The Way of the Singer: The Long Road Home

On Saturdays, here in the North, public transportation is scarce. I’ve paid the price several times coming home on a Saturday from some other country and finding myself stuck somewhere and having to pay a very expensive taxi to get home. Over the past year, because I was not able to drive my car, I have gotten to learn the public transport system pretty well and so today I did not panic. But I was only able to almost make it home! The last bus left me some 6 km from the house, and for once in no hurry, I relished the idea of walking home in the Nordic Spring. And as I walked under the little bridge that leads to the straightaway road towards the little village that I called home for the last four years, I found myself a teenager again.

Whether walking home from a soccer game, or singing lesson or from the movies, I relished the time alone in my teens. There was also a bridge then on my way home and I often looked forward to getting under the New Jersey Turnpike overpass when no one was near and started to sing one of my songs. I smiled under this bridge and wanted to sing, but I had not slept much the past few days and so I only imagined belting out the Esultate in the opening of Verdi’s Otello. As I walked the first few hundred meters, the Nordic landscape opened before me and beneath the very distant sky, and surrounded by the very tall birches and dwarfed by the substantial hill ahead, I felt small… young in the middle of this ancient landscape.

As in my youth, I felt the weight of my backpack driving my body and feet into the giving ground, then the spring in my youthful limbs recoiling upward from the ground much faster than they went in. I am still young! In mind and body! Yet this walk, the first leisurely stroll I’ve taken for myself in this adventurous land–this nature–was never inviting before. It is beautiful, yet foreign! It is not inviting now either, but I can cherish it at this moment. In my winter jacket, the Spring does not feel warm. I remember being thankful earlier for sunny weather because I would not enjoy walking for an hour in the rain. Just as my thoughts relished the late afternoon sun, I felt drops and heard a weight of rain ahead indenting the ground as heavily as my feet felt earlier.

My mind was back in Haiti, where rainfall was abundance. A cause for celebration! I smiled as I remember myself with my little friends showering naked in the ample tropical rain. Now, I expected my clothes would be drenched in seconds but no, it all felt dry. It was a flash hail storm, with tiny hail the size of sand. It seized as quickly as it came. Nothing was wet!

This disappointment of rain brought me to the deep disappointment of these years, as with this rain, full of promise that quickly vanished. But with the vanishing of this false rain vanished also my disappointment, my bitterness, my loss, my sorrows…All that was left was a sense of near weightlessness! I released this place into my past and with it its promise of stability. Its promise of settling. The beginning of dying.

I have walked many foreign lands and like false cognates in foreign languages, each has familiar features, which then reveal an entirely different reality. As I come to the entrance of the village, for the first time by foot, I realized that the welcome sign to this New Land, as it is poetically called, is actually quite old and rusting. And the crimson red paint of the houses, which shone blood red at the reflection of the moon over the snow in the winter, is as dark and dusty as decaying blood. In this forest of Birch, I missed both the tall, arching coconut trees of my homeland and the majestic Red Oaks of New Jersey.

Before I turned the corner to witness the deluded grandeur of the structure I called home, and the sleeping river behind it, I stopped at the only eatery in the village–a pizzeria that scantly doubles as a restaurant–to have a beer in celebration of this hour’s exercise. I did not feel tired. This was barely a warm-up, but I felt the tingling of my muscles saying: “How about a run?” …But not here!

My refreshing pint was indeed a celebration. My mind was limitless and free; the shackles of these illusive trappings of security and stability were no longer with me; in my mind, the grandiose shell of this house, of which value I shall take nothing with me, succors for me only the diminutive soulful trinkets that I must pack with me. My music books, a few trinkets that friends gave me or that I acquired during memorable trips and a few kitchen knives from a dear friend, whose presence softened the dark sorrow of the past years.

As the last bit of sun revealed that grand shell of a house, the clouds of my illusions parted to reveal the old building as it truly is. A mirage, chosen for me by others, to give the sacred title of Home. In my soul’s prayer, I thanked this house for the eternal reminder of illusion. “No one picks your home but you,” the mantra echoed softly inside my head.

Before approaching the door, I looked again upon that river, that seems as dead as when it is frozen in the winter, and the little island inside it, where birds kill the trees with their droppings. A dark omen perhaps! The story was told me with humor. That stillness stood often opposite to my turbulent interior.

But this negro does not speak of rivers! I am of the seas! In a moment of meditation, my soul showed me its home, the tiny feet imprinting in the sand of a laughing child whose clear voice lights up the late afternoon Caribbean sky with a clarity that makes distant the roars of both sea and thunder. How I miss the thunder, the turbulent waves, and the conch! My heart awakens my dreams, which are the shades of the Mediterranean–a sea less turbulent, but so salted as to keep my body afloat in relaxation, where the tender voice of a sweet friend chased away the memory of a near-drowning accident in an American pool! My feet have known its rocky and sandy beaches. I’ve feasted on its succulent fish. My voice has never failed there. It must be the salt of that sea! In my heart’s prayer, I thanked the river. It was foreshadowed by the sea of my fears. The North Sea–The Flying Dutchman, Hellespont, the floods of Greetsiel, symbolized by the monument in the town square of its several deadly overflows. Myth and Reality merge to form a Symbol–Fear. The river, in turn, foreshadowed the Baltic. That brackish water that I find hard to call a sea.

And as I enter that structure, I looked back upon two walkers-by. They seem content enough–as content as those who have found their final resting place. Their gait is strong–strongly downward, without the upward spring. Interesting, I did not see that before! In my mind’s prayer, I thanked them, for they made this journey through purgatory with me! Perhaps as my guides!

As I entered the old house, I expected to feel the weight of it again. But no! The weight was shed during my long walk home! Not to this house, but to my soul! I feel the shadow of that weight as I look around and see how much of this heaviness will stay here. How very little I shall take with me! I will grow to love the memory of this place! …But not now!

Life has perhaps four stages I can imagine: 1) The unconscious beginning: it is linear, logical, arithmetic. We grow from small to bigger. Then comes 2) Transformation: earth-shattering, dark, disorienting, lost, philosophical. We become aware of how small we’ve been. 3) Manifestation: Awakening, freedom, joyful uncertainty, becoming ourselves, truth–naked truth, absence of fear, new, informed adolescence. Then 4) Surrender: Releasing ourselves back into the Universe. There is no knowing how long any of these stages last. They are different for each person. Perhaps everyone confuses Transformation for Manifestation. They are in a way both adolescent stages: One is half-asleep, a kind of dreamscape, the other fully awaken. The disorientation of Transformation puts us in a tailspin and we seek harbor wherever we can find it and convince ourselves that we have truly come home. Any lighthouse is a welcome sight when one is lost at sea. It is easy after the maelstrom to imagine the place of the lighthouse to be home. There we risk entering another storm on land.

As I eye the things around this place, I’m grateful. First and foremost, grateful! I take with me the memories of this great, dark, painful journey, but I leave the weight of it all behind. I am thankful to once and for all walk towards the light of my path: the real road home!… Forever!

In a real sense, so is our vocal journey. The beginning stage is not the same for all of us. By the time we begin to sing with seriousness, much has been programmed. Some things good, some others will require work during the transformation stage. How difficult transformation will be will depend on how far from our true selves we have been during the unconscious early period. An easy transformation may lead to an equally easy manifestation. However, while talent may play a bigger role in transformation, it is the human being that the voice inhabits that must be present to inform manifestation. This is were things like patience and wisdom and work ethic will be of extreme importance. When we are smoothly on our path, then the rest depends on how much time we spend here having a more direct and visible impact on the world around us. I would not be surprised if the development of our talents go hand in hand with our developments as people.

© May 4, 2019

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One thought on “The Way of the Singer: The Long Road Home

  1. What an amazing piece of writing, my friend. Thank you! I am grateful to have shared some parts of your journey to this point, and hope with all my heart to be a part of your life from here on x

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