|My Mom and Dad on their 48th Anniversary|
this past February.
My father was diagnosed with esophageal cancer about two weeks ago. The specific type is a common one, but because of its location (at the junction between the stomach and the esophagus) it is very virulent and hard to kill. People who have this type of cancer, in this location, have only about a 14% survival rate past five years. It's an awful disease that steals your ability to eat and I'm going to go out on a limb and say that it will steal his ability to sing.
My dad and mom have always sung to me. My father taught me to sing in German. He taught me to sing in harmony. He taught me to play trumpet and my very first notes on the piano. My folks sang me a lullaby every night before I went to bed. I can still hear their voices as they sang to me in my tiny, little, room in our tiny post-WWII house. In my life, where song is like breath, my parents taught me to breathe, but most especially my dad.
Having been here at this point (where singing becomes harder and then disappears,) I woke up one morning last week weeping over this impending loss. I know, perhaps more than he does at this moment, how hard this is going to be. To hear a choir and know and feel every single note all the way down to your inner core, but not be be to join in the song, is a great grief.
One of the things that I believe about the world is that beauty transforms people and when people are transformed, they transform the world around them. Creating beauty and appreciating beauty both transform you, but it is in creating beauty that we truly share in the divine. I think that's one of the things that makes us unique as human beings --our capacity to create beauty. Not just in the sense that we are beautiful, but in that we seek it out, we want to appreciate it, and we seek to create it using the gifts that we are given.
My father's gifts are not the same as mine, though they overlap (DNA is a thing). Where my talents are administrative and musical, Dad's are innovative and musical. Where I want a piece of music to recreate, Dad can improvise. Where Dad likes to create outside the box, I like to see what I can use inside the box to make things better. This is illustrative of the reason that my father is a serial entrepreneur and I work in an office.
Creativity can express itself in many ways and musicians (really artists of any type) have to learn to embrace those other forms of creativity as life throws us curveballs and takes away our more obvious gifts. It is obvious, for example, that a person who can sing or write or draw is talented and that they are creative, but what may not be so obvious is the beauty of other things that they can create. One of the things that I learned when I lost my voice is that there are other ways that I can create beauty, but first I had to learn to see it in places other than the obvious.
Dad has used his creativity to solve engineering problems for years. Always looking outward, Dad has done much good with his life. I have no doubt that there are many families who still have fathers, husbands, mothers and wives because my dad's inventions changed the way that manufacturing is done in their industry, making it safer, while making it more reliable and accurate. And that is a beautiful thing, isn't it?
"A thing of beauty is a joy forever: its loveliness increases..." - John Keats
Maybe this is how we live on in the lives of our loved ones - by creating things that are beautiful. The fact that even one life was spared from a runaway extrusion of steel may be the reason that ten more lives exist in the world - and happily. Even the music, which disappears as soon as it's made, stays with me and has inspired many others throughout my career. It is true: we never know the impact we have in the world and the ripples we send out from one act.
It is in this moment, where death and life are converging, that I can finally see the beauty of all of my father's creative genius. It's such a paradox to know that it takes loss to make you see gain.