I wonder if I dare to act even as the tree acts. I wonder! I wonder! – Howard Thurman
There’s a trend, I’ve noticed, to pick a word for your focus of intention. Not just a word of the day, either, but for your purpose, or for a year…say 2016.
You’ve probably heard about it, or maybe you’ve tried it. I vaguely recall thinking about this subject last New Year. If I did, I don’t remember my word. However, this year I’m ready. I’m ready for the next 12 months. My word’s been percolating in the back of my mind all Christmas season.
In a word: I pick WONDER.
There are certain songs that play in your head; and you can’t get away from them. Some of them drift to the surface as Christmas carols each December. This one captivates me every time: I Wonder as I Wander, discovered and written down by John Jacob Niles.
I wonder as I wander out under the sky….
The haunting Appalachian folk tune enchants me. The lyrical rhythm always makes me slow down to the speed of a magi’s camel plodding the desert sands in search of yonder star. Humming this hymn during the 12 Days of Christmas relaxes my heart…patiently waiting its epiphany…its star of wonder.
I pause; and I reflect. Except this year, I reflect on the person who introduced me to this music. Meredith House, our organist at Plainfield United Methodist, taught piano lessons at Schafer’s House of Music in Howell for a number of years. I’d taken lessons in my hometown growing up. So, when our kids began taking lessons at Schafer’s with Meredith, I decided to join them. Why not try it again? I thought maybe I could pick up where I left off – merely for the benefit of playing music and enjoying my favorite hymns.
Meredith’s gift of music inspired me. She played effortlessly. She sang with her fingers, bringing much joy to all of us in the congregation. She inspired me to love music again, as a participant, not just an observer. Listening to Meredith play, watching her fingers dancing on the keys, made my fingers move unconsciously… trying to convince my mind that I could do that, too.
Of course, I could never come up to that level. But, her gift of music continues to resonate through me – in my thoughts, in my writing, in my outlook on life. I’ve come to realize this, naturally, since her passing mid-summer. Another friend gone.
I Wonder as I Wander was the first piece of sheet music she gave me to play. I was hooked. Music was back in my life. I was appreciating the value of singing and playing hymns – exploring the music of the spheres – helping me through some mid-life emotional times. I wondered and wandered then, walking out under the sky, finding peace and comfort in the words and melodies.
We know that music is therapeutic and healing. I think I need to get back to it again. Matthew Razat, author at Lifehack website, writes on lifestyle, offering this blog about the benefits of music for our health: 7 Reasons Live Music Will Make You a Happier Person
He also shares a link to an article in Psychology Today that “delves into how music can help you out” – Music Therapy for Health and Wellness by Catherine Ulbricht, Pharm.D. My musical experience with Meredith helped me find a creative way to navigate the ups and downs of life.
Wondering and wandering. It’s something you must do slowly. I’ve been moving slowly all year in 2015. Even though time seems to be continually speeding up, I found myself wandering through years of memories and events gone by. I began to wonder if my nostalgia for things past, for an extended period, was healthy or not. Have I been going overboard with this? Except I can’t seem to help it.
Of course, many times we experience nostalgic feelings after the loss of loved ones. Guess that happened a lot this year. We lost two pets and two inspirational friends. Our white kitty, Kiki, succumbed to illness and old age in February, the same month our good friend Clayton Klein, the Walking Man (known for his 420-mile treks from Paradise to Hell and beyond for Michigan Hospice) did the same. Then, in summer I learned the news of Meredith’s passing.
This fall, another of our kitty trio died. Blackie, our big Black Beauty (as our vet called him), was overtaken by a sudden paralysis that he never came out of. I’m still processing that experience,wondering…pondering the why of things…and missing his constant happy nature and presence in our household.
My blogs dwelt a lot on loss this year. However, there were wonderful memorable events in 2015 – including a fantastic wedding week in Cancun in August with our son and now daughter-in-law and family and friends. The forecast, naturally, is beautiful, with anticipation of monumental memories to be made in the years ahead. This fall, our daughter and son-in-law were home from their snowbird voyaging in Mexico, buying a van to travel the northern climes next summer. More adventures and more memories will come.
Autumn, being the season that it is, tends to bring nostalgic thoughts. While I was wondering if I was on the edge of too much nostalgia, I discovered an article in Guideposts magazine, highlighting The Benefits of Nostalgia.
Naturally, I want to believe that all my reminiscing is a good thing – that it has a purpose. Turns out, it does; and, it is a good thing. The article’s author, Edward Hoffman writes:
Certainly, nostalgia hasn’t always been viewed as a good thing. For years, the psychological establishment believed it was simply a form of escapism. But as I discovered, and a growing body of psychological research confirms, waxing nostalgic from time to time doesn’t trap us in the past—it is healthy for our body, mind and spirit in the present.
He lists several aspects of how remembering the past is actually a valuable tool we can use creatively:
We keep ourselves grounded, we get perspective and in touch with ourselves, we boost our memory, and we connect spiritually. Hoffman sprinkles many personal examples throughout.
Music and memories, I realize, are important wellness tools. Martin Luther called music a fair and glorious gift.
“Music makes people kinder, gentler, more staid and reasonable,” he said. “I am strongly persuaded that after theology there is no art that can be placed on a level with music; for besides theology, music is the only art capable of affording peace and joy of the heart.”
One Christmas, Meredith gave me a clear glass mug, bordered with holly leaves and berries. I still keep it, worn as it is. Whenever I see it, I remember her music and what she inspired in me, including that peace and joy of the heart.
They say that music is its own language. For me, as a writer, language has always been like music. I may not ever play piano keys like Meredith, but in my mind’s eye, I picture the flight of fingers playing beautiful music as they dance over the computer keyboard.
Practice, practice, practice, of course. You can’t be away from the piano keys or the computer keys too long – or the language keys (as my Spanish professor used to tell me) — or you get rusty. Now, how do you practice WONDER?
In 2016, I intend to BE wonder. I’ll be more Alice in Wonderland…wondering as I wander, walking among the trees in the garden. My action will be, being like a tree. With patience, I’ll practice… wondering, wandering, listening.
I’ll listen to more music. I’ll play a tune or two, as I wander through the music of the ages. I’ll create my own musical sphere…inspiring others to make their personal music connection, and to discover its beauty both as art and as a wellness tool.
There is always music amongst the trees in the garden, but our hearts must be very quiet to hear it. — Minnie Aumonier
Those words are perfect. Standing tall, I’ll wait in wonder…like a tree. I’ll listen for the music. I’ll write; and I’ll practice writing like Meredith played…with finger flying joy.
The Lifehack article about music making you happier:
The Psychology Today article about music as wellness therapy:
I Wonder as I Wander: Here is the story behind the song
Here find lots of fun takes on this folk carol, beloved by many more than I:
The Benefits of Nostalgia