You’ve Gotta Sing Your Song

barbershop quartet, Concord Coachmen

My father sings barbershop.  Yup.  Even worse, he’s a baritone.  What does that mean?  Well, in this four-part harmony, the lead sings the melody, the tenor takes the high notes, the bass takes the low notes, and the baritone gets the leftover bits and scraps.  To make the specific “barbershop sound”, sometimes those odd bari notes sound downright terrible.  Hearing him practice singing his part alone can be an exquisite irritation.

But, sing it he must.

As one of the members of his barbershop quartet reminded him, “You’ve got to sing your song.  Your part is your song.  It’s not anybody else’s, so you’ve got to learn it and make it yours.  Don’t worry about what other people are singing – sing your song.”  This is very good advice.  And not just for singing harmony – but also for living life.

We are all part of this world, this life, and God has given each of us a specific song to sing.  Just randomly making up our lives as we go along will not allow us to become part of something greater than ourselves.  The song given to us is suited to our distinctive talents and abilities.  I am unique and my song isn’t like anybody else’s.  Of course, there are many similarities to others’, for we humans share many things in common.  There are only a finite number of notes, after all – but with myriad combinations to make unique sounds.  We need to cooperate with God, thoughtfully, to find those combinations, discovering our true songs and striving to excel at singing them.

Sometimes, someone’s true song can be beautiful on its own – but, when others join in with their complementary songs, the sound of that first individual becomes deeper and richer than it was by itself.  And, then, there are those songs that just shouldn’t be sung all by themselves.  (I, a bit odd with my crippling disability, am certainly no good alone.)  However, what sounds awkward and aberrant when alone gains belonging and importance when joined by community.

The fact is that there is no barbershop harmony, there are no magical barbershop chords, without the odd and sometimes jarring song of the baritone.  In conversation with my father last week, we both recognized how this truth can be a lesson for everyone: we sound better together when we are true to our own songs.  A tenor can’t sing the bass’ part and a lead isn’t going to sing a baritone’s part for him.  If you are true to the song that is given you and sing it with heart, then you have done your part and done it well.  And if your true song seems pointless, weird, or lacking, then you must seek out others who need your song – who need it to make the music complete.

Maybe this little life lesson that my dad and I stumbled onto will make me better appreciate, and even come to love, the baritone part of barbershop being practiced all by itself.  Maaaybe

© 2017 Christina Chase

Unknowing Worship

You have heard scientists extol the wonders of the cosmos, passionate about the laws of physics and discovered workings of bodies and the universe.  You have seen artists, brilliant in color, line, and texture, draw out the beauty of the natural world and the extraordinary in the ordinary.  You have watched dancers, and athletes, too, move in rhythm, strength, and agility with the fine mastery of muscle and nerve in the poetry of motion.

And, perhaps, none of these people ever speak about God.

But… don’t they?

They may be atheists, agnostics, or secular humanists, but their passion, brilliance, athleticism, and artistry are rooted in the Divine.  God is the Divine Maker, Shaper, and Mover… do they not participate in the divine life whenever they discover, express, and leap?

The Gospel, the Good News of God’s personal love and merciful gift, is written in words.  But, it is received, love, and lived in and through the heart.  Sometimes, the heart knows what the mind does not.

cross, night sky, wonder

Continue reading

This Is My Body

Recently writing about my current medical issues and concerns, I’ve decided that perhaps it is true: a picture is worth a thousand words.  So, I’m sharing with all of you a picture of my body – an x-ray image of my torso.  Although the image was taken in order to look for pneumonia, you can see my spine in it and, so, the interesting twists and turns of my backbone and deformity of my ribs.  (Don’t say that I ever held back in bearing myself to you, letting you know me inside and out!)

scoliosis x-ray

Is it any wonder that surgery is not an option for me?

Last Sunday, we celebrated the Feast of Corpus Christi, The Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ.  On this great day, we are called to ponder the wondrous and generous Mystery and mercy of Christ’s Real Presence in the Holy Eucharist – as he perpetually gives himself wholly to us, body, blood, soul, and divinity.  We also call to mind the profound Mystery of the Incarnation itself.  God, The Creator and Master of the Universe, became a human being, one of us, with his own human body to live, suffer, and die.  This is the most sublime and awesome act of love and unity.

In contemplating Christ’s sacred body, I consider my own little one.  Consider yours, as well.  Each of us is a frail, lovely, odd little creature – known and loved by God.  Every hair on my head is counted, every cell embraced, every moment that this body of mine grows and breathes and ages is held as exquisitely precious to my Lord and my God.

Of what shall I be afraid?

Be at peace, little one, live your life in your blessed little body and be not afraid, your soul rejoices in your eternal home always, says my Savior God to me…

© 2017 Christina Chase

Glory Days: Valedictory Speech

Twenty years ago today, I graduated from high school.  And, yes, that makes me feel old.

Graduating from Pembroke Academy was a big deal to me, for reasons that I gave in my very short valedictory speech, but also because I was the third generation of my family to graduate from PA – and the second to graduate with the highest GPA in the class.  I did feel a lot of pride on that day… although, I admit, I also had the sense that, perhaps, I didn’t really deserve to be valedictorian.  After all, I hadn’t even attended classes in the high school, instead, the public school teachers came to my home to teach me, due to my physical disability.  It wasn’t that I didn’t think that I was intelligent – I have quite high self-esteem, so I knew that I was intelligent – but I felt bad that I didn’t have the opportunity  to fully test the depth and breadth of my intelligence.  In a way, I almost felt too normal to be valedictorian.

Thankfully, I was not chosen because I was in a wheelchair and seen as “special”.  In my school, it was all about the grades.  So, I did, as I have reminded myself many times, earn the top spot with self-discipline and devoted studying, fueled by my love of learning.  All made possible by an understanding public school faculty and administrators, generously supportive parents, and the mysterious gifts of God.

In commemoration of this glory day of mine, I’m sharing with you my graduation speech.  As you read it, picture a tiny body swallowed up by a white robe, with a graduation cap fitting snugly on her head.  And when you’re done reading, listen for the standing ovation – yup, I got one.  With a body like mine, it doesn’t take much to move people. 🙂

My Valediction to the Glory Days of High School

“Many people have asked me the common question of what I plan to do after today.  The truth is that I haven’t made plans for the future because I never thought that I would have one.  You see, when I was diagnosed with my disease at the age of two, the doctors told my parents that I wouldn’t live to the age of thirteen.  My parents never thought that I would be a teenager, let alone a high school graduate.  But I always dreamed of graduating.  I even planned on being at the top of my class.

Today is a great day.  For here I am, standing before you, graduating from high school, and realizing my dream.  And all of the challenges that I’ve faced and the obstacles that I’ve hurdled have made today the most satisfying and thrilling day that I have ever known.

Now I have this chance to speak to all of you and I don’t want to give any advice.  I just want to say that, today, we are all victorious.  Whether graduation means fulfilling a dream, accomplishing one of many goals, overcoming obstacles or exceeding expectations, for each of us it is a mark of success.  It is a testament to our perseverance.

The future lies before us, holding different paths for each of us.  For me, the future itself is a wonderful gift.  It is an open place for fulfilling more dreams.

Tomorrow may be an unknown.  But, today, we are being recognized for our commitment to succeed and reminded that we are all worthy of our dreams.”

© 2017 Christina Chase

The Unknown

ice, Frost, winter, mystery

How are you with the unknown?  Me… Not so good.  I mean, I love wonder and awe, and am willing to sublimely surrender to the unknowable, to Mystery… But, when it comes to the knowable – I want to know.

This, as promised, is an update on my current medical issue.  My last post asked the question, “What is it?”  Are the uterine fibroids now rapidly growing in my body cancerous?  I went to a GYN oncologist at Massachusetts General Hospital two days ago and he said that there is no way to tell for sure.  So, I still don’t know.

Scans, MRIs, biopsies – none are definitive in diagnosis and, in his opinion, none are worth the effort for me.  As he explained, this particular kind of cancer would be very rare, so it is unlikely that the fibroids are malignant.  Because I have been taking a shot called Lupron for the last two months, there was an upsurge in estrogen levels in my body and, so, this could have caused the fibroids to grow more rapidly.  By continuing with the Lupron shots (I received my third one in that doctor’s office, as my gynecologist told me to bring it with me) the reasonable hope is that the fibroids will stop growing and maybe even shrink by about 25 percent.

That’s good news.  But… Continue reading

It Is What It Is… But What Is It?

Facing a forbidding possibility in my life…

Mountains, snow, daunting

I hear people say something a lot, which, I admit, rather bugs me: “It is what it is,” they will say when something difficult or unwanted arises.  “Well, yeah,” I think to myself, “That’s a perfectly obvious grammatical non-statement.  What is is?  Wow.”

I might be a bit of a word snob.

Many years after first hearing this saying, I do appreciate what is meant to be conveyed.  There are some things in life that we just can’t change.  But, really, did we need a trendy saying in order to know that?  Haven’t I known that my entire life?  Are the “enlightened” people of today just finally catching up?

Anyhow, I certainly did not mean for this reflection to be so rant sounding.  Although I have seriously disliked the saying, it has wormed itself into my brain and I now find myself using it – but not out loud or on paper.  Just to kind of shut my overactive mind up.

I have cause to do that at present… And this brings me to what my reflection is about.  Currently, my physical situation is far less than desired.  Never mind the motorneuron disease stuff, the not being able to walk or move my arms or take care of myself, blah, blah, blah.  And forget the last six months that started with pneumonia, then bronchitis, then menstrual flow for three weeks, then mild Crohn’s disease flareup.  That’s old news and behind me.  There’s something more pointed and palpably serious going on now.

I have had uterine fibroids for, well, probably over a decade.  Not a big deal.  I think about 50% of women have them, although most of them don’t even know it.  Those that do have symptoms usually find them, at best, a nuisance and, at worst, a cause of severe anemia or an impediment to fertility.  I have been able to keep the anemia under control with effort and I don’t have to worry about fertility, but… I’m little.  And these fibroids aren’t.  One of them is now the size of a tennis ball.

I’m beginning to realize that part of my being a bit short of breath while sitting during the last six months have been caused by the fibroids on the outer wall of my uterus.  They have been growing faster, probably over the last year or year and a half.  But, now, my gynecologist tells me, they picked up their pace of growth even more.  A bit too much.  Too much for comfort, certainly, and, maybe… Well, just too much.  When there is rapid growth of these things, one starts to think of that very scary subject: cancer.

At my appointment with my gynecologist last week, I did not shy away from that word.  It’s just a word.  Words have power – but over people, not things like fibroids.  (Saying it out loud will make it come true is a silly superstition.)  And that particular word doesn’t have quite the same power over me as it might have over some people – but only because I have been facing my own mortality, in one way or another, since I was a child.

Never have I thought or believed that I would live to a ripe old age.  (Though, perhaps, still a ripe age, for maybe we humans ripen at different times.)  Dying young is part of never getting married, never having children, never living on my own….  My life is different.  And this body is not made for the long haul.  SMA, or complications directly related to SMA, like pneumonia, are always going to be the likely cause of my body’s demise.  In fact, when I was younger, I thought that it was the guaranteed cause.  And then, a boy with whom I was acquainted, who had Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, died of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

That was an eye-opener.

I realized then that I could die from anything – just like anybody else.  And even though I well surpassed my original prognosis of a 13 year lifespan, I still know that time is precious, that any year could be my last.

And, now, there’s this word.  This possibility of cancer in my own body.

“Is this it?” I wonder.

I am not alone in this wonder.  Thousands of people – hundreds of thousands, I don’t know, millions of people – every day face this question.  In the past, I have wondered what it would be like to know that you have cancer.  I wrote about my aunt’s experience and called it Perspective.  Does your whole perspective on life change?  Right now, just wondering if I have cancer or not is a bit life altering.  At least, it certainly feels like it should be.

At first, given specific things going on within me, I thought that the outer fibroids most probably are malignant.  And I thought that perhaps this is the best way to go.  Perhaps this is God’s plan to help me leave, to leave this earthly body, this beautiful earthly life.  The lack of fear was rather amazing.  But, then…

I’m still not afraid, but I am anxious.  Sometimes very.  Whether benign or malignant, I know the fibroids must be reduced in size, at the very least, because they are simply too large for me.  And, I really, really hope that they are benign.  I don’t want cancer.  Who in their right mind wants cancer?  The way things look, I believe that, if they are benign, then it’s truly a miracle.

I have been told not to dwell on the cancer question until I know for sure.  That’s sound advice.  Yes, okay, “It is what it is.”  But… the not knowing, as anyone who’s gone through this knows, is very difficult.  However, I’m quite sure that it would be extremely more difficult to know that it is cancer.  For all of you out there who are suffering with cancer, my heart goes out to you.  And for all of us who are wondering… let’s take this moment of our lives and dig up something deep and powerful and beautiful from it.

Hopefully, the moment will pass with a huge sigh of relief.  Before that happens, God willing (please God, may that moment of relief happen) let us discover the roots that connect us most deeply to our family members and friends, perhaps, even becoming surprised through whom the blossoms of love and goodness bloom most easily and freely; let us nurture our better angels, allowing forgiveness, gentleness, and kindliness to take hold and grow within us at a rapid pace; let us surrender to the unknown and the uncontrollable, letting go of the petty and trivial things that have usually plagued us and letting in the love that often manifests in suffering and sacrifice, but which is nonetheless profoundly beautiful, remembering that this earthly life in this earthly body was never meant to last forever – but the soul of who we are, in goodness and truth, will.

Then, no matter what will happen, we will have peace in knowing that we live well.  Even if we don’t feel well.

I’m still not particularly fond of “It is what it is.”  There is a nonpersonal non-purposeful nothingness to it back use the thing itself, the “it”, a kind of power that it doesn’t possess.  I say, “It is what God wills it to be in the unfathomable Mystery of the Divine that is too far too vast for my little mind in this bright little speck of the Masterpiece.”  And I pray the well-known prayer,

“God, grant me the serenity

to accept the things I cannot change,

the courage

to change the things I can,

and the wisdom

to know the difference.”

Through Jesus Christ, Our Lord and Savior, in whose Sacred Heart I pray.  Amen.

I see a specialist at Mass General in the coming week.  Don’t worry, I’m staying positive.  I’ll keep you updated.  Until then, you may see some random posts from this strange moment of life.  Pax Christi

© 2017 Christina Chase


photo credit:  Jesse Orrico, used for free with no restrictions through Unsplash.com