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Four months ago, as Michigan was beginning our Stay-at-Home orders, and Italy was in the thick of theirs, my husband showed me a YouTube video clip that has stuck with me. My husband has pretty eclectic musical tastes, and he happens to like the Italian opera song, Nessun Dorma, very much.
Over the years we have found many awesome and inspiring renditions of the song, sung by a whole assortment of voices, and this YouTube clip was no different. To be sure, the filming isn’t anything to rave about and the singer is only singing along to a recording, but something wells up in me each time that I watch the video. I’m struck to the quick, seeing this man sing from his balcony to a neighborhood below, thick under the blanket of quarantine.
I’ve included a link here if you’d like to see the video for yourself, but even if you don’t want to watch, if opera isn’t your thing, I think you’ll understand where I’m headed today.
This is a guy dressed in his casual clothes, his family clearly in the background, and he sings brilliantly, as though in concert, for any and all who might be around to partake of that random, spectacular moment in time.
He offers a gift that only he could offer, a beautiful song, generously extended toward that communal season of pain, isolation, fear, and frustration.
This is what is on my heart: the idea that each one of us has a gift that we carry within, uniquely ours, that must be extended. It is a blessing that simply cannot not be shared.
Do you know what I mean?
I feel rather like we have been moving through the perfect season to discover these perfect gifts. That is, of course, if we allow the open-ended time and space to do its work. If, despite the anxiety of the day, the fatigue of the season, the despair that covers us, we allow the quiet, burning gifts within us to float up. Perhaps what I mean is that we must allow the strain and the craziness of isolation and a radically changing world to fully plumb the depths of us, and then allow the good to float up. Within each of us there is something brilliant, and generous, and ultimately kind to be shared.
I deeply understand that quietness, stillness, and waiting can feel quite useless. I sat with myself to write this blog enough times during the quarantine season to feel I was doing little besides walking my dog and keeping my children from eating each other alive. But, I sat with myself. I sat, I walked, I kept the peace. I waited, I worried, I wondered. I prayed. I read. I wrote some blogs. It all felt quiet, and often still does. These times of social distancing, quarantine, and isolation have provided us with more than ample time to be quiet and struggle with it.
Isolation can easily lead to stagnation if we listen only to our own inner monologue or the same static voices on the television. If we knot ourselves up just tightly enough to see only our own navel. And then, rotting away, we see just one thing rise to the top. There, rising in one slow bubble to the slimy, swampy surface is only our own desperate, selfish need.
We can only see our need for a break, a drink, a vacation, or some other self-soothing privilege. From our pretzeled, contorted position we can fixate on little else but our creature comforts. Perhaps the better option would be to position ourselves near a window, looking out upon a world in need. Then, allow the quiet space around us to enter in, inform our heart.
I really can’t say for sure why this singer stood upon his balcony and raised his voice among the neighbors, but I can guess. I can imagine that the longer he stayed behind the closed doors of his home, the stronger the song burned within. He couldn’t not sing it.
Obviously, we cannot all be opera singers. (No one in my neighborhood would relish me standing on my back patio singing Nessun Dorma!) But, each of us has some small, perfectly unique part of ourselves to offer. I am sure of it. I hope that some of you, like the gentleman on the balcony, have found that in quiet and waiting, a most perfect, brilliant gift sometimes floats up.
In many places throughout our nation and the world, the need for social distancing and isolation continues. Many of us feel the weight of this quiet season. I am not sure this gets any easier, ever, to just stay home, but I hope that we will continue to get better at it.
What rises up into our hearts from the place of quiet? I would not be surprised if, whatever it is, it prompts us out onto the balcony with something welling up that cannot not be shared.
Exquisite. True. Thank you for saying it so well, for sharing what has welled up in you. This wilderness time is yielding such wisdom about who we are and how we can be, must be, human together. Just today Renovare is posting James Bryan Smith’s article which references Vedran Smailovic, the cellist of Sarajevo, who could not not play in the ruins to feed the people’s need for beauty. We all have something to share. Even though I write sermons every week, sometimes it feels as though baking pie or thanking the mail carrier is as sacred and helpful as any religious talk.
Hi, Deb. Thanks for your note. As I was writing I thought quite a bit about the work of pastors and others who are deeply called to their work, and the deep fatigue of a season like this… and what that can be like for a “called” individual. I do agree that, sometimes, the little, other gifts that rise up can be so refreshing to offer. Peace be with you.
I love the soul-depth of your mediations.
Thank you, as always, for your generous comment. (They are always a gift to me.)
Thank you, Katy! And I for one would love to hear you sing Nessun Dorma. Better yet if I could join you on the Sundararajan patio in Holland.