I’ve been making a particular discernment these past months about my next steps as a Jesuit. It’s been draining. Draining, but good. Long days of interviews, reports, conversations, clarifications, prayer, more reports, more conversations, more clarifications, prayer, prayer, prayer. It’s left me worn and weary and I need some healing. I’m looking for light. Light sometimes comes from dramatic change, but more often for me, it comes from something that’s already there and available. A good talk with an old friend, a revisitation of old journals and letters, rereading a good book, even a favorite bar or restaurant I haven’t been to in a while. And so, I just continue living my life, hoping that the familiar finds me again.
And, something familiar has found me – music.
I started with piano in elementary school, and in 5th grade, picked up a trumpet for the first time. (Within a year, I earned the nickname “Hot Lips,” which was incredibly embarrassing). In 7th grade, I convinced my parents to let me buy a low-quality Percussion Plus drum kit, glossy black with Camber cymbals. Honing a bad habit of drawing skull-and-crossbones on my forearms, I needed only promise my mother I’d never get a tattoo. I lied. For the music.
I played trumpet and drums in high school – concert, jazz, and marching bands. Total nerd about it. I played in two or three garage bands. I felt like a rockstar at times, power-punk glory wrapped in a standard alterna-teen wardrobe of patch-ridden hoodies, cut-off pants, and bright Chuck Taylors. I played jazz all through college. Now, I sing in two choirs. And, a group of us Jesuits get together for frequent folk-music sing-a-longs. My best nights out include singing Montell Jordan’s “This is How We Do It” at a karaoke bar.
If I were to describe myself, I’d say that I’m an adopted son with a loving family, that I’ve been in love, and that I’m a Jesuit. I almost never think of myself as a musician. But my life is full of music.
A friend of mine hosted a wine party a few Saturdays ago. Everyone invited was charged with the task of bringing a bottle and presenting it with a story. In offering a jug of Carlo Rossi Sangria, a Jesuit brother and I performed an original song about the wine’s namesake. By the end, everyone was singing the refrain. “Growing up with Carlo by our side…” Glasses raised, good friends surrounding, a little light began to shimmer.
The next day, I went to a performance of collegiate women’s choral groups, and while the Loyola choir performed, I closed my overflowing eyes and let their song wash over me: “I thank the Lord for making me His child.” And then the combined choirs, 160 women strong, belted, “Lord, when I pray, teach me words to say.”
That night in choir at the evening Mass on campus, I got lost in the repetition of the communion refrain, “Take, oh take me as I am; summon out what I shall be. Set your seal upon my heart and live in me.”
And then, during a rehearsal that I thought about skipping the following day, the University choir I sing in came together with these words: “But music and singing have been my refuge, and music and singing shall be my light.”
I was lifted these days by soaring harmonies, moving lyrics, reminders of the divine. I found the footing I need to heal through music that was already there. In the face of my struggle and in my musicianship, it seems that prayer found me. I only had to listen and, when my part came, use my voice.
I almost always have a song in my head, and when I think no one is around, I sing it. Unfortunately, Jesuit communities have thin walls.
I was in the elevator, heading down for coffee during a mind-numbing philosopher’s morning. Some riff bubbled up, and I started wailing away. As the elevator neared the end of its decent, I hushed my voice, knowing that someone was likely waiting at the bottom. The doors opened and one of my older Jesuit brothers beamed at me from the hallway. “It could only be you,” he said.
I am involved in music, and because I am involved in music, I have an outlet for healing. Forgetting that is to deny myself something beautiful that can make me whole again. Poet Elizabeth Bishop says, “I am in need of music…some song sung to rest the tired…” The drain of challenging moments and the search for light in my life can sometimes end in sound. When I remember who I am, or when someone reminds me, I recognize my own melody.