Tag Archives: lullabies

Tears in my paint box.

As I walked this morning, I took pictures of beautiful things, and mused.

As I thought about Christmas season heartache, I couldn’t  remember any teary sessions last Christmas over missing my husband. I was too busy navigating airports, interacting with family, dealing with extreme temperatures low and then high, ending the season in India of all places.

But it’s true what they say, that the holidays are the hardest. And now I’m back at it, though even what is hardest gets a little easier all the time. I suppose it helps that my life has been awfully busy again this December, though with an entirely different set of challenges that consume my attention and distract me from dwelling on things I can’t have. The challenges are much less than most people I know have to deal with! They can be grouped under two categories: 1) Being a single homeowner and 2) Getting older.

It’s also true, that I am creating my new life. At first, when I read that phrase in Fr. Alexis Trader‘s series on grief, which had providentially been written in time for my initial bereavement, I questioned it from my philosophical viewpoint. We can view our existence primarily as a given, as in, each breath that we breathe is a gift from God; our DNA is what it is, the home that nurtured us was not a result of our efforts. Or we can go with the modern idea that life is what we make it, we create our own reality.

But now we’re not talking about a philosophical stance; rather, it is each person standing with their heart before God in humility and thanksgiving. Every decision I make, at every fork in the road every moment of the day, is like choosing to dip my paintbrush in one color or another, to apply the paint in a unique way to the canvas that is my life. This imperative to choose is also a gift from God, an aspect of our humanity that can’t be avoided. The first choice to be made is whether to accept our life from God and thank Him for it.

As to the opportunities, limitations, paints allotted, it appears that some of us have only a few colors to choose from, while others seem to have thousands. And the palette changes daily. This was always true; I don’t know if something about the process changed when I became a widow, or if I have only needed to keep reminding myself of it to be assured that something creative is still going on.

Do I have legs? A home and a bank account? An idea, an urge, health, or pain? Did I sleep well, or am I suffering from foggy brain because of sleep deprivation? I can “paint” a prayer with everything, and that is the most divine creation; most days I make some kind of outward “picture” as well that is more or less satisfying. It’s not profitable to spend much time looking at the painting, but rather to keep the given tools in hand and keep working.

Walking in the fog this  morning, I was trying to get through the Lord’s Prayer without my thoughts flying off in a hundred directions. I must have started over five times and was as far as “Give us this day our daily bread,” when I was brought up sharp by a sensation, and all my thoughts vanished. I stopped and looked around, to see where the scent was coming from, and there was the juniper hedge along the sidewalk, pouring out its essence via every drop of drizzle.

Daily bread. If the sky is bread for the eyes, this intense juniper aroma, rich with memories of walks with my grandma, is certainly bread for my nose, and it goes right to my soul. I closed my eyes and stood next to the juniper long enough to take several deep breaths, and then continued on my way, and the fog continued to turn into something thicker and wetter. My flannel shirt was all fuzzy-misty, and water trickled down my face.

As I walked I kept thinking about my grandma, whose husband died when she was over 80 years old. She immediately sold the house that they had shared for 40 years, which everyone thought was hasty. The apartment she moved to was not smaller, and she still had three floors of stairs to climb, until she was over 100. But she could call the landlord about problems instead of calling the handyman directly. I’m not sure that was an improvement.

But wait — Didn’t that juniper smell get painted directly by God on to my life’s canvas? It was given as a completely whole and splendid thing; I contributed nothing.

And while I began this preachy ramble in the morning, by evening I could not understand the metaphor that seemed clear at noon, because I was feeling so achingly the absence of my husband. It was as though my tears spilled all over my paintbox and my vision was muddied. But I had planned to go to church, and I went. My spiritual father said that if I weren’t emotional during this season, he would worry that my heart had hardened to a stone. At times, my grief is the only color available.

When I came out of church, the full (solstice) moon was still rising. I drove down the road toward home and away from other lights, and the moon straight ahead of me became huge and clear and bright. It took my breath away, and as Christmas carols automatically started playing over my Bluetooth, I felt that the moon was also singing, “Glory to the newborn King!”

Before I reached my house the Kingston Trio were singing, “All Through the Night,” which they had made into a Christmas carol by tweaking a couple of lines. If you’d like to hear the music, sung in the original Welsh, this is a nice rendition. One version I found online has a verse that expressed how I was feeling this evening:

Love, to thee my thoughts are turning
All through the night
All for thee my heart is yearning,
All through the night.
Though sad fate our lives may sever
Parting will not last forever,
There’s a hope that leaves me never,
All through the night.

But for the first time ever I heard the traditional two verses of the lullaby not as something to sing to my child, but as God singing to me, and though the moon had gone behind a cloud, I knew that it, too, had been painted on my canvas.

Sleep my child and peace attend thee,
All through the night
Guardian angels God will send thee,
All through the night
Soft the drowsy hours are creeping
Hill and vale in slumber sleeping,
I my loving vigil keeping
All through the night.

While the moon her watch is keeping
All through the night
While the weary world is sleeping
All through the night
O’er thy spirit gently stealing
Visions of delight revealing
Breathes a pure and holy feeling
All through the night.

A Lullaby Sound

My definition of lullaby presupposes a woman’s voice, though I will allow for poetic license in lines such as “The rain made a lullaby sound on the roof,” which phrase I’m pretty sure stuck in my mind from reading The Maggie B. a hundred times. But some people must think a lullaby is anything boring enough to make a child flee in desperation to the Land of Nod. That is my conclusion after listening to a recording titled “Lullabies” in the car today.

Before I set off this morning for a long drive, I rummaged through the box of CD’s temporarily in storage during the remodel, and spied two collections of such songs, which made me think, “Why not brush up on your lullaby repertoire?” So I brought them along, and as I was listening to the Lifescapes CD I realized that it was for the first time.

When I had babies in the house, I never thought of playing a recording for them at bedtime. When I borrowed LP’s from the library or bought lullaby songbooks it was so that I might discover a new soothing melody to croon myself. For years Mr. Glad and I would sit on the children’s beds or on the floor at night and sing to them for a long time as they drifted off.

I did know a grandma, long before I was a grandma myself, who played recorded music for her grandchildren in their beds when they came to visit, but at least it was of a woman singing sweetly — thought it was admittedly too sweet for my taste. One young mother filled me with dismay, and pity for her children’s impressionable souls, when she complained that she couldn’t get her kids to settle down unless she played the “Christian rock” radio station at nap time.

My own children had their father and me to sing to them, or they had silence, or in the case of one baby, she got to the point where she groused at me when I stood by her crib singing, and when I gave up and left the room, she contentedly babbled herself to sleep.

Some favorite bedtime songs that come to mind, of the family collection, were: the Italian “Nina, Nana, Cocolo Della Mama,” “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” “All the Pretty Little Horses,” “Summertime,” “Hush, Little Baby, Don’t Say a Word,” and many Psalms that had been put to folksy tunes by Jesus People. “Trot Along, My Little Pony” was a huge favorite. My most recent acquisition is “A La Na Nita Nana,” which may actually be a Christmas song, but I think babies don’t mind.

I didn’t pick up any new ideas from the Lifescapes anthology. There were many traditional lullabies that I already knew, but bereft of any lyrics, and with minimalist and s-l-o-w string renditions even on “Dance to Your Daddy.” I hit the skip button many times because I couldn’t stand the dragging sensation, kind of like being tranquilized by annoyingly tasteless sweets.

The last fifteen minutes of the CD is pretty much equally divided among non-tunes. Not rain-on-the-roof, but “Running Water,” “Womb,” and “Heartbeat.” Running water I didn’t think was a good idea. It immediately made me think of the bathtub overflowing, and I wondered how was a child eventually to learn to be alarmed at the sound of water trickling in a house? Womb sounds were not so boring, but reminded me of a recording of humpback whales we once had, and whose songs I found more lovely. “Heartbeat” was, of course, tedious to an old woman, whereas it might be comforting to an infant. Perhaps the producers put five minutes of an adult-speed beating heart at the very end, thinking that if nothing else had lulled the baby to sleep after the first tiresome hour, that fundamental lub-dub might do the trick.

It’s likely that these sounds would calm a child, especially if the same recording were played every night. That could be true, though, of many sounds coming from a machine. It seems right to give my children what I myself like and what seems most wholesome. In a real live human voice you can be embraced and loved even after you are in your cradle. If the babies could tell us, I think that is what they would say.