinner, and TV. Same old, same old. Except that I can’t go out to lunch, swim at the rec center, attend Mass with my friends, or hang out at the library. I can go to the grocery store, but it feels like walking into a war zone. Will I survive? We’ll see whether I get sick in the next two weeks.

I’ll be honest. Some days, I get depressed. I start to lose hope that this will ever end, that I will ever be with people, that anything I do is worth the effort. I worry that I’ll get sick and have no one to help me. But I come out of it after a few hours, look around and realize how blessed I am. Look at all the fun new things I get to do. For example:

  •  I can attend Mass online not only at my own church but at churches everywhere, even the Vatican.
  •  I can attend writing events online that would have been too far away to drive to and give myself a manicure while I’m listening to the speakers.
  •  I can watch concerts by my favorite artists performing from their living rooms. Have you discovered Facebook “watch parties?” OMG, there’s an endless supply.
  •  I can wear those clothes I wouldn’t dare wear in public.
  •  I have a good excuse to let my hair grow out.
  •  I can talk to friends on the phone for an hour at a time because none of us have anyplace to go.
  •  I can feel superior to those whining about being alone and say, “welcome to my life.”

I’m trying new stuff online, just like everybody else is. See me reading poems on Facebook and Instagram. I’ll be offering a song soon. I might try a video. And you can see me doing music at the St. Anthony’s video Masses for the last three weeks at Stanthonywaldport.org.

I know how lucky I am.

  • On the radio this morning, a pregnant woman talked about her fears of delivering at a hospital during this time of COVID-19. Will she be able to have anyone with her, even her husband? Will she or her baby catch the virus in a hospital full of people sick with it?
  • Friends with families in nursing homes are worried sick about them catching the virus. I am relieved that my father passed away before all this started. I can’t imagine how awful it would be for him with no visitors and no chance to come out of his room.
  • It has to be terrible for people who can’t visit their children or grandchildren or aging parents.
  • Those who work in “essential” jobs, especially healthcare, are in danger every day.
  • Those who have lost their income all of a sudden are rightly terrified about what’s going to happen.

God help them all. Let’s all pray for each other.

It’s just me and Annie here, and we’re okay so far.

Meanwhile, let’s all go to our rooms and play with our toys until the doctors say we can come out. Although we won’t gather for church on Easter, that doesn’t mean Jesus didn’t rise from the dead and come out of the tomb. We’ll get out, too, one of these days.

What are the good parts of this situation for you? Have you discovered some new ways of entertaining yourself? Please share.

 

The Archbishop Can’t See What I’m Doing While I Listen to His Sermon

Cover-Front-WidowPiano(web) 2With most churches are closed due to the COVID-19 crisis, many are offering online services. At St. Anthony in Waldport, Oregon, I was part of the music team on Saturday for the Mass we videotaped to be put online Sunday. I played piano and sang, Stella played guitar. We had one reader, one server, and three real parishioners with photos of the rest taped to the pews. It was as normal as it could be under the circumstances. You can watch that Mass here.

When Sunday came, I had already attended the St. Anthony Mass, plus I didn’t want to watch myself on the screen, so I chose a different church.

Why not go to the top? Archbishop Sample led Mass at the cathedral in Portland at 11 a.m. Very holy, very formal, trained singers, beautiful statues and paintings in the background. In person, I would have dressed up and been on my best behavior. But having gotten up late, I was sitting at home in sweat pants and tee shirt with unbrushed teeth and no makeup. I was still drinking my tea from breakfast, and I was surrounded by distractions. I wanted to go through that pile of papers on my desk. I wanted to check my email and Facebook. I wanted to get up and walk around. You can’t do any of that when you’re sitting in a pew at an actual church surrounded by other people–or when you’re sitting at the piano in clear view of the priest and everyone else.

Nor can you offer commentary. I can’t help myself. My new chapbook of poems, The Widow at the Piano, is subtitled “Poems by a Distracted Catholic” for good reason. With no outer filter, my mind squirreled all over the place.

Why are they wearing rose-colored vestments; it’s still Lent. But they sure are pretty.

Why does the archbishop keep changing hats?

I count 13 people in there. Aren’t we supposed to keep it to 10?

Who is that guy? Is he a deacon?

Hey, that’s Angela, the choir director; I’ve seen her online.

Is there a quartet in there? Social distancing!

The archbishop sure has a nice singing voice.

Oh, look at all those empty pews.

Pay attention, Sue, he’s turning the bread and wine into Jesus’ body and blood.

Latin chant again?

Hey, “amen” is the same in both languages.

Ah, tricky, they put a painting on the screen while they received communion, so we won’t feel bad.

That sure was a short song.

Ugh, more organ music.

Should I be kneeling or something?

Oh, it’s over. No closing song?

Well, that was nice, but I don’t feel like I’ve been to church.

So it goes. A week ago Sunday, I attended two full Masses and portions of Lutheran and Presbyterian services. During the week, I said the rosary with the Archbishop and watched Pope Francis preach in an empty St. Peter’s Square. It was raining. The cantor held an umbrella over himself and his music. The pope spoke Italian with a woman translating in English. I kept trying to understand the Italian. The pope seemed to be limping pretty badly. I was relieved when he finally sat down. But it was nice to be there without the crowds.

Maybe I’ll try the Portuguese church in San Jose next week. Why not?

There’s religion all over the net, and I am so distracted.

Speaking of distractions, I was supposed to do my first reading and my first book-signing for the new one last week. Both were canceled. I’m afraid my poor books will just disappear. I had hoped to publicize both The Widow at the Piano and my other chapbook, Gravel Road Ahead, which came out last October, together. Now . . . piffle, as my late husband used to say.

I’m not the only author in this fix. Spring is book-launch season, and many events have been knocked out by the virus. Readings, signings, talks, workshops, conferences, all canceled. What should we do? Just wait? But here are these lovely books. I am going to try to record some of the poems and share them online. Stay tuned.

I’ll give some books away, too. For the first 10 people who are willing to read and post about The Widow at the Piano or Gravel Road Ahead on your blog, at Goodreads, or on Amazon.com—or all three, I will send a free copy of the chapbook of your choice. Email me at sufalick@gmail.com if you’re interested.

Meanwhile, I’ll keep seeking religion online. I can’t guarantee that I’ll behave while I’m watching. Maybe if I could do it with a group, I’d be more reverent, but oh yes, we can’t congregate. Have you tried going to church online? What is it like for you? Or are you just going to commune with God on your own via meditation or time spent in nature?

Neither of my grandfathers were regular church-goers, but they were good men. For Grandpa Fagalde, all those hours he spent fishing, staring at the ocean, may have been church enough. Grandpa Avina might have been listening to San Francisco Giants baseball games while the women went to church. Whatever works.

Stay well. Do the best you can to avoid getting sick, but don’t make yourself crazy. You cannot sterilize the entire world and everything in it.

Buy books.

Amen.

Amid virus fears, we find new ways to reach out

St. Anthony faces

I lay in bed this morning long after I should have gotten up, listening to the news on NPR. Coronavirus, coronavirus, coronavirus. People dying, economy crashing, not enough medical equipment . . . Yikes. This morning, my Yahoo news feed led with “worldwide death toll more than 15,000. Dear God.

Yet I look out my office window and see the same trees and the same sky I see every day. I see my tulips and daffodils blooming in a riot of red, yellow and peach. I see a family of robins pecking at the lawn, which has grown lush and mossy from winter rain. Inside, it’s quiet except for the hum of the gas fireplace pouring out orange heat. My dog Annie dozes on the love seat. I’m not quite dressed yet, but there’s nothing unusual about that either. I have all day, no appointments, nowhere I have to go. If I stayed disconnected from the media, I would not know this was anything but another beautiful Oregon coast spring.

We have not been hit as hard here as other places, not yet. As of this morning, Monday, March 23, we have 161 known cases of the virus and five deaths in Oregon. But everyone knows these numbers are going to go up, way up. No one has tested positive here in Lincoln County, but very few people have been tested at all.

To the dismay of those Oregon coast folks trying so hard to stay apart from others, tourists, mostly young people, have come to the beach in droves, seemingly ignoring all the pleas to stay home and “shelter in place.” Some of the beaches up north have blocked access. Gov. Kate Brown is expected to close all the state parks today, on the premise that if they have nowhere to go, the visitors will go home. But that means we who live here can’t go to the parks either, and that hurts.

While I’m somewhat used to being alone, many are having a hard time with the isolation. My friend Bill is one of countless numbers who live in an assisted living facility, nursing home, etc. The residents are confined to their rooms. They are not allowed to go out, and visitors can’t come in. Their meals are left outside their doors. Sounds like prison to me. And yet, because they are the most likely to die if they get this virus, what choice is there?

Many folks who are not used to staying home are already experiencing cabin fever. I’ve got to admit I’m better equipped for this than my friends and relatives who are always on the go. Most days, I’m here by myself anyway. I’m just sticking to my routine—write until about 3:00, walk the dog, do chores, play music, watch TV. Same old, same old, except I can’t go out to lunch, and God knows I do love to go out to lunch.

Last week, I wrote this cheery post about surviving at home alone. Well, proving I’m human, that night I was singing a different tune when I got word that all of the Catholic churches in western Oregon were closed. No more Masses, potlucks, meetings, or Stations of the Cross. We wouldn’t even celebrate Easter together. I cried like somebody had died and then posted on Facebook about how lonely and miserable I was. My church was not only my spiritual home but my main social outlet.

But there’s good news in all of this. In response to my Facebook post, friends called and texted, and we connected more than we ever had before. Paying it back, I have been phone-visiting people, especially people I know are home alone, and we have had great talks. I’m experiencing more human connection than usual. I wish this virus had never happened, but I do see some good things coming out of it. I urge you to reach out by phone, email, letter, Facebook or whatever.

As for church, Fr. Joseph Hoang, our pastor at St. Anthony’s in Waldport decided he would videotape weekly Masses. Three of us did music for the first one. “Red” was altar server while his mom “Ice” operated the camera. We taped photos of the parishioners on the pews so we all felt less alone and Fr. Joseph had someone to preach to. I think we all got nervous with the camera on us, but it was wonderful.

Yesterday, I found countless church services online. I could “go to church” all day long. As it was, I attended two Catholic Masses and dropped in for parts of Lutheran and Baptist services. As the Internet keeps going, the possibilities for new types of connection are unlimited. What a gift. Back in the flu epidemic a hundred years ago, people were truly isolated. No TV, no Internet. Many didn’t have telephones yet. At best, they could write a letter or a send a telegram.

I worry about the same things as everyone else. How long will this go on? Will we not be able to get food and other necessities? Will people turn on each other? Will we break the Internet with everyone trying to work and go to school online? How many businesses will fold, and how many people will lose everything? More important, how many people will get sick and how many will die? Will it hit my loved ones? Will there not be enough doctors and nurses to help them? Will I get it?

Just a few weeks ago, we were living normal lives, and the news was all about Democrats and Republicans. My advice from last week stands. Turn off the TV, radio and Internet as much as you can. Connect with each other as much as possible. Get outside in nature. Find a project to pass the time. Pray. It will be over someday. Only God knows when, but it will.

How are you doing in this crazy time? Feel free to share in the comments.