Both of my kids are graduating high school. My daughter a high school diploma, my son a GED. They have both have participated in the music program at my wife’s church. It used to be our church, but I took a job as music director at another church. The music director at my wife’s church talked my kids into singing What a Wonderful World as a duet for the graduation worship service. My wife downloaded an arrangement and told me to get them into shape. I’m a voice teacher and a choir director so this is often my role in the house.
The arrangement was crap, but fortunately the chords were notated on the sheet music, so I improvised my own arrangement to be much closer to the real deal. Then I thought Well, what’s going to happen when they hand this piece of crap arrangement to church pianist? I doubted she would be able to do what I was doing because she is strictly a by the book player. I may as well play it.
I checked with the director and the pianist and they agreed that that was a great idea. I mean, how many times will I ever get to play with both of my kids in public? It seems unlikely that that will ever happen again.
We only had the Saturday before to prepare, and my kids had a fight. My son had missed my daughter’s final school choir concert where the seniors are recognized. She was deeply hurt by this. It was looking more and more like it would be a solo by my daughter and we practiced that way. But somewhere along the way, my son apologized and agreed to sing. It’s fair to say that there was a lot of drama around this beautiful song.
I rarely play piano in public. I’m primarily a singer and a tuba player. So I was a little nervous about it. This would be the first time my parents, in laws, or wife’s church had ever heard me play in public instead of around the piano in the living room usually a little drunk. My goal was to put the spotlight on my kids. I would play just loud enough to support them and would only bring the riffs out.
The morning of, I made a terrible mistake: I didn’t eat breakfast and I DIDN’T TAKE MY MEDICINE. By the time I realized it the service had already started. I am highly dependent on my meds. Missing even one dose can mess up my day. At the beginning of the service they have a Passing of the Peace in which we stand up and say hello to our fellow worshiper saying peace be with you. This kind of exchange can be a problem for me off meds. I get very chatting and super affectionate. I had two choices, step out of the sanctuary until it was over or take a chance and do it.
I decided to take the risk. I mentally willed myself to keep it in check. And I did, for the most part. I was very emotional and affectionate, but people had missed me enough that they were as well. One of my favorite folks, a beautiful, spunky, gay woman called out to me from about 1o yards away “There’s that good looking guy!” and she moved very quickly to me.
A few weeks ago on Facebook, I told her she was a good hugger, and that the next time I saw her I wanted a hug from her that wouldn’t end until we were ready. What’s weird is that I barely know this woman on a social level. No parties together, no coffee, no dinner with her and her gorgeous wife, no significant conversations. And yet, we love each other with unusual intensity. I’m pretty sure she has bipolar as well. Doesn’t that sound like a bipolar thing?
And she did give me a hug. She gave me a hug to beat all hugs. Full on. Chest to chest. Belly to belly. Neck to neck. Tight enough to knock the air out of me. At least 15 seconds. She said, “God, I love you. I’ve missed you so much.” The only way I can get a away with a hug like this is because she is a lesbian. I’ve never had a sister, so I don’t really know what a sister hug feels like, so I am no judge of whether this hug was sisterly, friendly, or more.
I know that it’s a classic “guy blunder” to mistake affection from someone who is gay (guy or gal) as something more, but I’ve had a thing with a gay gal before. Not an affair, but a mutually acknowledged crush. I made a move once, but she turned me down because she was also friends with my wife. Then she married a dude. Sexuality is so fluid these days. There could be something there with this woman. I will probably never know. I love her wife, and my wife too much to find out.
So, when I sat down, I was a little fucked up. I was buzzing from that hug, nervous about the song, anticipating the possibility of a narcissism buzz, empty-stomached, and unmedicated. I was unfocused throughout the service, much more than usual. I was afraid of messing up the kids song in some way. Or standing up at the Joys and Concerns part of the service and saying something that would embarrass me or my family. And then I remembered what my sponsor said to me the last time I was struggling with mania: “Daniel, turn it over to God. Let Him take care of it.”
I struggled with this. I get it for alcoholism, but it’s tricky for me with bipolar. I like to think that the treatment for bipolar is strictly medical, and therefore out of my control (other than being compliant with the meds.) If there’s something else I can do, like pray, then I have to take fuller responsibility for my actions. But I knew what my sponsor meant. After 10 months of sobriety, I had worked on this quite a bit. Alcoholism is considered by many to be a mental illness. It’s not all that different than dealing with bipolar. But it’s hard to say, “God, I can no longer manage this on my own. I’m handing this over to your care. Do with it as you will.”
But I did it. Immediately, I became calm and focused. I knew some things that I didn’t consider before. I knew that I was in a place where people loved me and didn’t care if I messed up some music. I knew that this was not a performance, but an act of worship and commemoration. And that it was more about the feeling and expression than the musical excellence. And most importantly, it was about my kids, not about me.
The music we made was sacred to all of those who heard it. I even felt it a few times between phrases through my nervousness. And although I missed a chord or two, it wasn’t about me. Everyone’s attention was on my children as it should have been. In other words, God made it right. Or at the very least, my act of surrender made it right. Either way, it makes little difference.
Afterwards, although I did receive a few accolades for my playing, mostly it was about the song and the beautiful sound and sight of my children singing it together. I was glad. I was glad that it was not about me. I had refused to make it about me as people approached me after the service. It will be a treasured memory. I’m so grateful for the experience, and so grateful for bad musical arrangements.