“I was in crazy motion
till you calmed me down…”
(“Something So Right”, Paul Simon)
To the observant eye, Jazz Fest 2006 was a composition of strange juxtapositions. The pain of loss was fresh—surreal but powerful, pervasive. But, the city, nurtured and healed by its heart and enduring community, was reaching for recovery. Jazz Fest activities offered reprieve and felt almost normal, as though for a moment you might forget. But even amid that semblance of normalcy there was a constant haunting reminder that outside the gates of the Fair Grounds lie the lingering stench of floodwaters that sat for too long, houses (lives) left in shambles (unrecognizable), an emptiness left by those displaced or worse. There weren’t bookmarkers to measure this loss.
Inside the gates, however, was something else entirely–a vivid display of all that we are and have been; a brilliant indication that we would in fact be okay, we would rise again. The food, the music and the community of people joyously gathered together in spite of it all worked to heal something inside of me that day. Something I wasn’t so sure could be healed.
I went to that particular day of Jazz Fest as a bit of an unwilling participant. In addition to the devastation the storm brought to my family, in the months leading up to the storm, my husband and I had lost our son midway through the pregnancy and another baby to miscarriage. My body, my spirit was battered and seemed to understand a depth of loss that my empathic nature could never have predicted. It seemed permanent damage. And maybe on some level it has been.
Except not entirely.
I went to Jazz Fest that day for one reason only: Paul Simon. I was in a funk. I was sad…for myself, for my city, for my parents…and I just wanted some do-overs. Paul Simon’s music does something to me that I don’t have proper words to explain. His lyrics are poetry in a way that not all lyrics can hope to become. His awareness of words, his attention to how they work together, to how the sounds of the letters and their repetition create a rhythm just as the music does, how his words create a moment for the listener–first inviting you in, then residing in your heart, in your mind. That is what poetry does…that is what Paul Simon’s work has done for me…storied my life, guided me through.
As I stood in that field, Paul Simon, playing songs we had all heard before, somehow uplifted the city of New Orleans, and I was delivered to a sort of rebirth…a baptism if you will, but not by water (there had been enough of that). It was music that brought healing and comfort that day and carried me from the funk to the other side…to a place where I could see the possibility of goodness again. I stood in that field not knowing if I would ever have children, but knowing that my spirit was healing and that no matter what, I would be okay.
“My life is made of patterns
That can scarcely be controlled.”
(“Patterns”, Paul Simon)
Thirteen years later, I find myself in the midst of a new sort of recovery, facing the hope of yet another rebirth.
I spent so many months of the last year disabled by hearing loss and vertigo…and after becoming resigned to the fact that my hearing could be permanently damaged but I might still potentially hear the movement of my eyes forever (I promise, the novelty of this idea is deceiving)…after spending months trying to memorize the sound of my children’s laughter rather than be annoyed by the noise of it and carefully studying voices of loved ones before I no longer heard them as I should…after learning not to trust my body or my balance and after fearing loss of so much, I have come to find my body healed (at least for now) by a surgery that seemed unfathomable for so long.
Yet, while my inner ear is currently in a more cooperative mood, my mind and spirit are still trying to catch up. On any given day, at any given moment, I find myself suddenly stricken with absolute panic over the possibility of symptoms returning despite the fact that, everyday, my life is a little closer to normal. Or, I find myself unexpectedly emotional at the weirdest times when gratitude for health and healing overwhelms me. I’ve learned what it means to be a fighter over time, and while I am weary of having to continually prove my brawn, I furiously battle on through the weight of this anxiety and these grateful tears.
In the midst of all of the unknowns of this illness though, tickets went on sale for Paul Simon’s New Orleans show of his farewell tour. We bought floor tickets without thinking too much about it. I had no idea if I would be able to stand in a crowd or stand at all…I had no idea if I would be able to hear well enough to enjoy the show…I had no idea if I would be too sick to attend. All I knew was that if Paul Simon was coming to New Orleans, I had to be there.
Buying those tickets was a leap of faith.
Recovery has not been an easy road, but my beacon all the way through was knowing that in just a few short weeks, I would be in the New Orleans Arena vertigo free, with my hearing restored and once again having my soul replenished by the beauty and richness of Paul Simon’s lyrics and music.
As I sit here tonight typing these words (the night before the concert), a tropical storm looms in the Gulf (I promise, this English teacher has assigned more meaning there than should be). A bit of a reminder for me that storms will come–they might flood, they might destroy, they might bring uncertainty and fear and it might be hard to see in the midst of them or to know when it will subside, but there is another side.
There is always another side.
Tomorrow night, when I walk into that arena, I will be stepping not just into a shelter from the storm, not just into a brief respite, but I will be stepping toward the consolation that will be my reward.