The Way Back Home
Written for a singing scholarship application in 1996 or 1997
The ecclectic arrangement of songs on Blue Danube Radio plays softly in the background as my fingers hang suspended over the computer keyboard. I wonder how to begin telling this life story of mine, writing my "biographical essay." Finally revelation comes and I know where to begin.
It was such a hot summer that year, 1993. That day in July must have been the absolute peak of the heat wave.
Although I'm sure the fact that I was on an Indian reservation in the New Mexican desert had something to do with the intensity of the heat.
I settled into a comfortable place on the ground, leaning against a bumpy, warm rock to support my tired back. It was the end of a long, intense week of guiding the young Children's Express (CE) reporters through the process of interviewing numerous New Mexican children for a book that CE was writing. I knew the kids' interview would last a while, so I gratefully accepted the rare moment of solitude to reflect and to give my tired body a respite.
The surrounding mountains and desert, combined with the other-worldliness of the reservation, seemed to call forth an easy flood of reflection. My thoughts led me back to my first day on the job at CE. I was so nervous, trying to make sense of the newness of the organization and of my co-workers, both adult and child. I was also excited and a bit overwhelmed, just having graduated college, to have received such an
I learned so much from that job. I travelled all over the country: helped coordinate our in-person coverage
of the Democratic and Republican National Conventions; met well-loved celebrities and authors; helped produce youth-led, national hearings on violence. But I learned the most important lesson from the children: the world can be a place of unlimited possibilities, if only we're willing to find and then ask the right questions.
I marvelled at these children. Their ambitious ideas and enthusiasm were as unlimited as the stars: getting an interview with President Clinton while the adult media was rejected; finding a way to travel to Kuwait to interview children who survived the war; applying for the colleges of their dreams; starting their own programs and organizations. The list was endless!
I looked over to the children who I could see sitting in a circle, out of earshot, and nearly beyond my sightline as well. I thought about what a wonderful experience this was for them and wished I had had such an opportunity when I was a child. My train of thought flowed on.
What were my dreams when I was a child? If I could do anything in the world I wanted, was this the job that I would do? To my horror, I realized that I didn't know. I felt so lucky to have such a great job, but at the same time, I was wistful.
I closed my eyes, breathed in the arid air, and tried to picture myself as a child about the age of the CE
reporters. I was a fairly happy child, very eager to please and to be loved by the people around me. I had fun in school because I loved to learn and because I cherished the approving smiles of my teachers. I read voraciously. I liked being outside, skating, exploring, swimming, playing with my siblings. I often babysat
the neighborhood children. I was very interested in the idea of God and spirituality and the existance of angels. I loved writing and drawing and painting. And I loved singing and dancing and playing my clarinet. Music made me feel so alive.
The memory of a family conversation swept through my thoughts. I was about four years old. My parents
were telling us what they hoped we'd all become when we grew up. My sisters were to be lawyers; my brother would take over my father's funeral home; and I would become a doctor.
A new image flashed into my mind's eye: another conversation with my parents. I was about seven this time. I
must have just learned what the word 'talent' meant and asked how you knew what your talent was and how old you had to be to have one. They described it as a magical treasure that would suddenly appear one day. I waited a long time for mine to make itself known, but I didn't think it ever had.
I reflected on the idea of talent for a while, adjusting my position to a cooler, smoother part of the rock. I wondered how I could have come to this point in my life, having a successful job, pursuing my music "on the side," and still feel I hadn't found my talent. Maybe the problem was that I never truly understood the meaning of the word. I defined myself through the eyes of everyone but me.
A kernal of understanding began to germinate:
You go through life, trying to be good, trying to balance what you want with what you've learned is expected. All the while, in some remote part of our soul, you never stop being who you truly are, who you were born to be. You just forget that it's there, that it ever existed.
Every now and then you feel a distant call to return to this basic truth, an aching need, like homesickness. You try to find your way home only to realize that you can't get there because you don't know what it looks like anymore.
The window bangs open with a sudden gust of cold March wind, jolting me back to the present. I look at the clock and realize I should have left for rehearsal five minutes ago. A shiver tingles through my body as I anticipate the rehearsal with the Vienna Symphonic Orchestra. It thrills me to hear the orchestra breathe life into our choral work. This time, we receive the added delight of hearing the soprano soloist.
We move through the music together, instruments, voices, soloist and conductor. The music begins to swell: at the conductor's command, the organ blasts, the orchestra spins, the choir roars and the soprano's voice is the breath of an angel, floating above it all. This is one of the most powerful, transformative experiences of my life.
As the music moves joyously through us, and we through it, I revel at the turn my life has taken. I think back on that hot day in New Mexico and give thanks for what that moment of reflection started in me-- the searching that took two years to bring me to Vienna and continues to guide me through each
You search with a mad fervor to glimpse that treasured place-- the real you. Then the first glimpse finally comes into view, foggy and faraway, and the deep journey inward begins. With every endeavor to re-discover this sunken Atlantis, it becomes more and more clear. You know it isn't the lingering mist of a dream or of a fairytale once heard in childhood.
Finally, you meet your true self "face-to-face" in an encounter of the sweetest, most complete joy you've ever
experienced in your life. It's the most holy union, a celebration of love that is stronger than any other force in the world. And for me, this joy, this understanding, overflows and expresses itself in song.