I'd listen to the radio,
waiting for my favorite songs
When they played I'd sing along
It made me smile..."
- John Bettis
Sunday afternoon I was sitting in my new favorite coffeehouse writing, when Karen Carpenter singing "Yesterday Once More" came pouring out of the overhead speakers, and through the air like warm lavender-infused honey.
It was a moment of sweet serendipity that took me by surprise in the most delicious way. Since I'd begun haunting its eclectic mixture of vintage fabric, organic baked goods with wonderfully strange flavor combinations, and gentle, but edgy tattooed baristas, the music in the coffeehouse had been more cutting edge, than soft rock. It may not have been what I'd have put on my ipod, but I didn't mind it. I was there for the tea, not the tunes.
So when I heard the first low strains of Karen Carpenter's sweet rich, "when I was young..." and Richard's harmonies that are so perfectly perfect they make you wonder if it isn't just great reverb, it really was "yesterday once more."
I was sitting on the end of the long grassy pier jutting into Lake Champlain on North Hero Island. My friends and I had traveled to Vermont from western New Jersey to work at the Bed and Breakfast/Inn that our dentist owned and operated each summer. It has been scary to be away from my family for the first time, to work that hard (16 hours a day...with only one day off every two weeks, in the kitchen, the dining room, as a chambermaid, teaching water skiing, washing dishes...all for $14.77/week). But I was doing it. I was learning to try new things, meet new people, and hold my ground on personal space and values. But it wasn't easy.
I've been thinking about this a lot since I heard Karen Carpenter's voice on Sunday. I'd never thought of myself as a particularly brave girl. I'd spent most of my time drawing, writing, reading, painting, helping my mom raise seven younger children, baking, dancing, and haunting libraries. I'd always thought of my sister Nancy as the "brave one." I seemed to try new things only when she'd boldly crashed through the door and then held it open for me to slip in behind her. But that summer was all mine. I'd applied for the job, gone to the interview, gotten permission from my parents, organized travel, worked out coverage for my home responsibilities with my sisters (that had cost me almost all I would make that summer), and held my ground on going as each little demon voice screamed "you can't do this...you are the mousey one..."
But I did it.
So what does this have to do with today's post...besides being a story about realizing that I wasn't the cowering bookworm I'd always thought of myself as being? Well, it comes down to the conversation I had this summer with the nurse, Mark, at the mountain clinic. I referred to it in a recent post titled, "Everything in its Time," about spiritual vectors. Another part of that conversation had to do with aging.
When we first met Mark, I asked him, as "small talk," where he lived in the Valley. He explained that he lived in a turn-of-the-century house near the Arkansas River. He said that it had been built by miners and still had bullet holes in the windows where the winds blew through. I asked if that wasn't cold in the winter (I knew how long, cold, and windy the Valley could be when the snow drifted to the rooftops) and he said, "yes, but that he tried to keep his scope of comfort broad."
This fascinated me. I asked him to tell us more. He explained that in the off-season he taught survival skills to elderhostel-ers. And that what he had learned was that age-blind youthfulness seemed to be directly related to one's scope of comfort. The broader the range of temperatures, living conditions, food choices one was comfortable with exploring or living in, the more youthful the person was. The narrower the range the more age-related physical and mental issues the person seemed to be facing on a regular basis.
This, he said, was what he himself was trying very diligently to arrest in himself. To not decide that, just because he was getting older and had the means to determine his circumstances, he would only live in a place that he liked, to make sure that the temperature was optimal, that the bed was soft/firm according to his liking, or that he only went to his favorite restaurants and ate those items that he already knew were his favorites. He said that he worked very hard to keep himself "uncomfortable."
Wow...I loved it...but it made me cringe. 'Nuff said. I have a lot of work to do in reclaiming my love for less comfort. But Mark himself was such a great example of his philosophy. When I discovered what his chronological marker was, I was shocked. Mark told me our next conversation that "life conspires against our freedom from aging." He explained that he saw so many of his patients come in with injuries, aches, and pains who "didn't deserve it." They had worked so hard as young professionals, parents, and neighbors. They had scrimped and saved to be able to retire. But, he said, their retirement had come to mean living the good life. Living in a temperate climate, eating out, sleeping in, relaxing, having things exactly the way they'd always wanted things to be. But, he almost wept, it was this very decrease in discomfort...living a life full of surprises, and being caught off guard by a freak snow storm, or a teenager's crisis, that seemed to be aging them fastest.
He said that the key to vitality, for him, was to have the broadest range of what he could be comfortable with, and survive in, as possible.
I love that spiritual thought-leader, Mary Baker Eddy, was busiest, and hardest at work, exploring new ideas, breaking down religious, social, and gender barriers in her nineties!!
I have been thinking about this a lot lately.
We live in an age of personal choice. A time in history when we think we should (and do) get to have things exactly the way we want them. For example. I should only have to listen to the music I like. So I download my favorite songs...the songs I am comfortable with...on my ipod, pop in my earbuds, and listen to what I like.
But I realize that there is no spiritual serendipity to this way of living.
"When I was young I listened to the radio,
waiting for my favorite songs..."
When I heard that line of music on Sunday, I got up from the table and walked over to the counter. I hugged the girl with the shaved head, and fedora, wearing a vintage apron on top of her shorts. I thanked the tattooed barista with piercings who was in charge of the music. I told them that I'd been at the Allentown Fairgrounds concert one summer when they'd played this song to a huge crowd that sang along with every word. Then, well...I sang along. We all did. They knew the words too. We were like a strangely-mixed up group of children in a sandbox singing,
every wo, oh, oh
that they're starting to sing's
When they get to the part
where he's breaking her heart
It can really make you cry
just like before...
It's yesterday once more...."
Full voice...you should have been there...
A friend shared this video on Facebook yesterday....I want to be her when I grow up...
Kate Robertson, CS