There are many things one could mean when proclaiming that something, or someone, ‘saved my life.’ Sometimes we mean that our very breath and heartbeat were spared from cessation. Other times, we mean that we were reunited with our passions, our sanity and our reasons to live. Is one of these meanings more impactful than another? If your life was ever ‘saved’, did you literally escape the grave? Or, were you metaphorically woken from a walking death?
Either literally or metaphorically, I believe that a life – once saved – must be re-saved every day. Saving is not a pivotal event as much as the beginning of a chain reaction of ‘Saving’ that carries the Saved One through the rest of her existence.
There was a time that I gave up self-care to the point of wasting away my body and mind. I stopped eating or sleeping, gave up seeking necessary medical attention, and stopped looking both ways before crossing the street. Instead, I left my house only in a desperate attempt to encounter death on the street. Thankfully, those days are past – I was Saved. Now I dwell continually in The Saving and must be reSaved each day by hope, love, and music.
Let me explain.
It is the turn of the century. My young mother dies in a motorcycle accident. She was the knot of our family. In her absence, we drift apart, screaming at each other. At 19, I am left feeling utterly alone and unable to imagine a future for myself. Each night I dream that my mother returns to comfort me. For a while, I cry every morning when my sleeping dream dissolves into woken nightmare. After a while, the dreams continue but I am dry and no longer cry in the mornings.
The next decade is a fog. I would tell you what happened, but I don’t remember. My résumé says that during these years I earned a college degree in music, moved 3500 miles across the country, and worked at a couple of jobs. Mostly, I waited for her. She didn’t come.
Ten years pass. Wanting to use my music degree for something, I meet with a guitarist. We write a couple of songs on the first meeting & I return home to write more. With pen to paper, ten years of numbness choke my voice. The words I write are shallow, untrue – and worst of all – seem to belong to someone I can’t recognize. But the deadline of my second meeting with the guitarist looms, motivating.
Slowly, and with sweaty effort, I write. Each true word that struggles onto paper incrementally pries the fingers of grief from around my throat. It is a terrifying and grotesque process. Sometimes, after spilling a truth through my pen, I physically gag, abandoning my desk to vomit into a toilet. My soul is ill, but healing.
I wrote furiously over the following months. The grieving process I had suspended for years burst like a long-infected abscess: a decade of pus and pain gushed out in song. I sobbed, called out sick from work, and spent my nights in clammy, vivid dreams. It was like my mother died all over again. But this time, I sang.
Gradually, Grief – my master – lost his grip.
Today, I teach songwriting to others. My journey reflects back to me in my students’ unexpected bursts of tears and raw, healing lyrics. I still need to write daily – it keeps me grounded in my truth and helps me to fight off anything attempting to choke me into submission. Far from the days that I waited to die, now when I sing the words and melodies I have written, the world’s magic is endless.
That day that I met with the guitarist, I am not sure whether music saved me literally or metaphorically. Perhaps both. Certainly, I was destroying my body and it’s unrealistic to think it could have taken much more abuse and neglect. I like to think of my Saving as a chain of reactions: music rescued my breath, which fueled my voice, which surfaced my truth, which woke me from my nightmare. Now, I must be reSaved every day by living in truth and music.
My dear reader, do not let numbness choke your story. Fight for your right to the pain of healing. Wash your wounds in truth. And always remember to sing.
Pix and Text by author