Summer Song (Feel Free to Cry Along)

Jul 26, 2016

Daughter and Dahlia

 

My children have spent the past week with their grandparents. Untethered from their needs, I spent the week living in my head.

Daydreams, interior monologues, thoughts, prayers, and wishes: the inner world is my favorite landscape.

It is quiet there, and I am all alone.

*

I set several overly-ambitious writing goals for the week. I also determined to catch up on every gardening chore and organize the house from top to bottom. In 90-degree heat.

It was a plan guaranteed to ensure that by the time my children returned, I would feel like a miserable failure who had squandered the most precious days that ever were.

The gardening chores have at least forced me to temporarily abandon my inner world. Daydreams evaporate very quickly when one is sweating, swatting mosquitoes, and cursing one’s inability to properly stake a sprawling cherry tomato plant.

Also, there are flowers. I am finding this summer that I do not think very much in the flower garden. There is something about the overpowering scent of oriental lilies that empties my head of everything else. Only a few days in to my full immersion in the life of the mind, I decided that it is a good thing to take a break from oneself. My inner world, as much as I love it, can be exhausting.

I do not think I would like to live there full-time.

*

Something else happened while the children were away: I turned on the car radio. I am not sure why I so rarely do that. Perhaps it is the demands from my little companions in travel for this music but not that. Perhaps it is my own need to control the tunes that tickle their ears.

I hopped in the car for the first time in days only because a few library books were due and our first bag of peaches was ready at the orchard where we participate in a fruit-share CSA. I do not think that anything less than library books and peaches could have convinced me to leave the quiet oasis of my child-free house.

Left to my own devices like that, I found myself punching the AM/FM knob. I had to take my eyes off the road for quite a dangerous stretch before my fingers found a tiny button labeled “seek.”

I don’t know what I was seeking, but a familiar voice filled the car. It was a childlike voice and instantly recognizable to me. I was a little girl in the early 80s, and the voice of Cyndi Lauper will always recall that one memorable sleepover when my best friend Michelle and I decided to find out how many times in a row it was possible to view that classic 80s film Girls Just Wanna Have Fun. I think we watched it two-and-a-half times through before Michelle fell asleep.

*

In April, in Texas, the very first person who greeted me when we arrived at the cemetery for Shawn’s burial was Michelle’s mom.

I was holding two children by the hands and feeling a bit dazed by the heat and the crowd and the terrible finality of a flag-draped coffin. I was searching for a path through the people who had gathered around a small tent and a few rows of folding chairs, when she suddenly appeared beside me and put her hand on my arm. I had not seen her in years, but I had no trouble recognizing the woman who placed our after-school snacks with such care on those tv trays, the same woman who never complained when Michelle and I brought home sticky gumballs we had spit out and saved from the gumball ice-cream cones we purchased at the mall.

*

I sort of love Cyndi Lauper’s strange voice. She always sounds a bit like a little girl, and my best friend Michelle will always be, for me, the little girl I loved best. I wish I could call her up and tell her that, but Michelle died in a car accident not long after I graduated from high school.

There’s a kind of epiphany that only comes when the music is turned up loud and you are all alone in the car. It’s a strange mix of sadness, joy, and gratitude.

Half my mind was singing Time After Time and the other half was recognizing what a privilege it is to sweat in my garden and run dirty, weed-stained fingers through hair that is beginning to gray. What a privilege it is to feel overwhelmed by four children, to bicker and then make up with the same man for twenty years. How glad I am for this life of interruption and inconvenience and heartache.

It’s a good thing to stop on a too-hot summer day and remember and cry for those who left us too soon.

We are following fast on their heels, but meanwhile, there are flowers to grow and meals to prepare and stories to tell. And there are songs to sing.

Loudly and with the windows rolled down.

 

30 Comments

  1. Jody Lee Collins

    “Songs are the hook to hang your heart on” someone once said. I find there’s nothing like music and words to take me back instantly to a different place and time, summoning all the memories of that moment. You captured this well, Christie. (and yes, I teared up a bit.) (and that dinner plate dahlia–stunning!)

    Reply
    • Christie Purifoy

      Well said! Though I never would have thought that my heart would be snagged by a Cyndi Lauper 80s song. 🙂

      Reply
  2. Kathy Schwanke

    This resonates deeply.

    Living this life has the constant tension between the ideal and the real. Between the future and the now. Between the need to be free and the need to know I’m needy.

    Finding Jesus in all the places . . . that is always the grace in the tension. And keeping our eyes up. Such an exercise.

    Blessings friend! In all you put your hand to.

    Reply
  3. Natalie Hall

    Thank you, Christie. The life well-lived is a mingling of both the joys and the sorrows . . . you have written about that so beautifully. Thank you for sharing your heart – many blessings!

    Reply
    • Christie Purifoy

      Thank you, Natalie. The two – the sorrow and the joy – can’t be unmingled, can they? But perhaps some day.

      Reply
  4. Teresa Sutton Wolf

    Wow. What a perfectly perfect piece to read on this sweltering (NC) summer afternoon. I smiled ruefully at your admission that only the “books and peaches” could have forced you from the house. “Full immersion in the life of the mind” is something I, too, am often guilty of and you are correct in reminding us of how exhausting it can be to dwell there indefinitely. But what struck me the most was your description of listening to the car radio. Next to inhaling certain aromas (gardenias instantly transport me to my grandparent’s front porch steps), nothing, absolutely nothing can cause a shift from the “here and now” to the “there and then” the way music can. And the shift always comes with the bittersweet of what was once but is no longer, tempered by (hopefully) gratefulness for the joy of now. Lovely reminder. Thank you.

    Reply
  5. Maria Prybyla

    Oh Christie! How do you always manage to touch the heartstrings where we live in those quiet alone moments, where we realize we are not alone in our memories and feelings. I also lost a best friend suddenly, in high school. Still remember how her Mom let us lick the mixer beaters when she baked and how kind she was to me, a little refugee kid who had just come to America. And today, I identify with wanting to hurry up and try to organize the house before an upcoming hip replacement, just in case……
    You capture our ” everydays” so poetically, yet realistically, you have a very special gift. Thank you so much for sharing yourself so openly. You are loved! Please keep writing.

    Reply
    • Christie Purifoy

      Thank you for the encouragement, Maria. It means a great deal.

      Reply
  6. Elizabeth

    This is so beautiful: “How glad I am for this life of interruption and inconvenience and heartache.” Thank you for your words, and the beauty you find among the ashes.

    Also, I just finished “Four Seasons in Rome,” on your farmhouse bookshelves recommendation. It was wonderful! Took me back to our own early days of insomnia and childrearing, as well as our brief stay in Rome. Anthony Doerr captures that year beautifully. I appreciate the recommendation!

    Reply
    • Christie Purifoy

      I am so glad to hear that you liked it! I’ve never been to Rome, but now I feel as if I have, thanks to Doerr’s book.

      Reply
  7. bullwifey

    How I can empathize…the gardening, the flower scents,my junior high friend lost her life b/c of diabetes when I was in college, etc.. My hubby and I knew your hubby from college, but how I wish I could meet you. Although, I must say, I meet you in your book. That’s been fun!
    Thanks for writing.
    Karen Bull

    Reply
    • Christie Purifoy

      Of course, I know of you from Jonathan. Perhaps we’ll get that chance to meet one day. Thank you for reading along with me.

      Reply
  8. highheartedly

    With you in so much of this. My parallels: best friend died of cancer just after turning 15 (on her mom’s birthday) and I woke knowing it would be that day-me in TX and she in PA where we used to live. Song that takes me back is Reunited and it is instantly summer on a NJ shore where we bike to the candy store, she with a scarf over her bald head, me one of the privileged few who ever saw it, and the song playing brightly. Some day in heaven. Her mom always met me with a special hug but now I don’t even know if she’s still alive.
    I have a 15 year old girl with her own story and we are working on producing a musical she wrote based on Charlotte Bronte’s Villette. I commend the book to your dear heart and to teens everywhere (which is why we are working to popularize it).

    Reply
    • Christie Purifoy

      Thank you for sharing your precious memories, and thank you for the recommendation. I can’t believe I’ve never read it!

      Reply
  9. Emily Conrad

    I’ve been escaping my own little writing world by getting out in the yard, too. In my case, that’s meant reading while keeping an eye on our dog who hurt himself yesterday (9 stitches!) or reclaiming some of the flowerbeds from weeds. My to-do lists? Nowhere near complete, but the progress, responsibilities, time in the yard, and graying hair truly are privileges. Thank you for this reminder.

    Reply
    • Christie Purifoy

      You are welcome, Emily. It’s a reminder I needed, too. And will need again, no doubt.

      Reply
  10. Prudence Lay

    The childhood friends lost (two of them), parents and a brother. The sweet memories of sweat, flowers, sprinklers and the feeling that life and summer would go on forever. I cherish every moment and every memory. Beautiful post.

    Reply
  11. lschontos

    This, every word, is so beautiful and so real. Not too long ago Laurie sent me a video of an elderly man in a memory care unit (my parents are in assisted living and struggling with mild dementia). He spent his days hunched over in his wheelchair – completely uncommunicative. Someone suggested putting the music from his youth on an iPod for him. When they put the headphones on his poor, old ears, and he heard the music, it was as though someone had flipped a magic switch. He just came to life – singing and conversing and remembering. The power of music is simply amazing.

    Reply
  12. Annelisa

    Christine, i’m new to your blog but your words so truly resonate with me, and are a blessing. Thank you!

    Reply
  13. Diane McElwain

    I read this in the morning and have thought of it all day. I am also in my head too often. I like the quiet, small crowds for a while. I have also seen how this is a detriment to me at times. I get too much in myself. Then I am morose and nothing makes me happy. I have to break free, praise God for all I have, and go out and spend my focus on other people. Your words were encouraging! And there are words of sorry which we all share. I know your family is grieving. Many prayers have gone out for the loss in your family.

    Reply
    • Christie Purifoy

      Thank you, Diane. You say it well – praising God, giving thanks – it really does bring freedom.

      Reply
  14. Catherine

    I was doing the school pickup a month ago when ‘heal the world’ by Michael Jackson came on the radio. I began to sing along and instantly I was transported to 1993 and my high school graduation. We linked arms and sung Jacksons song at our final assembly, full of hope for our future in a world where the Berlin Wall was down, the Cold War had ended and peace was sprouting in Northern Ireland (I was living in Europe at the time). Now we seem so far away from those ‘glory days’ (as the band Scorpion sang about). Walls are going up again, new wars have taken the place of the Cold War and everywhere fear looms. So I’m driving with tears streaming down my face and my daughter is saying ‘mum, what’s wrong?’. Music can sure transport you alright. I’m in the Southern Hemisphere so for me it feels like the winter of weeping while you sing songs in the summer.

    Reply
    • Christie Purifoy

      “The winter of weeping.” I get that. It may be 90 degrees here, but I feel so much the same.

      Reply
  15. mconway60

    This morning I read your blog and these words in particular gave me pause:

    “It’s a good thing to stop on a too-hot summer day and remember and cry for those who left us too soon.
    We are following fast on their heels, but meanwhile, there are flowers to grow and meals to prepare and stories to tell. And there are songs to sing.
    Loudly and with the windows rolled down. “

    Lest I forget the ones gone before me. Taken too soon. Remembered and loved.

    Does anyone else remember the moment when you were, let’s say, known longer by your married name than your maiden one? Or in my case, when you realized you’ve lived longer without your mom than with her. For my dad, that unusual moment will happen for me in 4 short years.
    So it is a good thing to remember and cry for those who left me too soon. A parent. A cousin. A 14 month old. It is good to remember that this world is not my home. That a light has penetrated the darkness of this present world and that light has overcome the darkness. And yes it is good to remember we follow fast on the heels of the ones gone before…and it is vital to live this life for the glory of the One who loosed the chains and set us free. For who the One who will return to gather us home.

    Thank you for your transparency and the encouragement I receive from it!

    Blessings,
    Melinda

    Reply
  16. Marilyn

    “… there are flowers to grow and meals to prepare and stories to tell. And there are songs to sing.
    Loudly and with the windows rolled down.”

    Yes there are. The footbridge to this realization can be very long and there’s no way over, except to walk it.
    Thank you for this lovely, honest post.

    Reply

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