“Hold, hold on, hold onto me
‘Cause I'm a little unsteady
A little unsteady.”
*Name has been changed for privacy reasons
When it feels too dark to rise, but you gotta get up anyway.
When certain songs make you cry, but you gotta be strong.
When you’re lost and can’t seem to find your way.
When you’re expected to speak but can’t find the words.
When you’re supposed to know what’s next, but you haven’t a clue.
When you try to fall back on what you know, and even that feels unfamiliar.
When you have no idea what the future holds, but people keep asking.
What do you do?
Where do you go from there?
These are the first words of prose I’ve written in seventeen days. They are incomplete. I know. But something important happened since I last wrote to you. And when I think about who I am writing to, I don’t worry so much about what is incomplete. I know you will fill in the blanks and together—together—we will make sense of things.
As I mentioned above, I have not written for seventeen days. This is uncommon for me. Unheard of, really. And a little disconcerting. I’d planned on taking a few days to rest my weary brain after I submitted my third book to my publisher on March 1st. But a few days of respite quickly turned into a week. And even after a week, I couldn’t make sense of the scribbles in my little notebooks that normally become complete sentences and lovely paragraphs in no time.
It felt confusing and scary to not be able to do what comes naturally to me.
I was reminded of how I felt after surgery when I was expected to get up and walk for the first time. My legs didn’t feel like they remembered what to do. They felt weak, uncertain, and unstable.
“Hold on to me,” my nurse instructed. I was afraid I was going to fall, but I held on. I held on with dear life. I begged my legs not to fail me as I stepped away from the security of the bed.
My brain has felt like my surgery legs since I finished my third book: weak, uncertain, and unstable. “What’s the next project?” people are asking. “Shouldn’t you be using your voice to combat all the negativity in the news right now?” people are asking. “Can you give me some ideas to help my child?” people are asking. “Would you mind reading my book? My blog post? My book proposal?” people are asking. “Can you give us a 1000-word article for our publication?” people are asking. Normally, I would consider these requests, respond kindly, and try my best to help others as much as I can.
But I am not normal right now.
I am unsteady right now.
I got that word from a soul-stirring song by the X Ambassadors. I heard it for the first time after dropping off my older daughter at swim practice the other day. The song brought me to my knees. I could not believe these musicians knew exactly how I felt and captured it in a song. I cried because I was no longer alone in my uncertainty and someone else felt shaky too. I cried knowing this word had been given to me to hold on to when I decided to step away from the bed.
That moment came a few days later.
It was an intersection of people that doesn’t happen every day—perhaps once in a lifetime, if you’re lucky. It derived from the video of the music therapist bringing memories and movement to elderly people that I’d shared in my last post. The video had touched my musical daughter profoundly, and I’d written about it. Quite remarkably, my blog post showed up in the newsfeed of the music therapist’s wife. She read it and left me a lovely comment. Even more remarkably, her talented husband, John Abel, does his healing and hopeful work within driving distance of our home. I cried tears of joy when John invited Avery and me to participate in one of his music therapy sessions.
Perhaps you agree there are certain invitations that feel like divine invitations and simply cannot be ignored. This particular invitation felt providential and inspired me to face my full inbox, write coherent sentences to John, and agree to driving in unfamiliar territory. On the day of the therapy, I even took a shower, did my hair, and put on something nice. As I was leaving my house to get Avery early from school, I remembered what she said that morning.
“I don’t want to bring my guitar, Mama. I don’t know what to expect and my hands get shaky.”
But for some reason, I ran back inside to get her guitar—just in case.
Greeting us at the door of the retirement center were John the therapist and Mary the director of communications for AG Rhodes Health & Rehab. We sat on the back patio for a few minutes learning what to expect and how to best participate in the session. John told Avery how music therapy is used in many different settings, not just geriatrics. Sensing Avery was an “old soul,” he told her about excellent undergraduate programs in the area for future reference.
We soon headed to the activity room for the hour-long music therapy session. Avery helped pass out tambourines and maracas and smiled enthusiastically as the residents clapped their hands and tapped their feet.
We sang along to favorites like, “She’ll Be Coming ‘Round the Mountain,” “America the Beautiful,” and “Blueberry Hill.” We encouraged the precious gray-haired ladies who sat beside us and quickly bonded with a dear woman named *Annie. On the last song, “He’s Got the Whole World In His Hands,” Avery retrieved her guitar and strummed along with John.
But it wasn’t until we were preparing to leave that the unforgettable happened. Avery was invited into the cafeteria for cake. A resident noticed the guitar case and asked her to play a song. Without hesitation, Avery got out her guitar and performed “Amazing Grace.” I noticed that as residents and staff workers began to gather, Avery’s voice got stronger. Her smile got wider. And her hands got steadier.
This is the perfect place for Avery to share her musical gift, I thought to myself. She is right where she needs to be, doing exactly what she needs to do.
I filled out a volunteer application and submitted information for a background check so Avery and I could start coming to the nursing home regularly.
“Please come back on Saturday,” the staff members said. “We are having an Easter Egg Hunt for the families of residents and staff, but you are welcome to join us!”
Selfishly, the thought of this outing exhausted me. I felt like I’d showed up enough for one week. Coming back on Saturday would require more showering and more stepping away from the bed with shaky legs.
But on Saturday morning, Avery laid out her favorite spring shirt and asked to go see her “new friends” at the nursing home. “Remember how you said you wished we could take Miss Annie home with us, Mama?” Avery coaxed. “She was so cute! We need to see her soon so she remembers us.”
I could not argue. Avery was right. There was something extra special about that sweet lady I sat next to in the therapy session. Furthermore, I could not decline what felt like another divine invitation.
Upon arrival, we were welcomed by the director and a few staff members who remembered Avery from the other day.
“Where’s Annie?” we asked after surveying the party room and egg hunt grounds and seeing no sign of her.
“Well, she doesn’t have family here, so she is in the cafeteria having lunch. But you can bring her to the egg hunt if you’d like,” the staff member said.
Avery literally jumped into the air with joy. “We can be her family, Mama! Come on! Let’s go get her!”
When we walked into the cafeteria, several residents waved at Avery. It appeared they remembered the curly haired songbird with the 100-watt smile. We found our precious friend Annie and invited her to watch the egg hunt with us.
“Oh yes, I sure would!” she beamed as her hunched back uncurled a little.
The aide told us Annie would need to finish her lunch so we sat with her while she slowly guided her shaky hand to her mouth over and over. We asked her questions we thought she could answer. Unfortunately, she was unable to remember her birthday, her deceased husband’s name, or the name of her roommate, but she knew she loved chocolate and Elvis Presley. She also knew she loved country music and trees that bloomed outside her window.
Not wanting her to feel badly about not remembering, I said, “You have lived a long time, Annie. And you have so much to remember.”
“I have lived a long time. A long, long time,” she agreed and seemed pleased by the acknowledgement.
Finally, we were able to take Annie outside where the colored eggs were scattered in the courtyard. Avery gave Annie a plastic egg, but her unsteady hands had trouble opening it.
“I’ll help you,” I said taking apart the blue egg as she held it.
Annie took one bite of the chocolate found inside the egg and told us how good it tasted. She looked at the flowering trees and the excited children and smiled. She didn’t know us, but she knew she was in loving hands and that made her happy.
When we took Annie to sit in front of the fountain, Avery had a great idea. “Let’s play Annie some Elvis.” Avery used my phone to play the classic love song, “I Can’t Help Falling In Love.”
As soon as the music began to play, Annie took my hand and closed her eyes. She began singing along and knew almost all the lyrics. I looked down and noticed that her shaky hand was steady. And for the first time in weeks, I felt stronger, more certain, and more steady than I had in awhile. The demanding voices pressuring me to write, respond, please, work, solve, predict, create, and produce were silenced.
I am right where I am supposed to be, I thought. This is all I’m supposed to be doing right now: Holding the hand of a precious 79-year-old woman as she listens to Elvis and remembers something lovely from her past.
Love is the only thing required of me right now.
And if love is the only thing I do today, that is enough. It is more than enough.
And through that freeing revelation presented to me in Annie and Avery’s precious hands, I can now complete what was incomplete:
When it feels too dark to rise …
Reach for a hand as you step away from the security of the bed.
When certain songs make you cry …
Let the music give you the missing words and memories to soothe your weary soul.
When you’re lost and can’t find your way …
Be family to someone who has no family.
When you’re expected to speak and can’t find the words …
Just shake the tambourine and smile.
When you’re supposed to know what’s next and haven’t a clue …
Show up; just show up so you don’t miss your divine invitation.
When you try to fall back on what you know and it feels unfamiliar …
Ask a friend to fill in the blanks.
When you have no idea what the future holds …
Go back for the guitar
Say yes to cake
Reach for the closest hand
And hold on,
Just hold on.
It might be an old hand. It might be a young hand. It might even be a furry paw—loving hands can come in all different forms, you know.
Just don’t let the demanding voices in your head pressure you into thinking you must do more than you are called to do right now.
Love is the only thing required of you today.
Love is the only thing required of me today.
And together, with love, we’ll steady ourselves and step away from the bed with courage.
My precious friends of The Hands Free Revolution community, thank you for inspiring me to write down my story. When the wife of the music therapist found me through one of your Facebook shares, it felt like a miracle to our family. Although the words felt jumbled in my brain for many days, I knew I had to share this beautiful connection with you. I feel like there are so many important invitations within this experience. Whether it’s to take time to visit our elderly friends … or to encourage our children to explore and share their inner light with others … or to consider the healing power of music therapy on those with physical, emotional, or mental challenges … or to be assured that loving and nurturing nursing homes do exist, I hope this post speaks to your heart. If it does, I'd love to know. Your comments fuel my writing, and I've missed hearing your stories, struggles, and triumphs over the past few weeks. Please continue scrolling down for important links associated with today's post and information about my upcoming speaking event in Denver, Colorado.
My friends, as Easter approaches, I hope the thought of miracles and divine invitations lift your weary heart this week. May the words I wrote to you today come to mind when you courageously step away from security to face the unknown. Hold onto me. Hold onto me. I love you.
Important links associated with today's post:
• The touching video that led Avery and me to music therapy
• The “Soul Changer” blog post I wrote about Avery’s response to the video
• The American Music Therapy Association (AMTA) has a wealth of information on music therapy and music therapists
• Alive Inside is a beautiful documentary about the Music and Memory iPod program. The video chronicles the astonishing experiences of individuals around the country who have been revitalized through the simple experience of listening to music. The video reveals “the uniquely human connection we find in music and how its healing power can triumph where prescription medication falls short.”
Denver friends, please make plans to come see me! On Saturday, May 14th at 10:00 am, I will be speaking at the Women’s Spring Tea at Denver First Church, 3800 E. Hampden Avenue, Englewood, CO 80113. I cannot wait to meet you and hug you, dear ones in Denver.